Do you remember the Tudors? Not the actual dynasty itself, but the thrillingly awful television series about Henry VIII? But say what you like about the series, it was certainly popular, and it spawned a great many imitations.
The Tudors had one major drawback, and that was it concentrated on the reign of Henry VIII, which was rather a giveaway. After all, Henry VII was an important king and a great one too in some senses, but things like balancing the books and handing on a surplus in the treasury (he was the last monarch to do so) as well as endowing numerous houses of the Observant Franciscans, do not great television make. Beheadings and beddings are far more fun; though one wonders why the series did not tackle the reign of Edward VI: there were a lot of dour Protestant divines about, it is true, in the brief six years he reigned, but also a lot of power struggles as well, and quite a few beheadings.
I enjoyed the Tudors, and found the series a guilty pleasure, what I saw of it. More recently I have been sampling other dynastic series. One such is the portentously named Medici, Masters of Florence, an Anglo-Italian production, available on Netflix, that features, as far as I can see, some authentic settings which are fun to spot (such as the Castle of Bracciano, and the Villa Giulia in Rome) and some accurate costumes, with the odd out of place baroque facade thrown in. It is not all about banking, thankfully, and there are some genuinely interesting bits about Florentine history. I am only a couple of episodes in, though.
To be avoided are both the series about the Borgias, even if they contain some fine actors. The 2011 series starred Jeremy Irons and was unwatchable thanks to its dreadfully stilted dialogue. There is also another series entitled Borgia: Fear and Faith now on Netflix which is laugh-out-loud funny, though it is not meant to be. I think one reason behind the failure of both series to convince me is that the Catholic Church they portray is one I simply do not recognise. And the same goes for The Young Pope.
What all these series are trying to do is replicate the success of the Godfather trilogy created by the great Francis Ford Coppola, the original family values drama. We are hooked on this idea of a family establishing itself – that certainly is the theme of the Medici, where Giovanni de Medici (Dustin Hoffman) tells his son Cosimo, played by Richard Madden, that his personal desires are irrelevant and that is family that comes first. That, for some reason, is a good theme. Just as family coherence becomes a memory in our own society, we seem to have a taste for watching tight-knit families on our screens. Television, that most lowly art form, tells us so much about ourselves.
Now perhaps, just as our politicians reach for their stilettos and start polishing them (and I mean daggers, not shoes) it might be a good idea for someone to take us back to the original dysfunctional family, the Julio-Claudians, a clan who could give the various families in Game of Thrones a run for their money. The time is surely ripe for a new adaptation of Robert Graves’ masterpieces I, Claudius and Claudius the God. A new adaptation should take the story to its natural conclusion through the reign of Nero, the first persecutor of the Church, a man whose lack of morality, even by Roman standards, would make great television. It would also serve as a warning to our own generation: abandon the family at your peril. I am available as an advisor if anyone needs me.
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