Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 1 ~ The Hanged Man

Having long been a fan of Leonardo Da Vinci (sometimes bordering on fangirlism – I’m not sorry for it), I may have gotten a little excited when I heard that Starz were doing a series on the great man himself. Part of me was a little worried that they would tear the history apart, but having watched episode 1 I have to say that I was more than pleasantly surprised. In fact, as I watched, I was somewhat in awe. It must be noted in the first instance, however, that the series is a work of historical fantasy. It isn’t a historical documentary, and there are many (I counted myself among them not so long ago) that would switch off within the first five minutes for reasons I will come to shortly. However if you watch the show with a grain of salt, and don’t expect a great degree of accuracy then I hope you will all find it as enjoyable as I did. As is the same with such historical dramas as The Borgias, I can only hope that newcomers to the period are inspired to pick up books to learn the real history of the period and enjoy the show for precisely what it is – a fun historical drama.
Tom Riley as Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo, being brilliant as always (with Eros Vlahos as Nico in the background)
The show itself stars Tom Riley as a young Leonardo Da Vinci. Those of us who are somewhat akin to the history of Da Vinci are familiar with the ageing bearded self portrait; however the show shows Da Vinci as a young man. Given the events at the start of the episode, we can date the first episode to around 1475/6 or so, just after Da Vinci was made a maestro (master) of art. We also see him working within the studio of Verrochio, whom he continued working with even after he was made a maestro within his own right. As I watched, I found Riley’s performance absolutely captivating and honestly could think of no one better for the role of a young Leonardo Da Vinci. Alongside Riley’s Da Vinci we also have Blake Ritson as the infamous Giralomo Riario (later the husband of Caterina Sforza, and whose actor recently starred in “World Without End”); Elliot Cowan as Lorenzo De Medici and Gregg Chillin (of Being Human fame) as Zoroaster. Alongside such names we also have the brilliant Nick Dunning who played Thomas Boleyn in The Tudors. Given such a wonderful cast, is it any wonder that one is drawn in from the get go?
I did notice a few historical inaccuracies as I was watching. And normally I’d be all over that sort of thing given my interest in the period, but given how much I enjoyed the show I’ve managed to overlook most of them. At any rate, I feel like I should briefly go over the inaccuracies that I spotted. I shall do them in bullet point form, so I don’t go on for paragraphs:
  • The showing of the dome of St Peter’s basilica. This wasn’t started until around 1505 when Julius II was Pope. At the time of the first episode (1475/6), it was still old St Peter’s that was standing – complete with the famous pine cone sculpture out the front. This may be an issue with those not knowing the history of Rome and expecting to see St Peters as we know it today, so I can excuse this.
  • The courtyard of the Medici palace is much more fancy than it actually is in real life. You can see in the show a very exaggerated octagonal shaped courtyard when in fact the court yard is much simpler.
  • The characterisation of Lucrezia Donati as a secret agent of a Vatican pact is ever so slightly over exaggerated and probably somewhat jarring to those who specialise in the history of women of the period. I myself wasn’t too bothered with this, given that it seems to be a very important plot point and it looks like the whole thing will get very very interesting as the series goes on.

All in all however, the series looks incredibly promising. The fantasy aspect of the show looks to be incredibly interesting, combining ancient Roman history (the Mithraic cult) and Renaissance history; as well as building on the growing genius of Leonardo Da Vinci. The sets are, quite frankly, stunning; and the acting has proven to be top notch.

High points so far: Leonardo Da Vinci’s sass, Zoroaster and his drunkenness and the creepy Turk.

Very much looking forward to the next episode. I highly recommend checking this show out!

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