July 01, 2013

Is "Medieval" the Flavour of The Month in Film? "The Borgias" and "Pillars of the Earth" - Updated

I don’t watch a lot of television any more simply because I loathe cheap reality shows, news, current affairs and the like. To me they are a waste of time and in any case I can get my news very quickly whenever I want it.

However I like watching old movies, and every now and then there is a good miniseries to be watched – if you are lucky! 

I also like a lot of documentaries.

I have always been keen on the historical movie genre.


The past few years have yielded “John Adams”, a mini-series about one of the great Founding Fathers of the USA, and of special interest to me have been a couple of mini-series devoted to the Middle Ages or "Mediaeval" period, and the period that followed it - The Renaissance.

We have also had several movies which featured Elizabeth 1 and William Shakespeare. 

I think today's film makers have re-created life in the Middle Ages rather well, and have not overly romanticised the "knight and the damsel in distress" scenario.

I recently re-watched “Ivanhoe” – a great novel – which has also been remade a few times. 

Who could forget Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor in the one movie? I enjoyed it again after the umpteenth viewing.
I was amazed when I learned that they actually built the castle in it especially for this movie!

“The Tudors” and “Game of Thrones” have also been on but I didn’t manage to watch all of the episodes.
More recently I have really enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth”.
Set in England I thought it was a great production and this era was beautifully, if not bloodily, re-created. 

The characters were a mix of the usual good and evil – the human condition it seems. 
The actors did an outstanding job in my opinion - all of them.

It centred around the building of a cathedral and the succession of the monarch at the time.


Series cast summary:

Ian McShane     
 Waleran Bigod (8 episodes, 2010)

Matthew Macfadyen         
 Philip (8 episodes, 2010)

Eddie Redmayne   
 Jack (8 episodes, 2010)

Hayley Atwell   
 Aliena (8 episodes, 2010)

Sarah Parish   
 Regan Hamleigh (8 episodes, 2010)

Natalia Wörner  
 Ellen (8 episodes, 2010)

Anatole Taubman   
 Remigius (8 episodes, 2010)

John Pielmeier    
 Cuthbert (8 episodes, 2010)

Robert Bathurst    
 Percy Hamleigh (8 episodes, 2010)

Clive Wood   
 King Henry I (8 episodes, 2010)

Sam Claflin   
 Richard (8 episodes, 2010)

Liam Garrigan    
 Alfred (8 episodes, 2010)

David Oakes    
 William Hamleigh (8 episodes, 2010) 

Then there is “The Borgias”.
Now series two is out. I could hardly wait to see it after enjoying the first one so much.

Set in Rome it covers the era of the Borgia Pope, Rodrigo, or Pope Alexander VI during the Renaissance period.
Having been born in Florence, Italy, and enjoying a trip back there several years ago it is hard not to be interested in this period after having seen some of the incredible artistic achievements of this era – see this post.

I sometimes think it was the greatest period of artistic achievement.  
Given that Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Brunelleschi and yes, Machiavelli, to name just a few, lived during this era I feel I can safely say it was just that! 

The de Medicis and the Borgias, who dominated this period in Italy, seemed to display very similar characteristics.

Total and complete ruthlessness, and a lust for power and control that is hard to fathom, as well as incredible brutality.

Struggles between the church, the monarchy and ruling entities are always fascinating.
Murder and poison were de rigueur. Was there anyone you could trust? I doubt it.

The content of these shows is not necessarily happy, but what makes me happy is the production values. And also learning more history in an interesting way.

One can’t help being impressed by the set design, the costume design, the plot and the characterisations.

No matter how hard you try it is difficult to imagine how things really looked in the past if there is no film footage available. And whilst I cannot say for sure, but can only speculate, that these shows are not 100% accurate they are still worth taking the time to watch.

“The Borgias”, in particular, is a visual feast, notwithstanding the blood and violence, and other gruesome scenes which I will not mention now.

It’s also rather nice to see veteran actors such as Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland, Jeremy Irons and others, lead a cast of young and lesser know actors, such as David Oakes, who happens to be in both these shows and has “villain” down pat. 

He is really excellent in both shows.

The "Medieval flavour of the month" is most definitely worth watching!

(Note: Although I have cited Wiki several times I do this with caution. It is a great place to start any investigating but one should be aware that it contains editable text so make sure you check other sites.)

Jeremy Irons ... Rodrigo Borgia

François Arnaud ... Cesare Borgia

Holliday Grainger ... Lucrezia Borgia

Joanne Whalley ... Vanozza Cattaneo

Lotte Verbeek ... Giulia Farnese (now in "Outlander")

David Oakes ... Juan Borgia


And now for Series 3, and things are getting very interesting!


Holliday Grainger ... Lucrezia Borgia

Looks like “The Borgias” ends with Season Three. How utterly disappointing.

I think it's definitely one of the best miniseries I have ever watched.
I am sure the younger actors involved will go on to very successful careers in the future!


François Arnaud

Some Mini-Series featured on this blog:

Downton Abbey Producers In Talks To Make A 1930s-set Feature-length Movie

Downton Abbey: Ending After Its Sixth Season?
The Real Downton Abbey

‘Downton Abbey’ and History: A Look Back

Texas Rising


Against The Wind 

The Musketeers

A Fortunate Life

Downton Abbey Becomes Downturn Abbey: Secrets Of Series 6 Revealed

Pride and Prejudice at 20: The Scene That Changed Everything

Cilla Black's Biography On TV   

Dolly Parton: A Biography Movie And A Time Capsule For Her 100th Birthday

Maggie Smith: Michael Coveney’s Biography