Review - Medici: the Magnificent

  • Ellen Teague

Summer is a time for a bit of binge TV viewing, especially on an unseasonal wet and windy evening! Well, what better than a series set in the lush lands of Italy's Tuscany and 15th century Florence. I am referring to 'Medici: The Magnificent', currently streaming on Netflix and the second in the Medici series. For eight hour-long episodes it focuses on Lorenzo de Medici and his siblings.

The Medici family were wealthy bankers, savvy in business and politics, and rose to the highest ranks of Florentine society. They were also one of the most influential families in 15th century Europe. The exploits of this powerful family were first brought to Netflix in 'Medici: Masters of Florence', the first series, set two decades before the second. Released three years ago, it focused on Lorenzo's grandfather Cosimo (Richard Madden) and great-grandfather Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman).

But back to 'Medici: The Magnificent'. It is set at a time when the Florentine republic was effectively ruled by the Medici. It was a thrilling period where the Renaissance was in full swing and we see artists like Botticelli painting their masterpieces. Lorenzo (Daniel Sharman) and his brother Giuliano (Bradley James) are charismatic young Florentine noblemen, patrons of the arts, proficient in jousting, swordmanship and poetry. Incidentally, the two actors are much more handsome than the portraits we have of the actual Medici brothers! There is an intricate web of negotiations, deals and alliances being formed, and dangerous feuding between families which lead to a bloody conclusion during a Mass in the Duomo of Florence! The Pazzi conspiracy is an historical event.

So, the story is captivating, especially for Catholics in seeing how political the popes were at that time. The cinematography is stunning. The tranquillity of the Tuscany countryside, with its vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees, transports the viewer back through the centuries. The shots of the Florence cathedral dome and Florentine life at that time, are given additional authenticity by filming in the quieter towns of Pienza, Montepulciano, and Volterra, which are little changed over the centuries and less busy with tourists. The streets are bursting with life which works well to complement the costume and set design teams who do a wonderful job bringing the fifteenth century to life. And all is framed by a great soundtrack by Paolo Buonvino and Skin, which is popular on youtube. There are some historical inaccuracies, but it's a stepping stone to learning more about the history.

One theme that interests me is the negativity of revenge. Members of the rival Pazzi family have been brought up to hate the Medici, and it is so difficult to move beyond that when hearts are hardened. It brings the head of the Pazzi family to a dramatic end - he's played by Sean Bean so you can guess the details! Part of Lorenzo's greatness lies in his attempts to heal family rifts and avoid violence in the wider context. He is sincerely troubled about whether or not the ends justify the means, wondering if war can ever be justified if the goal is peace. There is one scene where he halts the sacking of Florence by an army through skilful dialogue.

It is pertinent to our concerns today about street violence that the men of that time drew sword and knives so readily that many arguments escalated and ended in bloodshed. Who would have thought some 500 years later that the holding of weapons on the street would still be regarded by some as offering protection.

Well, weren't there any women in the series worth mentioning? Yes, a number of them, who had to cope with arranged marriages, domineering husbands, and painful childbirth. They are traded like commodities. Yet the Medici women had more power than most, mainly because they were well chosen matches from noble families with powerful allies in their own right. They had some clout, though little decision-making power. There is a poignant story of Guiliano's secret love affair with Simonetta Vespucci and then the backlash from her husband. It is suggested that the lovers were the sitters for the famous Sandro Botticelli painting 'Venus and Mars'. I cannot look at that painting in the National Gallery in the same way again. Botticelli was just one of the artists supported by the Medici family.

The third series has already been filmed and rumours are that it will feature other great artists nurtured by Lorenzo de Medici - particularly Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. And I am sure we will see the story of the fanatical Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola who denounced clerical corruption and exploitation of the poor, alongside calling for Christian renewal. His detestation of almost every form of pleasure led to his followers being known as 'Snivellers'.

The Medici family connection to the papacy was legendary. As bankers, they held papal accounts. From the late 15th century through the 17th century, four Medici men would rise to the rank of the Pope. That's a distinction few families have had!

But let me get back to beautiful Tuscany!

Watch the opening theme of Medici 2 - The Magnificent:

Tags: Medici, Medici 2 - The Magnificent, Ellen Teague, Sean Bean, Richard Madden

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