|Tom Riley as Leonardo da Vinci|
Two new costume series I'm watching, The Village (BBC1) and Da Vinci's Demons (Fox, Italian Sky TV) epitomize the difference between the old traditional way to represent history in fiction and the new tendency to spectacularise it for modern audiences to enjoy it more. I must be old (I am. Enough, at least) or ancient (Gosh! I really hope I am not) because I like it much more when it is accurate and traditional. Not that I despise innovation and originality but I tend not to hit it off with HBO's and especially Starz's style in producing costume drama.
|Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII - The Tudors|
I liked HBO's The Pillars of the Earth or World's Without End. They were both fairly good. But they left me with the impression that old tradtitional British TV would have done better. What did they lack? Depth. These shows often lack depth, i.e. character analysis.
Mind you, I have no problem at criticizing BBC when necessary. For instance, I've been betrayed by BBC more than once recently with their sudden unacceptable decisions of axing series I had loved but, anyhow, their interest in numbers and figures still hasn't killed the quality of their period drama. They usually use nudity, sexual and violent content for the sake of realism - warning the audience at the beginning of the show - but they do not try to attract viewers with nudity, sex and violence as their fundamental ingredients adding a certain quantity of CGI as their main spice, which is instead typical of the new trend started by Starz..
|The Borgias - main cast|
Spartacus may be their most representative product. Spectacularly gritty, stunningly beautiful at the eye, action packed, lots of nudity, dramatic stunts.
I know, a lot of people love this genre. The Tudors (Showtime), The Borgias (Showtime), Game of Thrones (HBO) are widely popular and they look amazing but they are too gritty, too dark, too "violent for violence sake" for me.
I swear that I tried, I gave them a chance but I managed to see episode 1 in series 1 of Game of Thrones and that was the end for me; then, the whole first series of The Tudors, and - I must be honest - only 20 minutes of the opening episode of the first season of The Borgias. They simply are not for me. Luckily for their producers and broadcasters they are liked by huge audiences all over the world. Numbers and figures count in showbiz.
|Da Vinci's Demons|
Now, do I like Da Vinci's Demons (Starz)? I didn't mind watching the pilot episode, it was fun, but I may have been biased for the presence of so many familiar British faces! Examples, the earl of Grantham from Downton Abbey, Hugh Bonneville, in all his naked splendour (see clip), opens the episode as the Duke of Milan but is immediately and irreversibly dismissed by slaughtering. The protagonist is Tom Riley, the charming young actor everything Austen lovers like me might remember for being Wickham in Lost in Austen. You think he doesn't resemble the bearded icon we all have in mind for Italian Renaissance genius Leonardo? You're right! He has sexy stabble more than the long grey beard we have in mind and he looks more like a gorgeous leather-clad superhero of blockbuster movies. Cheeky, sarky, superskilled at fighting, unforseeably smart young, Leonardo gets into Lorenzo De Medici's court thanks to his charms, not his other talents, at first. That is, seducing De Medici's mistress, Lucrezia Donati.
|Laura Haddock as Lucrezia Donati|
I'd better go on with my examples of familiar faces which may have influenced me: Lorenzo De Medici is Elliot Cowan, Mr Darcy in Lost in Austen, and Lucrezia Donati is Laura Haddock who was Beryl Ballard in Upstairs Downstairs, Blake Ritson (Upstairs Downstairs, World Without an End, Mansfield Park, Emma) plays arch-villain Count Riario and Lara Pulver (Robin Hood, Sherlock) is Clarice Orsini.
As I said, episode one of Da Vinci's Demons was fun. I'll have a look at episode two and then make up my mind. I have already checked the first reactions and reviews, though. Many enthusiastic comments I really can't agree with. Not yet at least.
|Nico Mirallegro - The Village|
What about The Village on BBC1 each Sunday night? It has had a very critical reception so far though the ratings for the opening episode were really good. Viewers accused it of being depressing and nothing like Downton Abbey. As much as I liked watching ITV Downton Abbey, when has it become parameter for quality drama? I really hope numbers and figures don't go on influencing the quality of what we are going to see on TV but I fear it will be unavoidable.
|Charlie Murphy - The Village|
The Village is an ambitious project, Peter Moffat would tell 100 years of English history through the story of one rural community, in 42 episodes and several series. But will BBC1 go on investing on their schedule if the ratings start being disappointing? They didn't think twice and axed so many good shows! One for all, we will never see how The Hour ends up. No third series for Ben Winshaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West and their mates. I am furious. The series ended with a cliffhanger. What now? At least give a story a proper ending!
|Johnn Simm - The Village|
Back to The Village, I like it a lot. Depressing? It may be, anyhow I am pretty sure the reality of a rural English village during WWI must have been rather distressing and I want to trust Peter Moffat's talent. How would the critical viewers describe that period? Omitting any tragic detail? WWI Downton Abbey style, put simply. But here the people involved are really poor: no earls no glamour. Just the ugly truth. Apparently those viewers are not so willing to face it. Or, at least, not on Sunday night.
|Maxine Peake - The Village|
My opinion is that the cast is exceptionally good, everybody's perfect in their own roles, John Simm and Maxine Peake, Nico Mirallegro and Bill Jones, Juliet Stevenson and Rupert Evans, Augustus Prew and Charlie Murphy, Joe Armstrong and Emily Beecham. The idea of telling about 100 years in history from a one man's perspective is touching and I hope we get to see the entire project.
I can hear a question coming from a distant curious reader: Have I ever disliked something I watched on BBC? Does that mean I sound biased? Well, I did, instead. And it is one of the most popular shows they have been broadcasting for years, Doctor Who. I tried to watch it but I just didn't like it. (Yes, I know, my unpopularity grows word after word, honesty kills!)
|Jamie Campbell Bower as Arthur - Camelot|
And have I ever liked a Starz show, instead? Actually I have to make an effort to find one, but I liked Camelot (2010) pretty much, though I didn't find it perfect. It stars Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Campbell Bower, Tamsin Egerton, Eva Green, James Purefoy, Peter Mooney, Claire Forlani, Philip Winchester and Sinead Cusack. Guess what? It was never recomissioned after the first season got disappointing ratings. Perhaps it was because it contained too little sex scenes and too little violence? It had some, but it was meant to be more a study of character. However, you see? Apparently there must be something wrong with me. I'm doomed to be disappointed.
Ready to listen to your opinions, of course. Please, feel free to disagree with me, I love interesting discussion.