The enduring charm of the Borgias

One of history's most notorious families is returning to TV – this time with a class cast. Sarah Hughes has a preview

As The Tudors rollicks towards its final episodes, complete with extra wheezing from Jonathan Rhys Myers as the declining Henry VIII, fans of ludicrous yet oddly addictive historical dramas are feeling a slow-burning sense of loss. How will we spend our Saturday nights now that Rhys Meyers, his incredible cheekbones and his distinctly odd way of Declaiming. Each. Sentence. As. Though. He. Was. Learning. To. Read. For. The. First. Time. are no longer with us?

Luckily there is hope on the horizon, for Showtime, the channel that originally commissioned The Tudors, is clearly aware that some of us can never have too much frippery, flouncing and fornication on our television shows, provided that is that they come accompanied with suitably ripe dialogue and the weight of history on their side.

So it is that the US cable channel has headed to 15th-century Rome for its latest drama, a new take on one of history's most notorious families, the ambitious, murderous Borgias. On paper this is a brilliant idea with the potential for much mayhem, blood, guts, poisoning and heaving of breasts – and Showtime's extended trailer for the new show, which begins in the US on 3 April before coming to Sky Atlantic in July, certainly plays up to the family's reputation with rousing music, close-ups of a sorrowful yet sinister Jeremy Irons, the suggestion of dark deeds afoot, and the snappy tagline: "The Original Crime Family".

So far, so satisfying. However, any new version of the Borgias raises an old spectre: will it be as bad as the infamous 1981 BBC adaptation, which was reckoned to have killed costume drama at the BBC for the best part of a decade?

That 10-part series was infamous for the graphic (for its time) nudity and violence and for a particularly memorable scene where half-naked actors crawled across the floor picking up chestnuts with their mouths. By the time the Vatican issued an edict condemning the BBC's The Borgias the only question asked by anyone with any taste was what on earth took them so long?

Thankfully, the new Borgias looks like it will actually be rather good. Jeremy Irons, who plays the power-crazed Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia later to become one of history's most infamous Popes, has a whale of time. His Rodrigo, all hissing sibilants and subtle suggestions, wields his power quietly yet absolutely, more Godfather Part II-era Michael Corleone than Tony Soprano.

While Irons dominates, the rest of the cast, which includes Derek Jacobi and Colm Feore as Rodrigo's rivals, Joanne Whalley as his principal mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei, and a couple of brooding bruisers (François Arnaud and David Oakes) as his murderous sons Cesare and Juan Borgia, are no slouches and manage to sell some fairly baroque moments involving the campaign for the new Pope, which could easily teeter into Monty Python-esque parody.

That they don't is also thanks to the involvement of the idiosyncratic Irish director Neil Jordan, who is the series' co-creator and will direct the first two episodes. The Borgias is something of a pet project for Jordan who has been trying to make a film about the family, described as "The Godfather set in the Vatican" since 2000.

That said The Borgias is also the work of Michael Hirst, the man behind The Tudors and the scriptwriter for Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age. Hirst, a man who never met a period of history he couldn't joyfully sex up, is the sort of wilfully over-the-top writer whom you either love or despise.

Should historical drama be accurate? The only sane answer is yes but Hirst has so much fun proving the opposite that it's hard not to get swept along. His involvement suggests that this Borgias might be more Rome than I, Claudius, more Tudors than Elizabeth R but it's also the case that even if the series does turn out to be tosh, it will be lavishly shot, lovely to look at and completely addictive tosh.



'The Borgias' will be on Sky Atlantic in July

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor