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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2011
I thought The Borgias was excellent. I would give it four and a half stars only because I agree with the criticism that there are too many gratuitous sex scenes. We get the idea already, the pope had a mistress, Cesare and Juan were sleeping with their brother's wife, etc.

From the first episode, with its long shots of processions and so on, I realized The Borgias would be boring for people not interested in the period or at least with history in general, but if one is interested in either I don't see how you couldn't enjoy it. The sets and wardrobes are amazing. The production is lavish. The acting is great. The casting is good. Jeremy Irons is superb--the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in his expressions indicate his thoughts, mood and burden. His is a very convincing, though not very spiritual, Alexander Sextus. Cesare's performance is excellent and the portrayal is refreshingly sympathetic, yet still nuanced. All the performances manage to exhibit economically the psychology of the people. The dialogue, formal language and diction are compelling and entertaining (love all the conditional tenses).

I would wish they could have followed history a little more closely but understand the need for compression, and nine episodes for two years is already generous. I've read a lot on the period but this helped me to get some things that didn't sink in from reading books, like just how monumental the invasion of Charles VIII was for the Italian psyche. How it inspired Alexander to increase the power of the papal states. How it affected the thought of Machiavelli and others. How it helped give birth to the balance-of-power concept. The series also conveys how much the Borgias were looked down on due to their Spanish roots and how the children had to deal with the stigma not only of being illegitimate but also of being the children of a courtesan. The movie also makes it sink in how long Cesare was a cardinal--and how much he hated it--before he became the infamous Duke Valentino.

Looking forward to the next season.

There are many small historical inaccuracies for the sake of compression and drama. One I would like to point out is that it was Lodovico il Moro of Milan who proposed to Charles VIII that he assert his rights to the kingdom of Naples; Ludovico did so because he was worried that King Ferrante of Naples might assert the rights of Ludovico's nephew to the dukedom of Milan; it is, however, also true that della Rovere went into exile in France due to his hatred and fear of the Borgias and further encouraged Charles VIII to invade Italy.

The old French King (Charles VIII) is a great character but was actually only twenty-four at the time.

Also Machiavelli did not become Florentine Secretary until 4 years after the French invasion, at which time Florence was a republic.

Lucrezia was only thirteen when she married Giovanni Sforza.
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on April 5, 2013
There is a great deal to admire in this series. Visually it is superb. The costuming and sets manage simultaneously to be both beautiful and realistic to the period; or at least, they seem so to my untutored eye. The actors uniformly do an extraordinarily good job. So much so that it is difficult to know whom to focus upon in this review, because whatever choices I make I will be omitting mention of some truly outstanding performances.

However, I am going to begin in the obvious place: with Jeremy Irons' interpretation of Rodrigo Borgia. I do so if only because so much hinges on this pivotal character. The Telegraph critic Rachel Ray criticised this series on the grounds that it "lacks the amoral aura of a psychopathic family", and specifically criticised Irons' own performance as "disappointingly undiabolical". On a strictly literal level Ray's perception of this series is entirely accurate. However, I would argue that it also entirely misses the point.

The Rodrigo Borgia we find in this show was never intended as an inhuman monster who would not have been out of place cackling maniacally atop Snake Mountain. Rather, what we gaze upon here is far closer to the true face of evil as it most often exists in the real world: ordinary, resigned in the face of the dictates of Realpolitik, and when confronted with the moral reality of where such dictates lead, by turns a true believer, actively self deluding, and at times even self doubting. Not unlike a concentration camp guard who can go home at night and be a loving father to his children. I am very much reminded here of political theorist Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil". It would be doing a great disservice both to Irons' individual performance and to the moral complexities of this series more generally to suggest that everything could be summed up entirely in such straightforward terms. Nevertheless, we would at least have the comfort of being considerably closer to the human reality of what "The Borgias" sets out to achieve than whatever it is Ray was expecting - apparently some kind of costumed remake of The Godfather.

Rodrigo Borgia aside, there are many more truly outstanding performances in this series than I can realistically go into here. It is worth saying that François Arnaud, Holliday Grainger, and David Oaks all do outstanding jobs in their respective rolls as Rodrigo Borgia's adult children. Sean Harris, although in a relatively minor role as Cesare Borgia's assasin, is also very much worthy of mention. While his performance is extremely minimalist, he somehow manages to achieve a great deal while apparently doing very little. I find myself genuinely left wondering what goes on behind those eyes. It must take an enormous amount of skill to suggest so much with so little.

Unusually for a "quality drama", if this series has a weakness it is in the writing. Don't get me wrong: the writing is good. It's just that it never manages to be more than "good". It doesn't achieve the same standard as the other aspects of the production. If I could sum up my reservations about the writing in a single sentence it would be simply this: it does not surprise me. I say that from the perspective of someone with a very slight nodding acquaintance with the history of the period, although no more than that. But to be clear, when I talk of not being surprised, I'm not just talking about the specific events that take place. It's more that there is a decided absence of moments where I find myself thinking "Gee they did that well"! In fact, there are no such moments at all until relatively late in the piece when the French King (once again played impeccably, in this case by Michael Muller) arrives on the stage. And even then, the surprises - those "wow" moments - are few and far between, and as a rule are rather mild.

Still... it's not like the writing is bad or anything. It's good. Solid... If perhaps just a tiny bit predictable. Actually, this series is at its most unsettling when it communicates with us on a purely sensual level with sound and vision, cannons blazing. In this case literally so.

And speaking of the French, one curiosity of this series is that despite being an international production with an international cast, all of the Italian characters not only speak English, they are made to do so with very pronounced English accents. Of course, when the French get involved, they too all speak exclusively in English - although in their case they speak English with French accents! It's little touches like this that remind us that despite its superficial mundane realism, television is ultimately about communicating ideas, and finally a story, to an audience. I suppose I just find it interesting how readily, perhaps even unthinkingly, we as an audience accept such methods of communication.

That particular curiosity and my reservations about the writing aside, this is still absolutely something I'd recommend seeing. And I am most definitely waiting with baited breath for season two!

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2011
Im a history major, but am not actually familiar with this story in detail. Nevertheless I am happy with the show. Quite good. A nice new Sopranos.
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