Before I became obsessed with AMC’s The Walking Dead, there was the historical Showtime drama The Borgias. Some might be very familiar with the history of this family, while others (like myself at the time), might have never even heard of them.
Over the course of three seasons, The Borgias, taking place in fifteenth-century Rome, Italy, told the story of how Rodrigo Borgia rose in the Vatican ranks from Cardinal to becoming Pope Alexander VI. In the process, he aimed to set his family with power and position, specifically in the case of the show, Cesare, Juan, and Lucrezia.
Ideally, this is what any powerful figure would do. In Rodrigo’s case specifically, his family really needed all the power and safety they could get as they were from Spain.
What unfolds is a lot of drama, from betrayals, to war, political marriages, you get the idea. So, what makes The Borgias different and better than other historical dramas?
There are several reasons, but let’s limit it to the cast, the plot itself, and the characters.
The Borgias cast
The main cast of characters are superbly played by Jeremy Irons (Pope Alexander VI), Francois Arnaud (Cesare), Holliday Grainger (Lucrezia), David Oakes (Juan) and Colm Feore (Cardinal Della Rovere AKA: the series villain). That’s not to say that other recurring actors didn’t perform well either.
I still get chills from Joanne Whalley’s performance as Cesare, Lucrezia and Juan’s mother Vanozza, Peter Sullivan was born to play the highly intelligent and crafty Cardinal Ascanio Sforza and Lotte Verbeek is vastly underrated as the Pope’s mistress and confidant Giulia Farnese. Truthfully speaking, this was the first I have seen both Arnaud and Granger and I am truly mind blown that they are not household names by this point.
Arnaud’s acting capability, especially when alongside Irons (which was very often) is perfection! Granger’s transformation from the sweet and innocent little sister Lucrezia, to one of the most underestimated, deadly and captivating women in all history continues to stay with me.
The cast has this seamless, near mind controlling capability to engage with the audience at every turn. You will cry your eyes out when Lucrezia weeps for a man she loved, you will become enraged with Juan’s actions, you will agree with Cesare’s plans, and you will often gasp when something monumental takes place that you also realize actually happened.
The Borgias plot
In regard to the plot, it is simply Rodrigo keeping his position as Pope, while his children forge their own paths (often already planned by their father), and the events that happen in between. While the show is rated TV-MA, the sexual content and graphic gore is fairly minimal, which for people like me, is practically unheard of and a true godsend.
Yes, there are times where the Pope will engage in intimate activities with Giulia and even Cesare is swept off his feet by a pretty face once in a while. But most sexual content, when it is graphic is actually relevant to the plot, instead of just there to eat up episode time.
For those who have seen the show, remember season 2 episode 3 with Juan and the chandelier? Gore is limited to political murders and the brief moments of war, however there is a very unsettling, horror aspect let’s say, in season 1 with the mummified bodies at the table.
You’ll have to watch to understand completely. The plot is both historically accurate with some liberties.
However, if you were to research the family (like I did, excessively), you’ll find nearly everything the family was accused of were all rumors spread by their enemies, or deeds that nearly everyone was doing during that time in Rome, Italy. But for a show like this, the writers will want to show every rumor, which to a degree, does help the plot.
The Borgias characters
The same could be said of the characters. You could watch the show and think Cardinal Della Rovere isn’t the villain but the hero.
But you could also view it as he’s a hypocrite to condemn the Borgia family, when a multitude of rich and even powerful Cardinals were either doing the same or would do the same. You could view Cesare as one of the most influential, brilliant and uncanny leaders the world often forgets existed.
But you could also view him as too cut throat and selfish. After all, Niccolò Machiavelli’s book The Prince was often inspired by Cesare Borgia.
Regardless of who you like or dislike, each character is written without rush. They each take the time they need to develop and evolve, for better or worse (Juan).
The characters change due to the circumstances they are placed in, which is often against their will. How they choose to move forward speaks volumes.
Lucrezia easily had the largest character development and honestly, and whether her decisions were right or wrong, the audience will most likely agree with them. Before this article becomes filled with spoilers, the one takeaway I will provide is that although the series ends at season 3, the show could have continued for at least two more.
The series finale doesn’t really wrap up well at all, and trust me, there is so much more to the story. The Borgias is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime Video, with nearly 5 stars across the board!
If you want to watch something new or simply want to feed that historical drama hunger, give The Borgias a try. I do not expect many to be disappointed.
Have you seen The Borgias? What are your honest thoughts about the show?
Let us know in the comments below!