This review contains spoilers.
4. Lucrezia’s Wedding
It’s getting harder and harder to decide whether I like The Borgias or not. On one hand, it’s a beautifully produced series, with a fascinating backstory based on real life historical villains, and Jeremy Irons is always a treat to watch. One the other hand, it’s cursed with terrible pacing, superfluous characters and subplots, dodgy acting, and plot holes that the Holy Father himself couldn’t explain away. So, let’s break it down.
This episode sees Pope Alexander VI marrying his daughter off to Giobanni Sforza (Rome‘s Ronan Vibert), a nobleman from a wealthy Milanese family, in order to strengthen his family’s position. In order to make the ceremony as scandal-free as possible, he decrees that the mother of his children, Vanozza (the lovely Joanne Whalley), not attend, due to her past as a courtesan. However, he sees absolutely no problem with leaving the evening’s entertainment up to Juan, who has as much subtlety and nuance as a Michael Bay movie, and decides to produce his own risqué play, or with inviting his current mistress, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), to sit by his side and take part in the ceremony. Talk about your double standards.
As a result, the Pope incurs the wrath of his former lover, his eldest son, Cesare (who also has to preside over the marriage of his beloved sister), and ends up having the wedding’s reception look like a party at the last days of Sodom. As you can imagine, Sforza is not impressed, and decides to treat his new bride with the same respect he felt he was treated with .
Now, Lucrezia was always going to be the sacrificial lamb in her father’s power game, but her incredible naiveté at being trapped in a loveless political marriage is just painful to watch. It doesn’t help that the actress playing her seems to look constantly bemused at what is going on around her, and plays the part as if Lucrezia has the mental capacity of a six-year-old. Of course, this could be exactly what the producers want the character to be, but it means that you wish there was less of her prattling about love and effortless grace and more political scheming by the sharper members of the family.
Which brings us to Cardinal Della Rovere. The exiled cardinal is still on the run and is travelling around Italy, trying to recruit various lords in order to aid him in his rebellion. Now, this may just be me, but if I was on the run from the most powerful man in Christendom, who had sent spies and assassins after me, the last thing I would do is start announcing my plans to a random priest in a confessional booth.
Yes, I know religion is important to people, but so is life. It’s only because Cesare’s spy slips up that Cardinal Della Rovere suspects him and proceeds to stab him in the face. But if the agent hadn’t made such a rookie mistake, the Cardinal would have announced his plans to the world and sealed his own fate.
Of course, his plans are rather extreme, anyway. By enlisting the famous Medici family, in order to request their neutrality during the impending French invasion of Naples, he aims to see a foreign army march on Rome to over throw his rival. However, he is warned by an apparently clairvoyant priest (yes, you read that right), that his actions would see Rome’s streets soaked in blood. While the priest is played in a splendidly over the top manner by Steven Berkoff (A Clockwork Orange, Beverly Hills Cop), it makes for a very random scene in a show that has played up the political manoeuvring of men over any actual divine or mystic intervention.
Maybe it’s because the period’s politics are too complicated that a more spiritual element has been added? With Italy divided into so many states, it means the series has to have scenes where Borgia has to literally point out on a map to his youngest son (and the audience) where Rome is, and who is friend and who is foe. There were numerous ways this could have been done, but instead it’s done in an incredibly ham-fisted and clunky manner, with Jeremy Irons giving us a five minute history lesson on the period’s various factions.
If all this wasn’t enough to deal with, the show has introduced several more plotlines that seem to (for now) serve no purpose, and only seem to indicate more family soap opera drama in the future.
This week saw the introduction of the former husband of Borgia’s’ former courtesan, Theo (David Bamber – clearly the casting director was a big fan of Rome), and a potential love interest for Cesare in the form of a maiden who’s trapped in a loveless marriage by a foul-mouthed cocky lord (Young Sherlock Holmes himself, Nicholas Rowe), who thinks it’s wise to insult the son of the Pope at his sister’s wedding. If he survives the next episode, I’ll eat my hat.
Cesare seems to be the most honourable of the Borgias, but considering his almost awkward feelings for his sister, his clashes with his father, and his hatred of being in the clergy, setting up another storyline where he has to save a damsel in distress just seems too much.
With so much going on, I’m worried the producers have too many balls in the air and are trying to introduce too many new ones. When it’s good, The Borgias is top quality entertainment. But at the moment, it runs the risk of collapsing under its own scale. Let’s hope things get tighter for the next nine episodes.
Read our review of episode 3, The Moor, here.