History, romantic locations, lavish costumes and semi-naked sex romps -is it any wonder SBS picked up Medici: Masters of Florence as its latest drama miniseries?
Revolving around banker Cosimo de’ Medici this series by Frank Spotnitz (The Man in the High Castle) and Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Prince of Egypt) plays with the Medici dynasty and the Renaissance era in Italy.
Powerful in 15th Century Italy, they enjoyed ties to several Popes, Queens and Dukes. But there was also influence and great fostering of art and literature.
This 8 part saga underpins its politics and romance with a whodunnit element when patriarch Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman) is poisoned in the opening scene. It leaves Cosimo (Richard Madden) and brother Lorenzo (Stuart Madden) determined to uncover his murderer, if at odds about how best to solve the crime.
But the brothers are pitted as competitors 20 years earlier by their father in flashback scenes that comprise half of the screen time here.
Giovanni wants one of his two sons to lead the powerful family business, the Bank of Medici. Whilst Lorenzo takes a shrewd, if dangerous path of bribing cardinals to manipulate his destiny, the more free-spirited young Cosimo is drawn to the world of art.
Meeting sculptor Donatello (Ben Starr) he falls in with a crowd of painters and artists, including the alluring model Bianca (Miriam Leone).
Concurrent with this flashback storyline is a ‘present day’ story of an older Cosimo, succeeding his father as head of the family, but at odds with arch-rival and former friend Rinaldo Albizzi (Lex Shrapnel).
The juxtaposition of the two timelines is somewhat confusing, but the sexy, tousled hair of the younger Cosimo is the quickest check to discern from his older, groomed self.
Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden is the best foot forward in this ambitious costume drama, amply ticking the leading man boxes as romantic hero. Save for Dustin Hoffman, his charisma is evident over his ensemble colleagues. That said, it’s easy not to root for Stuart Madden, which is the intent.
The casting of Hoffman may work as marquee casting (or help with funding) but his American accent is out of place alongside predominately-European actors. I couldn’t detect any attempt to affect it as anything Continental in various phrases ie. “accomplish the taaaask.”
The respected Brian Cox -actor not physicist- also appears in a cameo.
Filmed in Florence, Tuscany and Venice, the locations add to the eye candy with medieval architecture handsomely filmed up close. But the wider landscapes draw upon shoddy CGI that needs better rendering.
My sense is that once the character set-up is out of the way, Medici: Masters of Florence will probably settle into an entertaining ride, without the overt rockstar approach of medieval dramas such as The Tudors and Da Vinci’s Demons.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Medici: Masters of Florence premieres 8:35pm tonight on SBS.