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424 of 434 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping It In The Family--A Historical Tale Of Intrigue, Manipulation, Scandal And Much Worse
Talk about niche programming. When the successful Showtime series "The Tudors" came to a conclusion last year (after all, Henry VIII could only have so many lives and wives), the network didn't miss a beat in creating a program that would appeal to a similar demographic. "The Borgias" tackles an equally well known historical personage and gives the notorious Pope and his...
Published on May 20, 2011 by K. Harris

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53 of 72 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lousy drama, worse history
This is historical drama at its worst. There is no sense whatever of being carried to another era or sharing the lives of its people. I felt like I was watching a drawn-out costume show, interrupted by exaggerated violence that created no tension and exaggerated sex that had no erotic appeal.

But what's really disturbing about this series is the...
Published on January 13, 2012 by serious watcher


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424 of 434 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping It In The Family--A Historical Tale Of Intrigue, Manipulation, Scandal And Much Worse, May 20, 2011
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
Talk about niche programming. When the successful Showtime series "The Tudors" came to a conclusion last year (after all, Henry VIII could only have so many lives and wives), the network didn't miss a beat in creating a program that would appeal to a similar demographic. "The Borgias" tackles an equally well known historical personage and gives the notorious Pope and his clan a sumptuous dramatization. Helmed by Neil Jordan, a writer/director whose "The Crying Game" won him a screenplay Oscar, the show further stacked the deck with the brilliant casting coup of Jeremy Irons in the lead role. The show highlights the entire family, not just patriarch Rodrigo Borgia, and showcases the seamy underbelly of corruption, manipulation, and brutality that have made the name synonymous with criminal enterprise. In fact, the family's reputation for ruthlessness inspired Mario Puzo's to mold the characters featured in "The Godfather" after the real life Borgias.

With the first season of the show only running nine episodes, however, the full scope of the Borgia legacy is merely introduced. The premiere starts with the death of the reigning Pope, which leaves a vacancy that ambitious Cardinal Rodrigo (Irons) intends to claim at any price. Through back room deals and other nefarious deeds, Rodrigo ascends to power while making an enemy of Cardinal Della Rovere (a solid Colm Feore)--an act that will have long range repercussions as the exiled Cardinal aligns with outside forces to unseat the Pope. Appointing son Cesare (Francois Arnaud) as a Cardinal, son Juan (David Oakes) to military leadership, and arranging an advantageous marriage for daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger)--the Pope is establishing a well protected position. Each child plays their part to precision as they deal with personal drama, romance, and intrigue. The show progresses with the Pope's position becoming more precarious as the French Army marches through Italy with its sights on Rome. This is a primary story arc as the season reaches its conclusion.

In every regard, "The Borgias" is a terrific technical production. The sets, costumes, and period details all look great. The action sequences, especially when it comes to the battlefield, are tense and brutal--with superb effects. The screenplays are smart--allowing a slow build tension and actual character development that heightens the impending drama. It's great to have Irons back in a prominent leading role as he seems to have been wallowing in cheesy supporting turns for quite some time. Arnaud has a quiet intensity as, perhaps, the show's most intriguing and complex character. And Grainger has a subtlety that gets under your skin--before you know what happened, she has transformed into a sly power player. But the cast is uniformly excellent with even smaller roles well delineated.

I commonly look to cable and premium cable networks to provide more surprising and sophisticated entertainment, and Showtime has done an excellent job structuring a program for adult viewers. With these historical dramas, there will always be a contingent of people who will chime in on details of precise historical accuracy. I make no claims that this show is one hundred percent accurate, but it is certainly an effective and entertaining dramatization. If you enjoy lush period pieces, there is a lot to admire in "The Borgias" and that makes it an easy recommendation. KGHarris, 5/11
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145 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Borgias: In the Beginning, June 6, 2011
By 
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
In 1492 while Columbus was sailing the ocean blue to discover the Americas things weren't so tidy in Rome. It was a time when the papacy was in disrepair with popes having wives and mistresses and all manner of scandal (sound oddly familiar...) and from this period in history highly regarded writer Neil Jordan has pasted together enough information about the infamous Borgias - 'the first crime family' according to the PR - to create what resulted in a fascinating account of world history, a fitting series whose first season of 9 episodes are tied together in this package of DVDs.

For starters, the opening title sequences are masterworks of graphics and art history albeit splatter or washed in blood. The series opens with the nefarious Spanish family taking over the important Roman power vested in the papacy: Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons in a splendid tour de force of acting), becomes Pope Alexander VI when Pope Innocent VIII dies. As Pope, the elder Borgia gains election of his son Cesare (François Arnaud, a stunningly gifted young and handsome actor in one of his very first roles) to the College of Cardinals while his other son, the libidinous Juan (David Oakes) is made head of the military: these sons and the daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) are the children by the pope's 'wife' Vanozza Cattaneo (Joanne Whaley), though the pope is now in the throes of a sordid relationship with Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek). One cardinal - Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore) - is out to depose the unctuous Borgia reign and works with outside forces to overthrow Pope Alexander VI and makes alliances with King Charles VIII of France (Michel Muller). In the meantime Lucrezia is married off to the rather piggish Giovanni Sforza (Ronan Vibert) for monetary gain for the papacy but prefers sleeping with the illiterate commoner groomsman Paulo (Luke Pasqualino). Cesare appears to be the wisest of the descendants (despite a love affair with a married woman) but the entire family wiles its way into the role of oily evil that sets the stage for the episodes to follow.

The cast is uniformly excellent: there are cameo roles for the likes of Derek Jacobi, Sean Harris, Steven Berkoff, etc. The settings and costumes are enormously successful and the pacing of the action is fast - but not too fast to pause here and there for some rather graphic sensual scenes and gross and bloody fighting. it has the flavor of the times down to a fare-thee-well, making us eager for the next season to begin. Very worthwhile watching on every level. Grady Harp, June 11
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100 of 110 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Acting & Cinematography; Solid Writing, September 3, 2011
By 
Theo (Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
There is a great deal to admire in this series. Visually it is superb. The costuming and sets manage simultaneously to be both beautiful and realistic to the period; or at least, they seem so to my untutored eye. The actors uniformly do an extraordinarily good job. So much so that it is difficult to know whom to focus upon in this review, because whatever choices I make I will be omitting mention of some truly outstanding performances.

However, I am going to begin in the obvious place: with Jeremy Irons' interpretation of Rodrigo Borgia. I do so if only because so much hinges on this pivotal character. The Telegraph critic Rachel Ray criticised this series on the grounds that it "lacks the amoral aura of a psychopathic family", and specifically criticised Irons' own performance as "disappointingly undiabolical". On a strictly literal level Ray's perception of this series is entirely accurate. However, I would argue that it also entirely misses the point.

The Rodrigo Borgia we find in this show was never intended as an inhuman monster who would not have been out of place cackling maniacally atop Snake Mountain. Rather, what we gaze upon here is far closer to the true face of evil as it most often exists in the real world: ordinary, resigned in the face of the dictates of Realpolitik, and when confronted with the moral reality of where such dictates lead, by turns a true believer, actively self deluding, and at times even self doubting. Not unlike a concentration camp guard who can go home at night and be a loving father to his children. I am very much reminded here of political theorist Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil". It would be doing a great disservice both to Irons' individual performance and to the moral complexities of this series more generally to suggest that everything could be summed up entirely in such straightforward terms. Nevertheless, we would at least have the comfort of being considerably closer to the human reality of what "The Borgias" sets out to achieve than whatever it is Ray was expecting - apparently some kind of costumed remake of The Godfather.

Rodrigo Borgia aside, there are many more truly outstanding performances in this series than I can realistically go into here. It is worth saying that François Arnaud, Holliday Grainger, and David Oaks all do outstanding jobs in their respective rolls as Rodrigo Borgia's adult children. Sean Harris, although in a relatively minor role as Cesare Borgia's assasin, is also very much worthy of mention. While his performance is extremely minimalist, he somehow manages to achieve a great deal while apparently doing very little. I find myself genuinely left wondering what goes on behind those eyes. It must take an enormous amount of skill to suggest so much with so little.

Unusually for a "quality drama", if this series has a weakness it is in the writing. Don't get me wrong: the writing is good. It's just that it never manages to be more than "good". It doesn't achieve the same standard as the other aspects of the production. If I could sum up my reservations about the writing in a single sentence it would be simply this: it does not surprise me. I say that from the perspective of someone with a very slight nodding acquaintance with the history of the period, although no more than that. But to be clear, when I talk of not being surprised, I'm not just talking about the specific events that take place. It's more that there is a decided absence of moments where I find myself thinking "Gee they did that well"! In fact, there are no such moments at all until relatively late in the piece when the French King (once again played impeccably, in this case by Michael Muller) arrives on the stage. And even then, the surprises - those "wow" moments - are few and far between, and as a rule are rather mild.

Still... it's not like the writing is bad or anything. It's good. Solid... If perhaps just a tiny bit predictable. Actually, this series is at its most unsettling when it communicates with us on a purely sensual level with sound and vision, cannons blazing. In this case literally so.

And speaking of the French, one curiosity of this series is that despite being an international production with an international cast, all of the Italian characters not only speak English, they are made to do so with very pronounced English accents. Of course, when the French get involved, they too all speak exclusively in English - although in their case they speak English with French accents! It's little touches like this that remind us that despite its superficial mundane realism, television is ultimately about communicating ideas, and finally a story, to an audience. I suppose I just find it interesting how readily, perhaps even unthinkingly, we as an audience accept such methods of communication.

That particular curiosity and my reservations about the writing aside, this is still absolutely something I'd recommend seeing. And I am most definitely waiting with baited breath for season two!

Theo.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Borgiamania, January 23, 2012
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This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
I can't wait for the upcoming season (and the one following that)! We need more historical dramas like the Borgias instead of all these damn 'reality' shows and cheap 'fluff' movies flooding the television and movie screens.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transcending History and Transcending Television., May 11, 2012
By 
Anne Rice (Palm Desert, California) - See all my reviews
When confronted with this beautiful and brilliantly conceived series, one has to confess that neither historical accuracy or the limitations of television much matter. The brilliant Neil Jordan who created, wrote and directed these episodes has made this his own rich and meaningful and unforgettable material. You don't go to Shakespeare's Hamlet or his Macbeth or his King Lear to learn history; you go to them to be with Shakespeare in his world and see how he uses history to construct his universe. Well, that is what is happening here. Jordan has made The Borgias his own mad universe in which he can talk about good and evil, humanity and cruelty as he wants to do it, and his dialogue and staging and vision is what matters. I find the series (I have now seen all of season two which will soon be released on DVD if it isn't already) horrifying and mesmerizing. I cannot look away from it though it drags me to places I don't want to go. And I sense without even thinking about it that this is like no other programming on television at this time. It is so extreme, so fully realized, so uncompromising, and so intelligent that it is in a class by itself. Of course the actors and actresses are superb. The cinematography and art direction surpass anything I've seen on the small screen; and the entire look of the series is Renaissance in its colors and proportions. It is entertaining? I honestly don't know. When something is this riveting and contains this much cruelty I don't know if it's entertaining. I know that I recommend it to everyone.
(Disclaimer: Neil Jordan directed the film, Interview with the Vampire, made from my first novel.)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping It In The Family--A Historical Tale Of Intrigue, Manipulation, Scandal And Much Worse, December 27, 2011
Talk about niche programming. When the successful Showtime series "The Tudors" came to a conclusion last year (after all, Henry VIII could only have so many lives and wives), the network didn't miss a beat in creating a program that would appeal to a similar demographic. "The Borgias" tackles an equally well known historical personage and gives the notorious Pope and his clan a sumptuous dramatization. Helmed by Neil Jordan, a writer/director whose "The Crying Game" won him a screenplay Oscar, the show further stacked the deck with the brilliant casting coup of Jeremy Irons in the lead role. The show highlights the entire family, not just patriarch Rodrigo Borgia, and showcases the seamy underbelly of corruption, manipulation, and brutality that have made the name synonymous with criminal enterprise. In fact, the family's reputation for ruthlessness inspired Mario Puzo's to mold the characters featured in "The Godfather" after the real life Borgias.

With the first season of the show only running nine episodes, however, the full scope of the Borgia legacy is merely introduced. The premiere starts with the death of the reigning Pope, which leaves a vacancy that ambitious Cardinal Rodrigo (Irons) intends to claim at any price. Through back room deals and other nefarious deeds, Rodrigo ascends to power while making an enemy of Cardinal Della Rovere (a solid Colm Feore)--an act that will have long range repercussions as the exiled Cardinal aligns with outside forces to unseat the Pope. Appointing son Cesare (Francois Arnaud) as a Cardinal, son Juan (David Oakes) to military leadership, and arranging an advantageous marriage for daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger)--the Pope is establishing a well protected position. Each child plays their part to precision as they deal with personal drama, romance, and intrigue. The show progresses with the Pope's position becoming more precarious as the French Army marches through Italy with its sights on Rome. This is a primary story arc as the season reaches its conclusion.

In every regard, "The Borgias" is a terrific technical production. The sets, costumes, and period details all look great. The action sequences, especially when it comes to the battlefield, are tense and brutal--with superb effects. The screenplays are smart--allowing a slow build tension and actual character development that heightens the impending drama. It's great to have Irons back in a prominent leading role as he seems to have been wallowing in cheesy supporting turns for quite some time. Arnaud has a quiet intensity as, perhaps, the show's most intriguing and complex character. And Grainger has a subtlety that gets under your skin--before you know what happened, she has transformed into a sly power player. But the cast is uniformly excellent with even smaller roles well delineated.

I commonly look to cable and premium cable networks to provide more surprising and sophisticated entertainment, and Showtime has done an excellent job structuring a program for adult viewers. With these historical dramas, there will always be a contingent of people who will chime in on details of precise historical accuracy. I make no claims that this show is one hundred percent accurate, but it is certainly an effective and entertaining dramatization. If you enjoy lush period pieces, there is a lot to admire in "The Borgias" and that makes it an easy recommendation. KGHarris, 5/11
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific!, September 20, 2011
By 
PJR (Minneapolis, Minnesota United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
A difficult challenge well met. Congratulations. The history of the Roman Church is central to the history of Europe for several hundred years. Yet we little in the arts to help us to visualize the inner workings of the Curia and the Papacy and its role in shaping the destiny of Italy, Europe, and indeed the world. I love history and have always felt that it is tragic that the general public has not had glimpses of some of the most fascinating aspects of history. Admittedly this sort of thing is complicated and involves politics phrased in terms of religion, and the real world politics was complicated by the fact that the political units were so fragmented compared to what is now familiar.

In the Borgias the personal misdeeds and family dynamics make a good "hook" for dramatic purposes. I think they did a good job showing that the times themselves were bloody and that the Borgias were not all that out of step with the political realities of a time when wealth was growing in Europe along with ambitions and military technology. We can hardly judge according to to our wishful thinking today about how the world ought to be. In that sense I imagine that educated Catholics will feel that the Church gets a fair break in this interpretation. The Borgias were sharks but swimming in shark infested waters to say the least.

It is simply fact that the popes played divide and conquer -- or one might say, divide and prevail -- and was an obstacle to political unification. This comes across in the ways in which Alexander plays off Milan against Florence and Naples, etc. and we can easily imagine other play offs with Spain, France, Portugal, etc. They also do a decent job in getting in the idea of how he uses the prestige of the papacy to win political allies and manipulate the great game of politics in Europe.

The use of children and especially women as political pawns is well known of course but here the deliberations are drawn out so that the human side is brought nicely into focus. This was clear in The Tudors too but kings are supposed to have children and Popes are not. So here there is the added dimension that having children to marry off was actually an asset for an ambitious Pope back then and not ONLY a sign of decadence. The series does a decent job of showing how marriage even of illegitimate children could be politically advantageous in the case of powerful clergy.

All in all, I think they did a good job of presenting a lot of complicated and controversial material. Was it perfect? Of course not. None of these sorts of series can be. Were the costumes up to the glittering quality of those in the Tudors? No and if you watch it for the costumes you will be disappointed. How about Irons acting? I thought it was subdued at first, but picked up nicely. On reflection probably he should have started out more seemingly humble or calm when he was new to the papacy. Then he never became the stereotype of a villain and that seems right to me. It would have looked silly. It is easier for a King of England to look sinister than a Pope.

We should have more historical soap operas or dramas or whatever you want to call them about Church history. Gregory VII would be wonderful for example, even Leo IX who earlier failed to establish the papal monarchy that Gregory finally did work out. Then there were the great Church and State struggles and the Avignon captivity and the struggles to return to Rome and so on even into the conflicts with Napoleon. Will we ever see these? Maybe not. But I hope that The Borgias could be a first step by showing that this sort of material can be good entertainment. I well appreciate, of course that Borgia blood and sex were largely what would bring a larger audience into watching stories in this sort of setting.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enter the Renaissance, September 16, 2011
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
I thought The Borgias was excellent. I would give it four and a half stars only because I agree with the criticism that there are too many gratuitous sex scenes. We get the idea already, the pope had a mistress, Cesare and Juan were sleeping with their brother's wife, etc, etc.

From the first episode, with its long shots of processions and so on, I realized The Borgias would be boring for people not interested in the period or at least with history in general, but if one is interested in either I don't see how you couldn't enjoy it. The sets and wardrobes are amazing. The production is lavish. The acting is great. The casting is good. Jeremy Irons is superb--the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in his expressions indicate his thoughts, mood and burden. His is a very convincing, though not very spiritual, Alexander Sextus. Cesare's performance is excellent and the portrayal is refreshingly sympathetic, yet still nuanced. All the performances manage to exhibit economically the psychology of the people (as another reviewer says). The dialogue, formal language and diction are compelling and entertaining (love all the conditional tenses).

I would wish they could have followed history a little more closely but understand the need for compression, and nine episodes for two years is already generous. I've read a lot on the period but this helped me to get some things that didn't sink in from reading books, like just how monumental the invasion of Charles VIII was for the Italian psyche. How it inspired Alexander to increase the power of the papal states. How it affected the thought of Machiavelli and others. How it gave birth to the expression "the balance of power." The series also conveys how much the Borgias were looked down on due to their Spanish roots and how the children had to deal with the stigma not only of being illegitimate but also of being the children of a courtesan. The movie also makes it sink in how long Cesare was a cardinal--and how much he hated it--before he became the (in)famous Duke Valentino.

Looking forward to the next season.

There are many small historical inaccuracies for the sake of compression and drama. There are a few I would like to point out. It was Lodovico il Moro of Milan who proposed to Charles VIII that he assert his rights to the kingdom of Naples; Ludovico did so because he was worried that King Ferrante of Naples might assert the rights of Ludovico's nephew to the dukedom of Milan; it is, however, also true that della Rovere went into exile in France due to his hatred and fear of the Borgias and further encouraged Charles VIII to invade Italy.

The old French King (Charles VIII) is a great character but was actually only twenty-four at the time.

Also Machiavelli did not become Florentine Secretary until 4 years after the French invasion, at which time Florence was a republic.

And Lucrezia was only thirteen when she married Giovanni Sforza.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Acting, February 14, 2012
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
I think this series is wonderful! The acting is great, the scenery lush, the sets are beautiful. It's fascinating to see the Renaissance evoked so immediately. I'm not a Jeremy Irons fan but he's perfect for his role as the Borgia patriarch and as pope. The violent power plays almost make our current political climate seem calm. Though modern day political dreams may be slaughtered as often as the 15th century the bodies don't accumulate quite as quickly.

Holliday Grainger is ethereal as Lucrezia with her blonde hair and subtle makeup she looks like the 14 year old she's portraying. In the beginning of the series she's believable as an innocent child though not vacuous, as the series progresses she's also believable as a young wife who's too quickly learning how cruel the world can be. She's no longer only an adored daughter but an awakening power in her own right.

Another stand out in the cast is Francoise Arnaud. He's the eldest Borgia son his father has assigned him the role of cardinal as such he acts as his father's political eyes and ears. Cesare choose to act as the family protector and behind the scenes plotter. Arnaud's eyes are haunting and he uses them to convey volumes. He moves like a caged tiger chafing at his assigned role as cleric. Did I mention how handsome he is? If you enjoy period dramas I think you'll like "The Borgias".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite comparable to The Tudors, but enjoyable nonetheless, September 21, 2011
This review is from: The Borgias: Season 1 (DVD)
The Borgias - The Complete First Season, Uncut Canadian Edition

Similar in production values to 'The Tudors', this new series offers a wonderful visual experience and great acting from an excellent cast. The first couple of episodes were a little slow to get into, but after that I was hooked. Looking forward to the next season.
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