Though its title may suggest a gore-strewn trawl through the life and times of one of the late 15th/ early 16th century’s most notorious families, helmer Antonio Hernandez and scripter Piero Bodrato’s “The Borgias,” is a muted, character-based approach that’s more interested in real lives than legends. The result is an involving, well-played though staid drama. Shot for TV and cut for theatrical purposes, pic has done steady business since early October release; offshore prospects look decent in Spanish-language and selected Euro territories.
After showing the arrest of Cesar Borgia (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) for the murder of his brother, Juan (Sergio Muniz), pic flashes back to 12 years earlier, when the Spanish-born Borgia brothers — ambitious Cesar, wild boy Juan and insecure Jofre (Eloy Azorin) — are in Rome for the election of a new Pope: their father, Rodrigo (Lluis Homar).
Rodrigo, now Alejandro VI, immediately marries off his children to expand the Vatican’s (and the Borgias’) interests.
His daughter, Lucrecia (Maria Valverde) — presented here as the unwilling victim of her father rather than the bloodthirsty femme of legend — will marry Giovanni Sforza , scion of the Borgias’ rival family.
Cesar, hungry for military glory, is disappointed to be named a cardinal, while Juan is made a captain in the army. Jofre will marry Sancha of Aragon (Linda Batista).
Script plays out like a primer in Machiavellian politics. Sticking responsibly and somewhat studiously to the known historical facts, pic does a good job of cutting the Borgia legend down to size while showing how the fates of nations are the results of despots’ whims.
Lantern-jawed Peris-Mencheta, who has a strapping physique, delivers his best film perf in as Cesar, though without ever touching the character’s evil depths. Paz Vega does good work late on as the warrior-like Caterina Sforza.
Mostly shot in interiors, pic is epic only in its length, with few big exterior set pieces. Angel Illarramendi’s score is more lyrical than bombastic, but at times extremely effective in underscoring the mood. Period detail feels authentic.
Dubbing of Italian thesps into Spanish, however, is atrocious.