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The Borgias - First two episodes reviewed

The Borgias

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SEX, power, murder, incest, torture, sumptuous costumes, exposed breasts, deceit, cruelty, corruption… it’s all there in The Borgias, the latest historical drama from The Tudors creators Showtime.

But if Saturday’s first two episodes on Sky Atlantic were anything to go by, this series looks set to surpass the quality of its predecessor in every way.

First and foremost, it boasts a formidable leading man in Jeremy Irons, whose tortured histrionics and sometimes self-consciously camp reveals, display the craft of a master actor at work.

His devious Spanish cardinal Rodrigo Borgia is a wily customer indeed – a self-serving, utterly ruthless but hopelessly compelling central figure whose every scene reveals something worth watching.

Whether that’s dealing in bribery and pay-offs to become Pope, servicing the ‘needs’ of a penitent beauty by visiting her each night, or playing naive to the deaths of those around him (orchestrated by his own son), he is a masterful presence.

And yet, we almost believe in him when he shoots a tortured glance – as if genuinely distressed by his inability to resist temptation in the form of a shapely woman, or convincing himself that what he is doing shall be rewarded by God. Almost…

There’s terrific support, too, from Colm Feore’s fierce rival (Giuliano Della Rovere), Sean Harris’ ruthless, turncoat assassin Micheletto and Simon McBurney’s advisor Johannes Burchart.

We’ve yet to be totally convinced by François Arnaud’s Cesare Borgia (who seems to occupying the Henry Cavill role of good-looking henchman/confidante/sidekick), or from Holliday Grainger’s impossibly naive Lucrezia Borgia (who likes to share not-so-naive rolls in the grass with her brother).

But writer-director Neil Jordan has wisely kept the focus so far on the veteran actors and, as a result, captivated us from the start.

Yes, as with The Tudors, historical fact has been embellished and sexed up – history merely serving as the framework for a rip-roaring tale of murder, corruption and deceit.

And yes, there’s never a missed opportunity for some sex and nudity.

But it’s all presented in such slick, visually sumptuous fashion thus far that it’s difficult not to become seduced. We can only hope that the remaining seven episodes are half as debauched and fun… especially since a second season has already been commissioned!

The Borgias is on Sky Atlantic on Saturday nights from 9pm.