[Review] Medici: The Magnificent

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When Medici: Masters of Florence was shown on Netflix, I fell in love with the series despite all its flaws. It brought to life a family from the Italian Renaissance who I’ve long held a great amount of love for, and it did so beautifully. Yes, there were some inaccuracies however it was the sort of historical drama series where you could look past that and just enjoy the series for what it was. It wasn’t like, say, The Borgias, where the writers turn the whole history on its head just to tell what they believe is a be.

Medici: The Magnificent is the second series and this one tells the story of a young Lorenzo – a man who would later be given the sobriquet of “The Magnificent” (hence the title of the show – clever, right?) and his rise to power. In this series we see the ongoing feud between the Pazzi and the Medici, leading up to one of the biggest and bloodiest events in Medici history. We also see romance blossom and jealousy and hatred bloom.

The main antagonists of the series are the Pazzi family – a family who utterly despised the Medici. They believed that they were nobility and therefore had the right to hold power in Florence, whereas the Medici were nothing more than “jumped up wool merchants”. The jealousy and hatred would later lead to an incredibly violent confrontation. The Pazzi were headed by Jacopo de’ Pazzi, played in the show by the utter brilliant Sean Bean.

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Bean truly brings the character of Jacopo to life and from the get go I utterly despised the character. What surprised me, though, was how by the end of the series and Jacopo’s nasty end I actually felt sorry for him. He and his family had been brought up to despise the Medici and knew no different – the belief had been utterly ingrained in not only Jacopo but his nephew’s also. Bean’s characterisation of Jacopo is utterly stellar – he drips venom is his words and you can truly see the hatred in his eyes.

The Pazzi family also includes Francesco and Guglielmo, the nephews of Jacopo who have been brought up to hate the Medici also. Both brothers evidently wish to be friends with the Medici, however. Francesco and Lorenzo are shown as friends in their youth, yet Francesco is twisted and moulded by his uncle. Guglielmo is the far more affable brother – he marries Bianca de’ Medici and, in a way, unites the two families. Unfortunately for Guglielmo, it’s not enough…

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As is always the case in historical drama, we have a heck of a lot of sex and romance. Lorenzo dallies with other women as well as his wife, yet learns that it is his wife who is the one for him. Their story is truly moving and I found myself absolutely adoring Lorenzo’s long suffering wife, Clarice. In history the two held a deep respect for each other and I felt that the series showed this really very well.

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Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici were my favourite characters in the whole series. Perhaps I’m somewhat biased given my long standing love for Lorenzo the Magnificent…the only gripe I have is that Daniel Sharman, who plays Lorenzo, is far too good looking!!! Lorenzo the Magnificent was known for being rather ‘ugly’ – yet he still managed to pull in the ladies! Giuliano, however, was incredibly good looking and Bradley James really was the perfect fit for the ill fated Giuliano de’ Medici.

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The inclusion of Sandro Botticelli was brilliant – many would have forgotten the part that Boticelli played in the early lives of the Medici but the show runners did it perfectly. I was so pleased to see that they showed him and his deep-seated love for Simonetta Vespucci, the woman who became his muse and whose figure appeared in some of his most famous artworks – Primavera and the Birth of Venus being just two examples. They also included the rumoured love affair between Giuliano and Simonetta, which was also done beautifully.

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I must admit that I was somewhat worried about how the series would show the brutal events of the Pazzi Conspiracy. However I was pleasantly surprised. There were a few inaccuracies in their version of events, however. They did not show Francesco stabbing himself in the leg during his attack on Giuliano, nor did they show that one of Lorenzo’s friends sucked at the wound on his neck just in case it was poisoned. They also showed Giuliano as still being alive despite the attack, dying only after he had seen his brother – Giuliano was long dead by the time Lorenzo was escorted from the Duomo and as he left he kept asking after his brother. He did not see his brother’s corpse. Nor did he show his face at the Palazzo della Signoria during the attempted coup. Instead he went to his home on the Via Larga and appeared there to prove that he was still alive. It was only then that the people truly turned on the Pazzi and chased their supporters through already bloodstained streets. Despite the inaccuracies, the final scenes brought me to tears. Giuliano’s death was incredibly moving and both Sharman and James acted their little socks off.

It is during these last scenes, as Lorenzo deals with the loss of his brother, that we see a big change in him. In these scenes Sharman acts with his eyes, and it’s beautiful. He shows us Lorenzo’s change from head of a family to a true leader in a totally stunning manner.

I’m very very impressed with Medici season 2. Very impressed. Yes, there are some inaccuracies but not enough to make someone who knows the era beyond angry. It’s a beautiful television series, incredibly well written with an insanely talented cast. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who loves well written historical dramas, whether they know the history of the era or not. And if you don’t know the history, it’s a GREAT stepping stone to spark someone’s interest.

Alternate History – The Big ‘What If’

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Just recently, I sat down and started watching “The Man In The High Castle”, a series based on the book by Philip K Dick and an incredibly powerful story based around the concept of “what if”. What if the German army had won the Second World War? What if they had won and entered into an uneasy agreement with the Japanese? I have to admit that watching the series has really made me sit and think about that incredibly powerful question.

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Our history could so easily have changed in an instant if just one thing had gone differently back at the end of the Second World War, and if I’m honest it boggles the mind to even think about. But at the same time it’s a very interesting question – what if Adolf Hitler had survived? What if the atomic bomb had never been dropped on Hiroshima? I was discussing this very same thing with a friend the other week who turned to me and said “I’m actually terrified thinking about all of this because it could have happened. But what sort of person even makes a programme about that sort of thing?” It took me a moment to think about that – but then I realised that it takes someone who is unafraid to completely think outside of the box to create such a scenario in their minds and bring it to the mainstream. Phillip K Dick did it with his original book in 1962 and just recently Amazon have brought the idea to the small screen. And it’s been done phenomenally.

Alternate history is something that many who study history will find themselves thinking about at some point or another. And that “what if” is always a very open ended question. What if Anne Boleyn had never married Henry VIII? What if Cesare Borgia hadn’t been killed in Viana? What if Giuliano de’Medici hadn’t been murdered in the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478? What if James, Duke of Monmouth, had ousted his uncle from the throne of England and not lost his head? Each question can lead you down the path to different scenarios, all of which could lead to a different outcome for the history that we all know.

It’s a particularly useful question for historical fiction, and if I’m perfectly honest I’d love to sit down one day and write an alternate history novel. Whether or not I’d be able to write anything worth reading is another matter, however.

The Man In The High Castle has certainly made me think about things like this in a different way. And whilst it may feel like my brain is melting sometimes with all the alternative scenarios running around and around in my head, it’s nice that a television drama has been able to make me think such things. It’s very rare these days that a television show awakens the mind in such a way – and I would certainly recommend this show to absolutely anyone whether they are interested in the history of the Second World War or not.

Because sometimes, I feel, it’s important to think about what could have been rather than what was.