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The Borgias


by Gael Stirler

(March, 2011)

The original crime family

The Borgias is the story of Rodrigo Borgia, the cunning, manipulative patriarch of The Borgia family who ascends to the highest circles of power in early Renaissance-era Italy. It is also the tale of his children; Juan the eldest and least capable, cruel and clever Cesare, and the ethearally beautiful Lucrezia. Also caught in the pope's web are his mistresses, Vanozza and Guilia, and the man who opposes the power and corruption of the Borgia family, Cardinal Della Rovere.

The epic drama series begins at the dawn of the Renaissance in 1492 when the ambitious Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way to the office of pope, the most powerful position in the Western world. Though he was known as an able administrator, his ruthlessness and ambition were also legendary. Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, later to become Pope Leo X, sharply criticized the election and warned of dire things to come:

" Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all. "

Click on her to see details
of the dress.

Rodrigo Borgia places his eldest son Juan in charge of the papal armies, while he forces his son Cesare (François Arnauld) to become a cardinal in the Church where he can be of better service to his father as a spy and assassin. The pope marries his teenage daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) to a brutish heir of the powerful Sforza family, rulers of Milan, only to declare an annulment when it suits him to marry her to someone even more powerful.

Lucrezia and her younger half-brother Joffre, are used as pawns in an international game of chess. She must grow up fast and learn to be as cunning as her father if she is to survive. The Vatican in the time of the Borgias was a place of treachery, violence, decadance, incest, debauchery, and murder. In time Lucrezia becomes the the virtual queen of the Vatican and history tells us that she even sits in for her father during the Vatican counsel.

For Rodrigo, now Pope Alexander VI, politics is war, and war is politics. He uses the power of the papacy, as well as other less holy means, to amass inestimable wealth for his family. Jeremy Irons, who plays the patriarch Rodrigo, has been a celebrated actor of film, television and stage for the last thirty years. He has won the Academy Award® (Reversal of Fortune), a Tony Award® (The Real Thing), two Emmy Awards® (Elizabeth I, The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century), two Golden Globe®Awards (Elizabeth I, Reversal of Fortune) and a Screen Actors Guild Award® (Elizabeth I). His list of memorable films and television include; Brideshead Revisited, The Mission, Dead Ringers, M Butterfly, The Merchant of Venice, Lolita, and Kingdom of Heaven.

Not only did Showtime choose Jeremy Irons for the lead role but they also picked Academey Award® winning director, Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) to create and executive produce the series as well as direct the first two episodes. "Having blazed a trail with the award-winning THE TUDORS, we wanted to continue to offer our audience a period drama as wicked, witty, and utterly compelling -- and that's what THE BORGIAS will be," said Robert Greenblatt, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks Inc. Michael Hirst, who created, wrote and executive produced SHOWTIME's original series The Tudors, also serves as executive producer/writer.

Elyas Gabel and Holliday Grainger

Click for video trailers about The Borgias

But speaking as a reviewer and clothes horse, I am looking forward to examining the sets and costumes. As far as I can see in the trailers, they are the most acurate and gorgeous that I have ever seen on television or in the movies. Unlike the costumes on the "The Tudors" that were lovely but all too often worn improperly (i.e. women of the court going out without chemises under their gowns or sleeves covering their arms), these Italian costumes are beautifully made and respectfully worn. The sets are staged and lit like Pre-Raphaelite paintings and from the first scene you will feel what it was like to live in the heart of Renaissance Rome in all its splendor.

The story of the Borgia family reads like a gangster novel, and in fact, Mario Puzo based his book The Godfather partly on the Borgias. And as in The Godfather the more Rodrigo gathers up in his fists the more it slips through his fingers and destroys him.

The Borgias begins with a special two-hour premiere on SHOWTIME Sunday, April 3rd at 9:00 PM ET/PT. Future original episodes will air Sundays at 10:00 PM ET/PT. Encores will be broadcast throughout the week and available on Showtime Anytime®.

The Borigas is now available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

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