Meet Leonardo da Vinci, a sword-fighting superhero destined to invent fantastic machines and maybe even change the course of history. The Starz pilot episode of Da Vinci’s Demons promises a sweeping and ambitious untold look at the Renaissance Man whose artistic opium-driven mind is always a step or two ahead of everyone else’s.
As the main character, Tom Riley is perfectly credible as the wilful polymath and adventurer. Da Vinci wants to make flying machines and amazing weapons for Florence — the city run by Lorenzo de’ Medici, his patron — and he will break through all hurdles to reach his goal.
Da Vinci’s Demons, created by the American David S Goyer, is a European production filmed in Wales with British and Irish actors. Goyer’s credits include Batman Begins and the Blade films and his style is reflected in this show. The writer’s backgrounds may be why the characters and the plot of Da Vinci’s Demons is looser and more tongue-in-cheek than other costume dramas such as Game of Thrones, Spartacus and The Borgias.
A conspiracy is revealed in the beginning of the pilot by Al-Rahim, a Turkish mystic. Rahim, played by Alexander Siddig, tells da Vinci that “History is a lie that has been honed liked a weapon by people to suppress the truth”. He asks him to find the ‘Book of Leaves’, the mythical book of knowledge. As da Vinci begins his quest, he is haunted by demons from his past, flashbacks and painful visions of his faceless mother and a cave. If that weren’t enough, da Vinci is soon entangled in the rivalry between Florence and the Vatican — thus another narrative line unspools here.
The problem is however that Da Vinci’s Demons tries too hard to be an action-packed thriller with the intrigue of a Dan Brown novel and a penchant for geek humour. The show feels superficial and the fact that the plot is extremely confusing doesn’t really help either. The show will, however, appeal to history buffs who like a bit of swashbuckling adventure on the side. Watch out for PG-rated flashes (nudity and violence) but it is mercifully not as graphic as Game of Thrones.
In the mood for more costume drama?
1. The Borgias
If you liked The Tudors and The Sopranos, then you have to watch The Borgias. Based on Italy’s most powerful crime family, it tells the story of their ascent to power via the papacy and all the crimes committed in their name.
What do you get when you combine 300, Caligula, Rome, Gladiator and bathtubs of blood? You get Spartacus. Created by Steven S DeKnight, the television show is based on the Thracian Gladiator Spartacus who led a slave uprising against the Roman Republic.
3. Game of Thrones
A Song of Ice and Fire, better recognised as Game of Thrones, was once a best-kept secret. Since its premiere, the series has garnered an international following unlike ever seen before. The series follows seven noble families who fight for control of the mythical land of Westeros.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 28th, 2013.
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