The Borgias, Season One

I’m not much of a television or movie viewer but “The Borgias” on Netflix caught my eyebso and I just finished watching the first season. Originally a Showtime cable series, The Borgias ran from 2011 to 2013 and was based on the notorious family headed by Rodrigo/Pope Alexander VI (played by Jeremy Irons), along with his children, Cardinal Cesare (Francois Arnaud), Juan (David Oakes), and Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger). Other notable characters include Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), the famous papal courtesan and the mother of the pope’s children, Giulia (Lotte Verbeek), the pope’s young married mistress, Micheletto (Sean Harris), Cesare’s softspoken “hit man,” and Sancha of Aragon (Emmanuelle Chriqui), wife of Rodrigo’s barely pubescent son, Gioffre (Aidan Alexander), and mistress to Juan.

After Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire it became increasingly institutionalized, guided by a hierarchy that demanded absolute control of its membership as it determinedly expanded its material wealth and political power. Simple faith in Christ devolved into legalism and sacramental ritualism jealously controlled by the clerics. By the time Rodrigo Borgia bribed his way into the papacy in 1492, corruption in the church was beyond rampant.

I was already aware of some of the shenanigans of the Borgia clan before watching this show. Five hundred years later, Lucrezia Borgia is still remembered for her formidable skills with poison. The nine episodes of the first season generally held my interest. Not to go into great detail but Rodrigo buys his way into the papacy and he and his ruthless son, Cesare, are kept busy “eliminating” rivals and forming political alliances. Rodrigo marries off Lucrezia to a powerful family but the union proves to be an unfortunate choice. Lucrezia escapes and, while returning to her family, manages to charmingly dissuade the advancing King of France and his army from invading Rome, saving her father.

This series isn’t always edifying to watch and several times I opted to hit the fast forward button on my remote. But, for the most part, the story and acting are well done, although Irons is a bit of a fish out of water. Rodrigo Borgia/pope Alexander VI was certainly a ruthless, domineering figure while Irons always gives an air of uncertainty and nervous introspection to any role he plays. Wasn’t Chazz Palminteri available to play the first “Godfather”? But Holliday Grainger is excellent as the young Lucrezia. The sets, period costumes, and special effects are remarkable for a cable television series.

Catholics often point to their church’s long history as a sign of legitimacy and authority. However, many chapters of the church’s history are quite unflattering to say the least. For my previous post on the Dark Side of the Papacy, see here.

Fourteen short years after the death of pope Alexander VI the Reformation began with Luther nailing his 95 theses to the All Saint’s Church door in Wittenberg. Successive Reformers endeavored to return the church to the simple faith and practices of the New Testament church.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” – Matthew 13:31-32


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