Disclaimer: I’m not a movie or tv critic. I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy… asking him to… Ok, that was a joke. But seriously, if you want an educated perspective, go read The New York Times or The Guardian. Those people deserve every penny they make.
Worth eight hours of my life? Yes
Can I watch this with my kid? That’s a negative
How does it fare on the potato chip scale (out of 5)? 4
I love winter. I feel no guilt about spending the entire day wrapped in a blanket streaming something. Lots of something. There were a couple of days this week with a high of 8. Not Celsius 8. Fahrenheit 8. There was nothing short of medical emergency or exhaustion of the chip supply that could have forced me out of the house.
A scroll through the Netflix suggestions turned up “Medici: Masters of Florence.” I’m a sucker for a good period drama, so of course I watched all 8 episodes in 24 hours. The first thing that struck me was the cast. It stars Rob Stark – alright, Richard Madden – and Dustin Hoffman, and it features the sweeping cinematics and sumptuous setting required for any good period piece. So it surprised me that such a jewel was thrust upon us unawares. It’s as if Netflix spent its entire marketing budget on “The Crown” and just hoped viewers would find everything else while scrolling. fwiw, I enjoyed “Medici” more than “The Crown.”
The show doesn’t require much of you to like it. After months of “Westworld,” the straightforward but intriguing plot was refreshing. The Medici family is inherently interesting, and Rob Stark’s – I mean, Richard Madden’s – portrayal of Cosimo de Medici brought to life a multi-faceted but likable lead character. However, the real star of the show was Annabel Scholey as Contessina de Medici, Cosimo’s fiery but devoted wife.
Always impeccably dressed in what looked like impossibly scratchy wool, she did the whole “Do you seriously not see how smart I am?” schtick even better than Hillary Clinton. She exuded simmering resentment and fierce loyalty to an unjust and ungrateful system…sound familiar? There’s a scene where Contessina rides a horse into the governing council chambers with her hair flying around her and the old power-hungry men mewling about women not being allowed in the signoria. It was a beautiful and edifying moment given the disappointments of 2016.
Much has been made of Dustin Hoffman’s accent. I didn’t find it off-putting like other reviewers have noted. I thought he was vintage Dustin Hoffman, just in a monkish robe. Most of the characters had British accents, while others sounded like they belonged in “The Godfather.” Not to mention Maddalena, Cosimo’s side piece, whose accent was truly perplexing. So, no, Dustin Hoffman’s accent was nothing suspension of disbelief couldn’t cover.
I was a bit taken aback that the guy who played notorious nuptial host Walder Frey turned out to be Rob Stark’s – I mean Cosimo de Medici’s – father-in-law. Thankfully, his appearance in the show was limited and the turn of the knife graciously brief. It has been suggested that Netflix is trolling “Game of Thrones” fans or at least HBO. It’s certainly a curious pairing, one fitting for the dynastic plotting of the de Medici family.
I can never watch a historical drama without fact-checking every damn thing. It’s truly annoying, even to myself. So, the verdict is that the story is, um, kind of true? The first season focuses on the 1430’s, beginning with the murder of Cosimo’s father, Giovanni, played by Dustin Hoffman. Historical record does not reflect Giovanni as having been murdered; to avoid this conflict, the show depicts the de Medici family keeping the murder under wraps to avoid the perception of weakness. Brothers Cosimo and Lorenzo (played by Stuart Martin) are shown with occasional flashbacks to their raucous youth before lustrous locks were replaced by icy stares. Lorenzo is a childless bachelor in the show, pining for a lost love. The real Lorenzo was married with at least two sons; it was his male line that carried on the de Medici name once Cosimo’s died out.
The show also omitted one of Cosimo’s and Contessina’s children, showing only Piero (later Piero the Gouty). Son Giovanni isn’t shown in the series, though he was in reality envisioned by Cosimo as his successor in business. I’m guessing the show wanted a smooth transition to Piero’s son, Lorenzo the Great, in later seasons.
The de Medici meddling in Papal politics and patronage of art and humanism are well depicted, as is the small-minding backlash against the masterpiece “David” by Donatello. One of the show’s main plot lines ends with a historically inaccurate event, though I can’t share it without spoiling the whole darn thing. But it’s sooooo hard not to!
“Medici” was a pleasant surprise and I hope it finds a wide audience. A second season has been already approved, and may Netflix follow the de Medici family motto to “Make Haste Slowly.”