Borgia (2011) is a grand costume drama charting the torrid loves and tangled political lives of the infamous, self-promoting 15th century Italian dynasty. Starring Isolda Dychauk as the legendary Lucrezia Borgia, Mark Ryder and Stanley Weber as her brothers Cesare and Juan and John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia, this glossy miniseries, though breathtaking in scope and visually tantilising in its reproduction of period detail, is equally hard to stomach with its graphic interpretation of the brutality and hardships of this bloody period in Europe’s history.
Beginning after the teenage Lucrezia is sent to live with Rodrigo and his family in the inner sanctum of the Catholic church at Rome where he was a senior cardinal, the first series follows Rodrigo’s rise to Pope and his extended family’s (both male and female) exploits as they double-cross, back-stab and kill anyone who stands between them and power in the Vatican court.
Though sumptuous to look at, Borgia, like the characters it depicts, is at times in danger of getting lost in its own self-importance. Running at approximately one hour for each of the 13 episodes, there is only so much intrigue and espionage (the basic themes around which the story revolves) that your mind can take in. By the end you are in danger of suffering sensory overload, meaning the show is probably best treated like a rich treat, dipped into once a week when you’re in need of some indulgence.
The cast are suitably convincing in their debauched roles – the only one who seems in any way decent is Rodrigo’s right hand man Francesc Gacet played by Art Malik – but there’s a second series planned so give him time. The majority (both male and female) also show no shame in getting their kit off at the first opportunity, and spend the majority of screen time wearing very little. When they do cover up though, the clothing by costume designer Sergio Ballo is breathtaking in both beauty and attention to detail. This, along with production designers Stefano Maria Ortolani and Bernd Spell’s vision of Renaissance Italy, helps bring the story vividly to life.
Reputedly costing an estimated $30,000,000 to create, one can only hope that the producers of Borgia kept something for the second series, as going by what’s on show here, they’ll have little small change left over for their third outing.