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Sunday, August 7, 2022

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The Borgias

Prior to Showtime’s release of The Borgias the name ‘Borgia’ would have probably meant very little to the average British or American viewer. But in Italy, where I grew up, The Borgias are a household name. Their reputation precedes them: I remember the playground jokes about Lucrezia Borgia (rumour had it back then that she was handy with poisons). But now The Borgias are becoming as notorious a family as The Sopranos, thanks to not one but actually two separate productions – one Canadian (Showtime), one pan-European – going head to head to conquer the hearts and minds of historical drama fans worldwide.The Canadian production, named “The Borgias” (as opposed to its European rival, ‘Borgia’) is directed by an Irishman – Neil Jordan – and shot in Hungary, and its actors are British, American and Canadian. It certainly doesn’t lack in the cosmopolitan touch. There are some big names, such as Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI,  Joanne Whalley as the mother of his children, as well as some virtual unknowns. And it’s exactly those new faces who end up stealing the show.Right from the very first episode, it is plainly obvious that Jeremy Irons’ Pope ha been usurped of his screen status by his co-star François Arnaud, who plays his son, Cesare.  Cesare Borgia is a reluctant Cardinal who is perfectly at ease with carnal sin and who is also blatantly in love with own sister, Lucrezia (who clearly reciprocates the feelings).

Arnaud, a French-speaking Canadian who has for the occasion mastered an almost flawless English accent, seems like a vampire sucking out every inch of limelight from his scenes with Jeremy Irons. Strutting around in a pair of the most impressive leather trousers seen since Michael Hutchence-era INXS, this guy has turned His Eminence into a rockstar. Even the moles by his eye look like eyebrow piercing. And what a coincidence that, having been clearly earmarked by the producers as the marketable heart-throb, Cesare has very contemporary-looking (check out the side parting!) long black emo-like hair, while in the meantime David Oakes, who plays his brother Juan, gets one of the most unflattering fringes in recent history of Renaissance Reconstructions1.
[1 It would, however, probably have won a top prize at the Renaissance Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio.]

A seriously bad fringe

And what about Lucrezia? Cesare’s little sister, played by the impossibly rosy-faced Holliday Grainger,  makes her first appearance in a scene in which she is spying on her brother bedroom antics. That sets the tone for what is to follow and is rather telling on the nature of the siblings’ relationship, touching on the persistent rumours (albeit never confirmed) that they had an incestuous liaison, which may have even produced a son.

There is certainly a lot of chemistry between the two actors, and they actually look so stunning together that you kind of want them to do it, have beautiful babies and to hell with that slight matter of incest. Indeed, on the The Measure of All Things, the show’s IMDB discussion board the general consensus seems to be that Cesare and Lucrezia should be seen ‘together’.
For once, the generally North American and conservative TV viewer is actively advocating incest. Isn’t this, in itself, an excellent reason to watch the show?

Sure, it’s not the most gripping of prime-time dramas; the exposition of the historical background is often rather crude (Jeremy Irons ‘explains’ things to a child or a woman – I will try not to read too much into that, as those were pre-feminist days after all). Also, rather disappointingly, there isn’t anywhere near enough nudity and very little gratuitous sex. Violence has been – so far – fairly moderate. Game of Thrones, it ain’t. But what The Borgias does have is some fine acting, some exceptionally good-looking people and a pair of leather trousers that you will never be allowed to forget. Switch over to Sky Atlantic NOW.

Theodore P. Wildebeest couldn't pull these off better

The Borgias is currently on Sky Atlantic

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Ruben Jay
Ruben Jay
Ruben Jay is an American broadcaster, media blogger, and podcast host. Currently, Ruben is the President of MultiMediaMouth.com and the executive producer and host of the popular podcasts You’re My Best Friend and ON AIR with Ruben Jay, exclusively on MultiMediaMouth.com. Follow Ruben on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok @TheRubenJay.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. As sad as it is to admit, I was intrigued by the Borgias after challenging Rodrigo to fisticuffs at the end of Assassins’ Creed 2. But hey, as 9 million other people apparently played that game, I can’t be the only one outside of Italy who’s enough of a cultural black hole to know about this fascinating period of history exclusively through a series exclusively about stabbing stuff.

    Of course, it’s on Sky Atlantic so I’ll probably never see it. Ugh.

  2. As sad as it is to admit, I was intrigued by the Borgias after challenging Rodrigo to fisticuffs at the end of Assassins’ Creed 2. But hey, as 9 million other people apparently played that game, I can’t be the only one outside of Italy who’s enough of a cultural black hole to know about this fascinating period of history exclusively through a series exclusively about stabbing stuff.
    +1

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