I rarely write about television programs. Most of them bore me to death. But occasionally I find a series that really compels me to engage with it. The Borgias, a historical-fiction drama created by Neil Jordan (created for Showtime), that aired from 2011 – 2013, is such a TV series. You can find it on Netflix.
Originally conceived as a 4 season series, the production of the final season was canceled before it was made. Fans apparently went up in arms, and Showtime announced it would produce a 2-hour movie to bring all of the plot lines to their conclusion. However, the movie production was also deemed to be too expensive to produce and never was. As some small recompense, the screenplay for the movie was released as an electronic download. I devoured it as well.
What better way to avoid the horrors of this election cycle than to delve deep into just how vile and hideous life, politics, and the church were at the turn of the 16th century! While Neil Jordan certainly took some liberties with history, the production paid very careful attention to detail in architecture, costume, main characters, and the substantial threads of history. This alone makes the series a feast (and too expensive to finish). Historical liberties are listed in the Historical Notes section of the Wikipedia article about the series.
The acting is well done, with Jeremy Irons playing the role of Rodrigo Borgia / Pope Alexander VI. During a formative time in Europe and the Catholic Church, the series really brings history to life before your eyes. You hate the characters but understand their fears and visceral struggles. They are evil and vile men and women fighting to get ahead but also, many times, just to survive. Life in this era unfolds at an astoundingly different pace. (Thank goodness for the gifted storytelling that speeds things along.) This series contains some pretty ugly themes providing a glimpse into a terrible time in human history.
Plot and Themes
Without giving anything away, I must say Neil Jordan brilliantly creates one of the most dramatic and devastating scenes I have ever seen on screen. The involved circumstances of plot are probably fictional, though absolutely believable. They create a level of dramatic tension rarely endured/enjoyed in stage or certainly in a TV series. Crazy intense plot development and acting surrounding critical themes of the day.
The series brilliantly explores the church’s struggle between being a political force, its own empire, and a religious organization providing hope to the miserable masses. The pope himself privately says God never speaks to him. He hears only silence. At the same time he wants God to speak to him so badly he believes even more deeply: the paradox and powerful interplay of deep faith combined with no faith at all, the insatiable need for intermingling faith with personal ambition, the necessity of trusting others you know would devour you while not trusting yourself at all.
The series exposes many of the villainous and self-serving acts of the empire of church and its consistory against the backdrop of the suffering and dying masses who the church also knows have a deep need to hope, to have faith. And how they do indeed exploit that suffering! And all of this is beautifully wrapped up in the suffering of the main characters dressed in and surrounded by the very best money could buy all to perpetuate the hoax and fanfare of their piety.
I found the story itself so compelling, I had to read up on the history. The history is theater at its best. The essential threads of this story are rooted in historical fact. As the old saying goes, you couldn’t make this stuff up. But what Neil did make up, he did so with extremely brilliant storytelling.
Tim really, really likes and highly recommends.