1 9 8 1 (UK)
10 x 50 minute episodes
The best pastime for the long winter evenings of 1981 was poking fun at the BBCs £2.4 million ten-part serial The Borgias.
This 15th Century Vatican-behind-closed-doors might have looked like another I, Claudius on paper (in fact the BBC presented it as a high-minded history lesson) but on screen it was simply a sick farce made in a mish-mash of styles.
Centre stage was pasta mountain Adolfo Celi, playing Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, and speaking English like most real popes (ie: badly), who planted podgy hands on assorted virgins and knives through assorted cassocks.
Oliver Cotton was supposed to scare the wits out of us as Cesare, his son, but unhappily resembled Basil Fawlty in full fury, so his already over-the-top performances became a total joke.
Lucrezia, his sister (Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert of Picnic At Hanging Rock fame, pictured at right), turned out not quite the fiendish poisoner and murderer of history, more a fool, involved incestuously with her brother and father.
At one point Cesare arrived to tell her how he’d spent the day raping children and splitting the bellies of pregnant women just after Dad – red-nosed Rodrigo – had forced her into a third arranged marriage, removed her children and fixed an orgy at which women scrambled on the floor like dogs picking up chestnuts in their mouths as men lolloped all over them.
The scene was apparently so embarrassing to film that no amount of wine drunk by the cast seemed to help.
When the serial was shown in Italy the following year, the Vatican joined British critics in giving the show the thumbs-down. Perhaps if they hadn’t been quite so ugly . . .
Anne Louise Lambert
Giuliano della Rovere