The Borgias

I've spent the last few nights in absolute rapture at the antics of one of the most abominable families in Western history.

They were the Borgias, a pack of schemers, poisoners, and assasins who were for a while the most powerful and infamous family on the globe. And Showtime has brought them most marvellously alive in its series The Borgias.

My interest in this family dates back to my childhood. My father was a great subscriber to series of hardcover books in mock leather bindings: Great Poets of the Western World, The Novels of Charles Dickens and, most importantly, The Great Historical Biographies. Among these was a biography of Lucretia Borgia (and it was always the "T" spelling when I was young, though these days the Italianised "Lucrezia" seems to have become standard) that become a firm family favourite. When my mother first read it she would terrify my seven-year-old self with tales of the wicked  poisoner, and Lucretia Borgia loomed in my imagination as a horrendous mass murderer. As soon as I was old enough I read the biography myself, and found myself charmed by the immoral Lucretia, and firmly in favour of her murderous ways. Lucretia has always been my kind of woman.

That book has long disappeared, and I have no idea who the author might have been. I am assuming it must have been John Leslie Garner's translation of Ferdinand Gregorovius 19th Century biography. But I have had to wait till now to see the Borgias brought to life on the small screen, but the result is so marvellous that it has been worth the wait.

Those of a religious disposition would already have seen the series, and all seem to love it. The horror of this most despicable family can be too much for those of a more delicate constitution. Everyone has been singing the praises of Jeremy Irons as the thoroughly corrupt Rodrigo Borgia, father of those most wicked children Cesare and Lucrezia. He seems almost born for the part, though his thinness bothers me. The Borgias were famous for their plumpness, so this thoroughly glamorous - and terribly skinny - cast has been arranged with some liberties with historical fact.  

For me the winning performances were Francois Arnaud as the spiritually troubled (though reliably murderous) Cesare Borgia and Luke Pasqualino as the thoroughly beautiful Paulo, lover of Lucrezia. Lucrezia is played with a wonderful innocence by the exquisitely named Holliday Grainger.

This show really is tremendous fun, and has absolutely everything need to keep you glued to the screen - sex, murder, beautiful people and outrageous romances. And the best thing about it is that it's (mostly) all true, so you can convince yoursel;f that it is educational viewing.

The sumptuous sets and costunmes and the consistently wonderful performances - that always sail close to becoming campy - make this tremendous viewing. Go and grab the DVD set and devote the next week or so of evenings to watching it. You won't be disappointed!


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