In the wake of The Tudors, three new shows take up the gauntlet in the crusade to give the Middle Ages sex appeal.
As The Tudors draws to a close on BBC Two, there seems to be a brace of historical TV shows set to hit our shores over the coming months to fill the void. All of them American, none American history. Essentially recreating The Tudors with rich fabrics, naked women and a fairly laissez faire attitude to accuracy, The Borgias, Camelot and Game of Thrones “bring to life” Renaissance Italy, mythical early-medieval Britain and the fictional world of Westeros. To draw the crowds we have our big-name, Jonathan Rhys Meyers figures, with the leading men played by Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes and Sean Bean respectively. I’m excited.
The first episode of The Borgias had it all: beautiful women who don’t quite resemble the portraits of their real-life counterparts, scheming, plenty of blood and death, Derek Jacobi, and the Pope. The odddest, perhaps most inappropriate, moment was when, upon being elected Pope, Jeremy Irons, surrounded by the cardinals, has to undergo a ceremony in which his testicles are felt to ensure he is indeed a man (apparently his wonderful, deep voice wasn’t enough of a give away). The entry about the election process for the papacy on Wikipedia mentioned nothing about this – the dilemma, which is more likely to be accurate? Inappropriate, inaccurate yet entertaining seems to rather sum up the first few episodes, and, I suspect, the rest of the series. Press for the show has highlighted how the Borgia family helped inspire The Godfather – however, as yet, the family don’t come across as a mafia so much as one man and his son misbehaving in Rome.
The other two series look like they’ll follow along the same vein. Guinevere and Morgan le Fay (Tamsin Egerton and Eva Green) in Camelot seem to fulfil the classic role of the strong and beautiful woman (both quite happy to get naked), whilst Arthur and his knights wave weapons and inspirational speeches all over the place. The creators have tried to give the show a modern feel (your typical reinventing the old for a new audience); at the party to celebrate Arthur’s coronation, for example, the girls are dancing in a way we’d more expect to see at The Lizard than a medieval celebration. Arthur comes across as your standard girl-obsessed teenager, suddenly thrust into kingship by the unexpected death of his father (indeed, when fetched to hear that he is, in fact, the heir to the throne, Arthur is found lying in the nude with his brother’s girlfriend). It’s quite difficult at this point to see how Arthur will herald a new age of kingship, especially given his slightly questionable morals when it comes to unavailable girls; however, no doubt we shall soon see how his upbringing away from the evils of the royal court and his youthful bravery stands him in good stead to turn Britain around.
Game of Thrones has yet to be released, however, the book had so much sword fighting and sex I suspect the TV show will barely have to embellish the original story. It will be interesting to see how similar the three series become as they develop, and how accurately they stick to their sources (though Camelot does have the advantage of being based on a myth). Not the most high brow television, but likely to be crowd-pullers, if only because Jeremy Irons being disdainfully evil, Joseph Fiennes dark and mysterious and Sean Bean rugged are too irresistible to miss.