On the heels of the successful run of The Tudors on Showtime comes a new mini-series The Borgias. This ten-hour series focuses on the life and times of one of world's most infamous families. Led by the patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), who became Pope Alexander VI, this family lived, lusted and murdered its way into history. Eager to show every heinous crime, the series wallows in the sex and murders that highlighted the family's life.
The first hour of the series is strangely flat with little other than spectacle oozing its way across the screen. The tempo is lethargic and the portrayals lackluster. Irons fails to project the menace that had to be in the blood of Rodrigo. He creates a man who lives behind the scenes rather than foursquare in them. Even when he is lured into an affair with the beautiful Guilia (Lotte Verbeek) he is more a passive player than an aggressive one.
The same is true of Francois Arnaud who plays Rodrigo's eldest son Cesare, and of David Oakes who portrays another son, Juan. Both men fail to capture the attention of the audience. Sean Harris is better as Micheletto, the Borgias head henchman. He at least takes part in some action and causes a few deaths.
Joanne Whalley is subdued as Rodrigo's mistress Vanozza, who is also the mother of his children. Holliday Grainger shows some spark of life as the beautiful daughter Lucrezia. Perhaps she will show even more fire as the series evolves.
The look of the series is magnificent. The costumes and scenery are works of art within themselves. This is a production that shows high value in its surroundings. If the story was as lavish as the sets then the series would be breathtaking.
One major flaw in the story is the lack of anyone to admire. When everyone is basically evil then there is a flatness that is difficult to overcome. In The Borgias, Colm Feore plays Rodrigo's arch enemy Cardinal Della Rovere. If anyone were to be the person to admire it should be him, but this Cardinal is just as corrupt in his power plays as is Rodrigo.
Having previewed the first four hours, I was not impressed by the story or the performances. It is to be hoped that the last six are more intense and interesting. Slathering the screen with nude and/or dismembered bodies does not make a series work. That takes interesting characters and a fascinating plot. All of the ingredients are present in The Borgias but so far the spark of life has not been mixed in.
If you want to give it a try, tune in to SHOWTIME on Sunday, April 3 at 9PM.