The (Other) Borgia Bulletin: Tom Fontana’s “Borgia”

Fontana’s Netflixed version of the Borgias’ story was a wonderful find to tide me over until Showtime’s version begins again inasmuch as it was so wonderfully different that it’s difficult to compare the two.  Of course, I’m about to do so anyway.

 

First and Overall impressions: The scenery and costumes are beautiful, with a more understated vibe.  This is attempting to show how people actually had pomp and circumstance, rather than bringing in TV pomp and circumstance to sell it.  This version sports accents on a spectrum, with those who soaked it up like Lucrezia forcing me to pause a moment to figure out what she’s saying til I got used to it, while others who didn’t pick it up well, like Rodrigo, sounding normal.  As the season goes on these discrepancies fade, but it made it difficult to stay in the show until that part.  The season starts earlier than the Showtimes’ version and ends in the same place as Showtimes’ second season.  This is because Fontana’s “Borgia” is focused much more on linear, intersecting stories that connect their dots, whereas Showtime’s “Borgias” tends to get caught up in certain themes and gratuity, allowing for sudden segues and some rambling storytelling.  Fontana also enhances context by ensuring that the influence of outside monarchs and European politics like those of Queen Isabella is keenly felt and placing the Borgia family firmly within the physical history of Rome.

Both versions are full of violence and nudity, but whereas Showtime cloaks these things in the aura of glamor, sexiness, showmanship, this version is the complete opposite: it offers up these things with no accompanying pageantry at all.  Lots of people are nude, many of them are not attractive.  If you have sex, you’re showing skin, we’re not making a big deal out of it-it’s just here for the logistics.  Violence was part of everyday life and we’re pounding that home with a whooole lot of bloody, pounding, simple acts.  There’s no music to lend it meaning, no quarter for those who’d rather blunt that side, no gratuitous feeling about the high dosage of in-your-face brutality.  We’ve got a couple naked guys strung upside down, getting sawed in half cock-first.  That’s just what we’ve got to deal with here. *shrug*

Most importantly, this version incorporates Cardinal-punching.  Cardinals punching each other in the face, in front of all the others and sometimes the Pope,too, is what is missing from the Showtime version.  Although, Showtime has monkeys and panthers.  This one has a sad lack of wildlife.

 

Characters:

On Cesare: Here is the greatest difference from the Showtime version.  Whereas that Cesare is a sophisticated manipulator and actor, suave in what he does, this version is just completely out of control and at the mercy of his “passions.”  Frankly, I don’t know that this version could pull off Machiavellian, which is interesting.  He is the epitome of this show’s vibe that the  family is just batshit, balls-out INSANE, rather than the cool, mafia-esque family of Showtime.  This shows Cesare going from elegant villain like early Lucius Malfoy to the psychopath that is Bellatrix, with God standing in for Bellatrix’s Voldemort.

On Juan: The events of his life and what stripe his deeds are marks the main line of agreement between the two versions.

On Lucrezia: Her story arc is the most exciting!  While both versions show Lucrezia starting out childlike, this version seems to act young for far longer.  Moreover, all possible incest rumors concerning her are taken on much more straight-on: the causes of the rumors, the potential for truth, what her policy on sex is-all are dealt with directly, rather than being winked at by the Showtime version.

On Giulia Farnese: This character is far more intriguing here.  While powerful in both versions, this Giulia is much more present and involved in all aspects of the family’s life.  Moreover, her power seems much more her own, while the other version makes it clear that she wields it through Rodrigo.  Not that this isn’t the case here, but she’s endowed with wiles and deviousness here, as well as standing from the Pope.  In fact, this Giulia holds so much power that she seems to lack direction in the use of it here.  She’s slinking around the Vatican like a woman at the party.  Most femme fatals either go in for the kill like that and move on to other parties/areas to work in, or work through the guests creating the mood or atmosphere that she likes, such as chaos.  This Giulia Farnese simply slinks around most of the time, influencing a few things here and there, but basically just adding an element of excitement and glamor to the crowd.  And while this crowd needs that, it’d be nice to see her slinking more aggressively or directly sometimes, instead of sticking to general slinkage.

On Alessandro Farnese: This character is unique to Fontana’s “Borgia” and is possibly my favorite.  Cesare’s best friend and Giulia’s brother, Alessandro is the guest who is popular with everyone because he’s so nice and so in-provocative that he makes no enemies, but the reader of the mystery story suspects he’s really the killer just because they’ve noticed it’s usually who you don’t expect (and also he constantly has access and opportunity).  The possibility of seeing his character develop more fully would be the main inducement to make more of this series, I think.

On Della Rovere: This version of the character is a violent, impulsive little troll who could never play poker because his temper would make him crumple the cards whenever he got a bad hand.  Showtime’s version gives him nobility, piety, patience, a plan, and a monkey.  This version makes him the instigator of the Cardinal-punching.  Frankly, I don’t know which is more fun.

Rodrigo I simply cannot compare, since it’s hardly this actor’s fault that he is not Jeremy Irons.  Michiletto I am also unable to discuss as he is largely a silent character in this version.  All I can really say is that the possibility of exploring him further is another good argument for making more of this series.  On the other hand, I’m just find not seeing anymore, simply because I find the in-your-face violence scenes difficult to swallow and the underlying current of INSANITY makes me stare in awe rather than experience more enjoyable reactions.  On the other hand, these are purely matters of taste, which is really the main thing that separates “Borgia” and “Borgias.”  If you prefer linear stories and scenes with less flashy showmanship, than this is the one for you.  I officially gift the dangerous, violent thing to you, a la PANTHER!

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Similar Posts:

-https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/the-borgia-bulletin-3×10-the-prince/

https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/attested-development-thoughts-on-arrested-development-season-4-as-a-whole/

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