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- Publicado en Amazon.com
This show took me completely by surprise, especially after reading a bunch of negative reviews here and in other places. Most of them, it seems, are written by people who saw one or two episodes and quickly dismissed it as a complete disaster and inferior to the other Borgia show produced by Neil Jordan for Showtime. Well, I'm happy to report, that my own opinion is quite different. The first episodes did take some getting used, particularly the mishmash of various accents, clunky exposition, overabundance of supporting characters and political details and an unexpected approach to character development of younger Borgias (particularly Cesare - he seems to be really polarizing for many viewers). Also, compared to the polished Showtime version, which I saw first, it seemed somewhat gloomy and even drab.
However, there was something that made me keep watching. Even though I was far from expert on the Borgias, I recognized it was much better researched than the Showtime version, both in terms of historical events and a look and feel of times. The political intrigues were actually quite interesting and I was also curious to see how they were going to do with Cesare - can this volatile teenager really transform into a credible prototype for Machiavelli's The Prince? Then, after the first 3 or 4 episodes I was suddenly hooked and tried to glom the rest of the series as fast as I possibly could in one sitting. It's a good thing both seasons are available on Netflix now! Although I admit, it wasn't until season 2 when I realized I was watching the best adult historical show since Rome, and possibly my favorite period drama ever (I think Mark Ryder's fantastic performance as a more mature Cesare Borgia in season 2 has something to with that, too). But I promise I'll try to contain this review to season 1 as much as I can.
Performances range from adequate to great (my favorites are Mark Ryder and Isolda Dychauk). Most people will probably recognize John Doman and Art Malik as well as guest actors from The Game of Thrones. The Borgia children and other youngsters are closer to the actual age of their characters in 1492, when Rodrigo was elected Pope. Isolda is more believable as a childlike Lucrezia, and Mark and Stanley Weber (Juan) as young adults. They grow together with their characters as the series progresses. They even resemble the portraits from the era quite a bit.
John Doman (Rodrigo) seems to be a deal breaker for many, especially his American accent. Which seems rather strange to me: why do we expect people in medieval Italy speak with posh British accent (which is not used by most Brits, by the way). In fact, the American accent even stresses Rodrigo's position as an outsider, a brash barbarian in the more refined culture. Doman might not be my first choice to play the Borgia patriarch but he does bring commanding presence expected of someone who's been a second man in the Vatican for several decades while patiently waiting for his own turn. I only wish the writers had given him more opportunities to display fatherly affection towards his children.
Mark Ryder is given the most challenging role in the series, and he's doing it amazingly well for such a young actor. In season one, Cesare is a very complex character confronted with many issues and goes from one extreme to another, torn between his own dreams of glory and a need to prove to his father than he's more worthy of his love than his brother Juan. He needs to learn to leash his aggression, pride and arrogance in a way that will help his ambitions rather than hinder them. I think it's rather bold on Tom Fontana's part to remind us that Cesare is still 18 when his father becomes Pope and not to make him a badass right away, but rather an impulsive young man with great potential who still has to find his way in life. Some might consider it's a weakness, but I believe it allows for far more interesting character development (especially since season 2 delivers in spades). We have to wait for Season 3 for the final verdict, but it's the best portrayal of a young man's rise to power I've seen on TV so far.
This show also features a surprising number of supporting roles, most of whom are based on actual historic personalities and have their own backstory (although they do play loose with some of them). All of them contribute to the story and look like real people with their own agendas rather than simply plot devices. There're even personas - like Spain's monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and the German Emperor - that never actually show up on screen, but nevertheless influence the politics of Rome quite a bit.
I realize the main characters on the show might be hard to empathize with if you expect to find them to be likable in a traditional sense. While they're not the monsters from the Borgia legend (they do address some juicy gossip such as incest and poisonings), they're complex characters who fight their inner demons (Cesare is the most obvious example, but it's true to some extent with others). The writers are not afraid to give them unbecoming qualities such as petty jealousy or vanity or put them into embarrassing situations. And of course, most of them accept violence as a method to defend their honor or achieve their political goals far more readily than we do (true to the times, but might be off-putting to some viewers). In the end, I still ended up rooting for Cesare, Lucrezia, Rodrigo and, of course, Giulia's brother Alessandro Farnese who seems to be the only really decent person on the show.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying the show is entirely flawless. I think the first 3 or 4 episodes are really the weakest (they also have the largest amount of gratuitous nudity and violence), although I've come to appreciate them more now since they're actually doing a very good job of setting up the rest of the series. Some of the invented side stories are really over the top, some of the made-up conflicts are too soapy and some of the actors struggle with saying lines in English. I don't mind different accents at all, the only problem is, sometimes it's just hard to understand what they're saying (I had to turn on subtitles on a few occasions). I also wish they had a bigger budget for grander sets (not that they're not doing a great job with what they have). Finally, I think they should've allocated more time to develop Cesare and Lucrezia's relationship more naturally (I felt they threw it in at the last moment because it's what the audience expected). But overall, I firmly believe that the strengths outweigh the weaknesses by far.
So how does this version compare to Showtime? As someone who's seen two season of Borgia and all three of Showtime before actually checking out Camal+ version, I have a few things to say on the matter (but take it as a grain of salt as I'm squarely in Tom Fontana's camp).
I have to say, there're quite a few things to love about Neil Jordan's effort which I actually liked quite a bit. First of all, they do have a substantially bigger budget which allows for more sumptuous (but not particularly accurate) sets and visually stunning costumes. They also set up Cesare and Lucrezia's love story much better and the cast is generally more solid.
On the other hand, Borgia definitely wins in the character development and amount of historical research (I'm not going to say accuracy since they both take significant liberties with the private lives of the characters). Borgia's writers are much better of following the major historical events and showing the political and cultural background of the day (not without some simplification or dramatic license, of course). Despite some anachronisms, Fontana's Borgia actually feels like Renaissance Italy rather than a vaguely historic fantasyland where the characters appear to be too modern and do very little of what their prototypes actually did.
Canal+ version is definitely more challenging of the two and is not an easily digestible entertainment for the casual viewers. It requires at least some basic knowledge of the era, attention to detail, patience when it comes to characters' growth and willingness to look deeper where things are left open to interpretation.
Even though I enjoyed The Borgias when I first saw it I don't really feel like watching it again (ok, maybe only Cesare and Lucrezia scenes). However, I've already watched Borgia's two seasons three times and look forward to season three. Hopefully, unlike Showtime, Canal+ is going to allow for a proper ending to the series.