Fri 15 Jul 2011
I like a lot some of the previous work of Neil Jordan. ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Crying Game’ were superb films, two of the best I have seen in the 80s and in the 90s. My problem with the prolific writer and director is that Michael Collins was the last film of his that I really liked and it’s dated mid-90s. Since then he entered genres that I am not that much fond of. Now he writes and directs ‘The Borgias’ – which belongs to a TV genre that catches popularity in the last few years – the historical drama starting from the real history dynasties, events and periods and developing into a combination of soap opera, crime and erotic drama. When it’s good (like the first season of ‘Rome’ was) it can be very catchy. In other cases the experience can be mixed, as was the case with ‘The Tudors’ or this version of ‘The Borgias’.
The story of the Borgia family can certainly be a source of great historical novels, drama or film, and now that I think about it, it is surprising that it did not generate more literature (or maybe it did and I am not aware about it). The events of the first season happen between 1492 and 1494. 1492 was one of these years in history when events seem to accelerate – the year of the discovery of America by Columbus, the year of the expulsion of the Moors and of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula. It was also the year when the first Borgia, Alexander VI ascended to papacy, history says by means of corruption. His reign is historically considered as one of the most scandalous in the history of Catholicism, although this view is disputed by more recent research. He forged alliances with the rulers of other cities in the Italian peninsula sometimes through the marriages of his illegitimate children. He tried to extend the dominance of Rome, but he could not prevent the occupation of Rome and the fall of Naples under the French forces of king Charles VIII. He somehow maneuvered to stay on the papal throne, and Machiavelli who is a character in the series had a lot to learn from him.
While the material of the Borgia story is certainly promising the result falls well below expectations. This genre typically succeeds when it combines complicated intrigues and interesting characters, is well acted and the production recreates the epoch in a credible manner. Neil Jordan’s script is unexpectedly thin material for three episodes seem to have been diluted to nine and this is very surprising for a writer with his experience and record. His characters also fall too much exactly the expected track. A few of them are saved by superb acting, Jeremy Irons above all creates a memorable combination of evil intelligence, debauchery and sense of family, cynicism and treachery. Colm Feori (Cardinal Della Rovere) and Sean Harris (paid killer Micheletto) also step ahead the ranks. From the Borgia children it is Lucrezia (Holliday Granger) who succeeds to be the credible very young daughter married into the Sforza clan for the seek of political alliance. As we know what she developped in real history it will be interesting to see how acting develops as well (if she stays in the role). Michel Muller also constructs an interesting composition, but he somehow does not look like a king of France.
Follow-up seasons of historical series tend to be not as good as the first one. I just hope here we have a case where the opposite will be true.