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This show is probably confusing a lot of people. Showtime just did "The
Borgias" with Jeremy Irons, but this isn't it. It is an original
production by Canal+, which appears to be like a European version of
Despite being made by a French company, the show is totally in English, and stars an American. What's most surprising, though, is how tame the Showtime series seems in comparison to this.
Despite being on "Premium Cable" in America, the Showtime series is very TV-14. The violence is tame, the sex is mainly suggested, and there is very little foul language. A few cuts and it could easily air on any network in the US.
"Borgia", on the other hand, feels much more like HBO's groundbreaking series "Rome". The violence is brutal, graphic and unflinching. Sex is frequent, full frontal nudity a matter of fact. I suspect this is an authentic depiction of life in Rome around 1500.
Speaking of "Rome", the first thing I noticed, besides visual similarities, is that Anne Thomopolous is an executive producer. That name seemed very familiar, and sure enough, she was one of the producers of "Rome". I'd call that a good sign.
She's not alone in the behind the scenes talent, two other noteworthy names pop up: Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson. Levinson is a well known Hollywood director, with credits like "Rain Man" and "Sleepers". Fontana is the creator of HBO's "OZ", the first hour long drama produced by that company. One might argue that Fontana invented the "R-rated premium cable TV series" that is so popular now. He paved the way for stuff like The Wire, Rome, Dexter, and The Sopranos.
That's a pretty big talent line up for a European TV series. In terms of name actors, however, this show unfortunately can't compete with Showtime. They have Jeremy Irons playing Borgia, where this show has John Doman.
Doman is a good character actor, and his performance as the sarcastic, mean-spirited police captain in "The Wire" is legendary. That said, he feels very out of place in this otherwise extremely authentic looking show, mainly due to his unapologetic American accent. It's like Kevin Costner as Robin Hood, the producers apparently just decided to suspend disbelief and dump a modern American accent in the middle of the Vatican. You get used to it, but it's a little off-putting at the start.
The kid playing Cesare Borgia is capable, but there are times he seems to be pushing into melodrama territory, particularly any time he gets angry. The guy in the Showtime series was cool as a cucumber, yet viscous and brooding at the same time.
The men at least aren't up to Showtimes standards, but the women are a different story. Lucrezia and Julia Farnese are both much better in this show than Showtime's. Julia is a total sex goddess in this, someone who is used to getting her way by any means necessary. And Lucrezia is her young counterpart, inexperienced but curious. The two women both nail the parts and are totally convincing, more so than the depictions of these characters on Showtime.
I recognized a few other actors, most notably the actor who plays Samwell Tarly in HBO's "Game of Thrones" as a young Cardinal. The "bit parts" are played by unknown Europeans, and are usually great.
I won't spoil the plot, but it is basically the same as "The Borgias": The rise to power of a corrupt pope and his family. Of course, is it based on actual history, so spoilers are easy to come by if you want them. The main difference between the plotting of this show and the Showtime version is that this show manages to remain interesting all the time, where I felt it was somewhat of a struggle to get through the Showtime series. I just didn't care about anyone except Cesare and Rodrigo in the Showtime version, all the other characters were boring.
This version places lesser characters like Julia Farnese and Juan Borgia in the limelight as well, so we actually spend time with them away from the Pope. Additionally, the Showtime series concentrated on the Pope's arch enemy Della Rovre to a much greater degree, where this show seems focused on the family and their friends. I find that to be much more effective, since the enemy is now viewed through their eyes only, the audience is essentially placed on the Borgia side of the table permanently. It's like you're part of the family.
I would highly recommend this to any fan of historical drama, with a special emphasis on HBO's "Rome". This is almost like an unofficial successor to it, it has the same feel of authenticity.
"Borgia" is available on Netflix instant watch, and as far as I know this is currently the only way to see it in the US.
I just watched this first season on Netflix, and I do believe that it
is at least equal to the Showtime production in most ways, with a few
very notable exceptions.
Mind you, it's not a carbon copy; the story lines follow the same basic historical themes, but the two shows choose somewhat different avenues to explore, which is interesting. This show does seem to hew closer to historical truth (although at times it's more simplistic), but also falls short in a few places.
First off, the choice of John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia was a bad one. He's not a bad actor, but the part was clearly not written for him. When you have an entire cast that share appropriate period/regional accents, it becomes jarring and downright bizarre to hear the lead character speak in unvarnished American tones.
Further, the writing does nothing to accommodate for this. See, most Americans can't pull off long lines of casual conversational dialog that include full proper English like 'will not' or 'does not', as the British can. Instead we rely on contractions like 'won't' or 'doesn't' unless we're giving particular emphasis to the subject (or giving a speech). Its an adaptive peculiarity to be sure, but one which we employ for good reason; it just sounds odd otherwise.
The writers completely failed to account for this reality, and instead wrote Doman's lines as though they were to be read by a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The result is dialog which comes out unbelievably clunky and difficult to listen to. Every time Doman opened his mouth, it pulled me right out of the show. It was clear that he just didn't know how to deliver these lines. Bad bad bad, and in a show with such high overall production values, it should never have been allowed to remain so.
The other issue is that this show clearly didn't have to same budget as its Showtime counterpart, and that comes through in the quality of some of the CGI as well as the smallness of some of the sets. It just doesn't feel as grand.
It's worth watching to be sure, but it could have been much better with a few very minor changes.
It's difficult to make straight-face judgment about such big movies,
but I loved it. For someone trying to understand Machiavelli, the
Renaissance, the Reformation, the Spanish Reconquista, the atrocities
of conquistadors in the New World, the Xenophobia of the Italian Wars
coexisting with the globalization of Politics (Avignon, Holy Roman
Empire, America) and even a little of the soft underbelly of Catholic
Faith, this is really good. Compared to others' sensationalism, this
show is more like a loving son's explanation of a disreputable mother..
"yes, she was what you say, but look at the choices; and how did things
It's also difficult to compare once immersed in one version of the Borgia story. But I thought the choice of Doman, and his accent, and all other actors well thought out. Narration by the Vatican Historian Burquardt puts it all into proper perspective, especially through the choice of Schefe's delivery. The comic is introspective and subtle and coated with the gut feeling one gets watching men executed by slow sawing in half, upside-down. Other productions seemed more careless to me, like casting the Three Stooges in an elaborate Hi-Def slapstick porno movie.
It's probably difficult to maintain the intensity, but there should be a season two.
I read reviews complaining about the historical accuracy and actor's
accents. Keep the following in mind:
If I wanted to watch a show based on historical facts, produced with utmost accuracy, I'd watch a documentary. Borgia has a historical base, but otherwise, it is just a dramatical account of a time period. Credit to the film crew, though; I do find the majority of the set decorations to blend very well with the storyline, giving the viewer a sense of accuracy.
The actor's accents: I don't have a problem with any accent. If I expected the delivery of each individual's accent based on their historical origin, in keeping with the English spoken at that time, which was also not a world language as it is today, 99% of the viewers wouldn't understand but 25% of the verbal interaction. Frankly, the differences in accents do stand out, but they are not distracting. I rather have an actor stay with his/her natural accent, than pretending to be from somewhere else, and then receiving criticism for their inaccuracies.
The acting abilities: Unless your name is Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) or you're some other high end Hollywood hotshot, I don't expect anyone to deliver Oscar worthy performances. Small inaccuracies are to be expected, especially given that this is a comparatively small production that works on a shoestring budget. Hollywood has deeper coffers and more A-listers. A few things do stand out, though: Doman's portrayal of Pope Alexander is well done. A man caught up in his own desire to rise above and finding the ability to do so at all cost. He is caught between being a man, while having to be a pope. Who wouldn't struggle? He does well, just as long as he doesn't have to reach too deep into the character tool chest, and draw from deep emotions. He plays the sexual deviant better than the irate villain, and the irate villain better than a person who finds his own physical limitations. (You'll get what I mean, once you see it)
Ryder's performance on Cesare is rather consistent. He's consistently acting well, especially when the performance comes to showing the higher-than-though attitude. He's also consistently overly dramatic when it comes to displaying deep rooted anger. Overall, I think he does well, and I'm having fun watching him move through the show.
The ladies are all very well played. However, with the exception of Isolda Dychauk (Lucrezia), none of the female cast has to reach too deep into the emotional side of acting. Dychauk is a pleasure to watch, though. She's coming across rather believable.
Sex: Being European, I do find it amusing that some of the American viewers get offended by breasts and genitalia. Newsflash, folks. It's human nature. If you don't like to see it, just don't watch the show, or turn your head. I have yet to see an overabundance of skin on this show. The moments when sexual acts were displayed was in keeping with the storyline, and never gave me the impression as if the writers thought: "Well, we're losing momentum here, let's show some breasts...".
Church/Religion: What I find most amusing, is that the Catholic Church is portrayed as corrupt, self serving, political, war mongering, sexually deviant and utterly repulsive; especially when it comes to the matter of portraying itself as pure, innocent and true. Following the books of history, one can only conclude that not much has changed over the centuries. (Side note; by denomination, I am Roman Catholic myself)
Overall, I find Borgia to be quite entertaining and worthy of one's time. Watch it with a grain of salt and don't take the show as a historically accurate account of the people of Rome. However, do watch the show with an underlying interest in inter-Church politics, greed and capitalistic tendencies. Then, transpose your findings onto the church(es) of today. See what your findings are...
"Borgia" by Tom Fontana is Excellent. It is the type of series that draws you in and keeps you wanting more.I can't wait for season 3. In the USA you can watch it on NetFlix. Do not confuse this with the series on Showtime. This Borgia is much better. The actors are brilliant in bringing the characters to life..the story line follows the Borgia family. I never knew much about them until this series. they are quite an interesting group of people.If you are a history buff, I am sure you will enjoy this series. The scenery is beautiful and it gives one a look as to how folks lived back in that time period. Do yourself a favor and watch the series.
Just curious when/if it will be available on DVD? I've watched it on Netflix and it's outstanding, well worth watching for sheer opulence and historicity. Its definitely shockingly honest about the corruption of the Papacy and the nepotism of the period, and the characters are very colorfully showcased, particularly the character of Cesare, who seems more a troubled, tormented soul than all the other characters. Lots of nudity and frank/honest sexuality. I've searched on amazon to see if its available but I cant seem to find it. The panoramic views of Rome and its environs are also lushly depicted. Definitely worth checking out for fans of historical drama.
John Doman was a very poor Pope Alexander VI. I cannot call someone a
good actor who does not at least try to match the accents of his
contemporaries. It was very noticeable.
Other than that, the program is not historically accurate as far as dates go, but that does not matter since it inspires one to look into these events.
Others have said that Mark Ryder overacted, I did not see that. I thought him a very believable & sympathetic Cesare.
I enjoyed this series. Watched it on Netflix and wish I could see more of it. The acting, costumes & locations were lovely. I liked it much more than the Showtime version.
Feels like a cousin to the shows Rome and that Blood and Sand gladiator
series. Historical drama with an extra helping of violence and sex!
Like others I was a bit dismayed at hearing a NY accent surrounded by European accents by all other characters. However, after 2 episodes I didn't even notice. The role of Rodrigo was not a perfect casting, but not far off the mark.
It plays as a man between the cloth, love, ambition, and inadequacy. This is not the tragic Shakespearean archetype, but more of an Everyman struggling with life and politics in his 50s. He wants to do good, but got to where he is by doing whatever he could - good or bad. The occasional screams or fist pumps work well to illustrate the point, in my opinion.
The rest of the cast were fine with a beautiful Lolitaesque Lucrecia being a highlight. I would have proffered a more Latin looking Cesare but the actor was not horrible all said and done.
Lastly for fans of Assassins Creed video game, it's amazing to see Rome look remarkably close to the game. From the houses to the costumes, to the hills. In a scene where Cecere scales Castel Sant Angelo - it was déjà vu!
I have watched this faithfully the past week so is there a 3rd series? If so when, time and channel? I found Julia to be the most entertaining never knowing what she might say or twist to get her way. Cesare was a delight and very convincing at his craft. All the actors are good and very much worth watching. I would like to see the finish of the series... is there a 3rd? the plot thickens as the Cardinal is very in lust with his daughter. It is very upsetting to me that this is not available in the US on a channel, or at least I do not know if it is available. Revenge, Lust and no count of feeling for what the other might go threw. I would Love to watch the 3rd series is there one and I will continue to ask as this was a very intense and well worth viewing.
Give it a chance! This show takes some getting used to (especially if
you come after more lavish Showtime production). The first few episodes
are heavy with exposition, the mishmash of accents can be jarring and
the young Borgia are immature and not very likable. However, it quickly
becomes obvious that this is done on purpose: after all, the brothers,
Cesare and Juan, are still hot-headed teenagers eager to prove
themselves while Lucrezia is just a child. During the course of two
seasons, through trials and tribulations, they grow and mature, and
Cesare is very believable as a flawed character with conflicting
motivations, and the force to be reckoned with, just like his legend
suggests. Cesare and Lucrezia not only do they look like their
portraits, they are doing a terrific job bring their complex characters
Other cast is superb, too, even Doman, who might lack Irons' expressive voice but brings commanding presence necessary for the most influential man in the Christian world. All in all, the character development is one of the best I've seen on TV (worthy of anything on HBO), even the minor characters seem like real people with their own agendas rather than just the talking heads. This show is also truer to showing life and times: St. Peter is run down, just like it was, in all the night scenes it actually looks like the world lit only by fire.
As far as historical accuracy goes: remember, most of the dark deeds attributed to Borgias are due to the smear campaign of their enemies. I doubt that the real Borgia were really much worse than any other noble family squabbling over Italy at the time. I think Fontana successfully combines some of the legend with the actual historical events, not without some dramatic license, as expected. There's a wealth of details that makes Showtime's show look like Dallas in period costumes. After a somewhat shaky start, it became my favorite adult historic show since Rome.
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