Why I Love Showtime's "The Borgias"

The first season of Showtime's historical drama "The Borgias" ended this past Sunday evening. I've been watching it since day one, and it didn't disappoint.

The show is loosely based on the historical Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish cardinal who became one of the Catholic Church's most notorious popes, Alexander VI. Borgia, like too many important clergyman of his day, was a rather corrupt man who kept mistresses and openly acknowledged his illegitimate children. Rumors of bribery and even poisoning hung about him and his children; his beautiful daughter Lucrezia was said to have kept poison hidden in the jewel of her ring. In reality this is probably nothing more than a smear on her reputation, but hers was certainly a scandalous family. It was almost inevitable that their lives would be made into a TV show.

I'm not bothered that the show plays fast and loose with a number of historical facts. For example: Cesare was the second oldest son, not the oldest as he is in the show. Pope Alexander was a fat gourmand, not gaunt like Jeremy Irons. And he had more children--and mistresses--than he does in the show.

I don't mind major historical facts being messed with. You need to create an exciting plot. Life isn't plotted. As long as the little details like clothing and architecture are pretty accurate, I'm happy. And the details in "The Borgias" are gorgeous. The costumes and props are based on contemporary paintings, and the sets are replicas of Vatican, Roman, and Italian architecture. The costumes are so stunning they almost make me drool.

Portrait of Pope Alexander VI
Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI

Irons is great as Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander. He's an obviously corrupt man who has affairs despite his vow of celibacy, bribes his way to the papacy, plots against his enemies, and uses his children for his own gain. And yet he's a devoted family man and a shrewd politician with a wit as sharp as a steel sword. It's both impressive and tragic to watch what ambition and power does to him and his family.

Francois Arnaud as Cesare Borgia
Portrait of Cesare Borgia

Francois Arnaud broods, schemes, and loves as Rodrigo's son, Cesare Borgia. If possible, Cesare is even more morally ambiguous than his famous father, going so far as to employ an assassin. He even kills directly when he has to. Yet Cesare is tortured more by his conscience than his father. He can rationalize almost anything in the heat of the moment, but it always comes back to haunt him, sometimes with heartbreaking consequences.

Painting of Lucrezia Borgia

Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia

Holliday Grainger's Lucrezia Borgia is far and away my favorite character. She starts out sweet, innocent and bubbly, but over the course of the season she becomes savvier and more mature. Of all the characters, she changes the most. Yet, somehow, she retains much her innocence and...well, "moral purity" are the words that come to mind. She's the one basically good character in the show, free from the corruption that taints the other main characters.

The series contains nudity and intimacy, as well as some violence and gore, so if you have difficulty with any of these things this probably isn't the show for you. I wish it was less explicit, but it's a visually stunning and very entertaining series. I'll definitely be watching next season!

All images from the show were found on The Borgias Wiki and are the property of Showtime Networks, Inc. No copyright infringement is intended.


  1. Sam, despite a bit of a lackluster ending, I thought the first season was extremely well done too. Enough to make me tune into the next. I wondered about the casting of Jeremy Irons too; I thought the Borgia Pope should make me feel a bit dazzled by his audacity, but he really wasn't over the top. If anything, the Sforzas had more cruelty than any of the Borgias. None of them were as I expected, in particular Cesare. I kept thinking if he is meant to be Machiavelli's inspiration for the Prince, then this televised version of Cesare isn't quite there yet. It's part of why I'm looking forward to season 2. I hope the characters take on more of the mystique that has made the Borgias such a fascinating family.

  2. I really enjoyed The Tudors--I watched the whole series on DVD so I didn't have to wait between episodes. I'll be in line to grab The Borgias the instant it hits DVD!

  3. @Lisa: I thought the ending with the birth of a baby was a bit too "cutesy." I mean, the baby was totally adorable, but I was expecting for Rome and/or the Borgias to be thrown into mortal peril. It ended on a soft note that I wasn't expecting, given that the last few episodes were pretty bloody and suspenseful. Still, I'm also looking forward to season 2!

    @Stephanie: I've never seen The Tudors, but if you loved it then I'm sure you'll love this series too!