It’s been a while since I actually have time to write a lengthy post. This is perhaps one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. In fact, I started writing this in the Summer months, about a month after I discovered the series in May. I’m fortunate that I manage to have a steady job all throughout the pandemic which keeps me busy 40 hours a week. With the death of the cinema, we can only rely on streaming platforms to keep us entertained. So I’m glad I found a new obsession… that is MEDICI: The Magnificent!
Strangely enough, I had actually watched season 1, Medici: Masters of Florence (2016) with Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden, but though I think it was a decent show, I wasn’t all that moved by it and so I completely forgot about the Medici series. I ended up bingeing on another show by show-runner Frank Spotnitz, The Man In The High Castle, after that. So it wasn’t until season 3 came out in the US in the Spring of this year that I finally decided to give it a shot. Little did I know it would launch a whole new obsession for me.
Behold the trailer for season 2…
Season 2 follows Italy’s legendary Medici family, taking place 20 years after Medici: Masters of Florence. The second season takes us to the heart of the Renaissance through one of the most important historical figures of all time, Lorenzo the Magnificent – where an attempt on Piero de Medici’s life forces his son Lorenzo (Daniel Sharman) to assume leadership of the family-run bank. Once in power, young Lorenzo resolves to do things differently, which swiftly brings him into conflict with the head of Florence’s other powerful banking family, Jacopo Pazzi (Sean Bean).
Ok, ok, if you’re like most people, including me, you’d probably be thinking ‘Oh how long would Sean Bean last in the season?’ 😆 It won’t be a spoiler to say he’d last the entire 2nd season. It also won’t be a spoiler to say he’s terrific in it!
Before I get to the Top 10, check out this absolutely gorgeous Opening Sequence… I’ll be talking about more of the music later 😉
(Just a warning, this post might be riddled with spoilers so if you haven’t seen ANY of the Medici series and don’t know much about the historical background about this family, proceed with caution. Consider yourself warned)
Now, I’ve been quite carried away writing about this show that it’s gotten to be quite a long post… so I’ve decided to split it into two parts. The main focus of this two-part article is on Season 2 + 3 as both seasons center on Lorenzo de’ Medici, played brilliantly by Daniel Sharman. Season 2 focuses on his younger years (starting at the age of 19) when he took over his family’s banking business from his father. Then the final season focuses on Lorenzo’s later years as an Italian statesman who wants to protect Florence at any cost, which leads to even his own downfall.
10. The Italian scenery/filming locations
This series has provided such a glorious escape from being confined in lockdown during the pandemic. As Americans are still forbidden to enter Europe, I live vicariously through the show’s characters roaming around Italy during the dawn of Italian Renaissance. Per this website, filming took place in 30 locations across Tuscany, Lazio and Lombardy, including Volterra, the cathedral and the Palazzo Contucci in Montepulciano, and the cathedral and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza. Per the Location Guide site, Location manager Daniele Di Biasi estimates that his department has “managed over three hundred spectacular locations, and some of the most beautiful places in Italy”.
Check out this video that made me wish I could beam myself to Florence right about now!
Under the lens of gifted Italian DPs Vittorio Omodei Zorini and Alessandro Pesci, the cinematography is simply stunning. Filming in real locations close to where the actual events took place certainly lends the show a huge dose of authenticity and gives you that immersive quality. The scenery is just so spectacular that there are times I’d pause to just admire the scenery, whether it’s the lush Florentine landscape or the grand interior of whatever building they used to sub for the Medici Palace or Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica.
It’s nearly impossible to pick my favorite filming location, but if I had to choose a couple, for sure one of them would be in S3/Ep. 3 Trust where Lorenzo traveled to Naples and bargained with the ruthless King Ferrante to side with Florence. The scene of Ferrante’s daughter-in-law Ippolita walking around the grounds of her magnificent seaside villa is simply magnificent. It’s also one of my favorite episodes of season 3.
Another one is in S3/Ep. 5 The Holy See when Lorenzo was talking to then-Cardinal Cibo (later Pope Innocent VIII) in this glorious villa with a cascading water staircase where the water flows down to a stone basin with a huge statue on top.
It took me a while to find just where this exact mansion is, but I found out it’s called Villa Farnese, located in the town of Caprarola, north-west of Rome. I remember the first time I watched this scene, I was so mesmerized by the scenery that I had to rewind it so I could actually listen to the dialogue.
9. The production design & costumes
Speaking of authenticity, any period drama, especially one so steeped in history like this one owes themselves to masterful craftsmen who could make viewers believe the era the show’s supposed to be set in.
Italian production designer Illia Boccia did an astonishing job transforming modern-day Italy to look like the Renaissance era…
Photos courtesy of Illia Boccia’s official site
The way the scenes were shot show Florentine streets bursting with life… merchants, noble men/women, politicians, priests, and general street dwellers walk about on the cobblestoned streets and convene in the town square, Piazza della Signoria. I feel like I was transported to the 15th century, it’s as if I could even smell the streets and taste the air the people breathed in… and when they scene shows an aerial view of the Tuscany countryside, with its vineyards and cypress trees, its tranquillity gives us a respite from the bustling city.
Now the costumes…
Italian costume designer Alessandro Lai created the vibrant costumes for both season 2 + 3. I’ve actually produced a short historical drama a year ago and I knew that the challenge in creating period costumes is to create something authentic that are flexible enough as to not restrict the actors’ performances.
I think they did a phenomenal job and the costumes also did an excellent job conveying a sense of time and maturity. In season 2, his costumes makes Lorenzo were designed to highlight his dynamic youth and virility in a more fitted cut and vibrant colors, but in season 3, it’s a lot more loosely-draped in darker colors. It also felt heavier, as if to depict the heavy burden our protagonist has to bear to keep Florence–and the Medici bank–at their prime.
8. The music
For the past month and a half, I live and breath Medici… if I’m not rewatching the show, then I’m reading a book on Medici or I’m listening to Paolo Buonvino‘s gorgeous and dynamic soundtrack. The song Revolution Bones sang by British singer Skin in the opening sequence (see video above) is soul-piercing, the lyric so perfectly describes the Medici’s passion, grand ambition, but also their ruthlessness.
Thought the dust of you is gone
And the word of what is done
Fate reclaims the throne
Of revolution’s bones
Come with me
Drink away our beauty
We can fight them
I can say that I can change the world
But if you let me
I can change our world for us
Come with me
The entire soundtrack is wonderful to listen to, but one of my favorites is La Congiura dei Pazzi (The Pazzi conspiracy) which plays during, well you guessed it, the scene depicting the famous 26 April 1478 event during an Easter mass at the Duomo.
It’s even more amazing when you listened to this music during the choreographed scene of the brutal attack. I get chills when I rewatched that scene as I’m writing this post. As I just read the actual events of the Pazzi conspiracy, it’d actually be too gruesome for TV… Giuliano was actually stabbed in the head that his skull was split in two! [shudder]
7. Worthy adversaries
Speaking of the Pazzi… well, the show picked perfect actor to play Lorenzo’s worst enemy. Since most of the Medici actors are from the UK/Ireland (in fact, in season 1 the actors playing Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo are Scots), it’s no surprise they go with an Irishman, Sean Bean as Jacopo Pazzi. In season 2, Jacopo and his nephew Francesco, played by Italian actor Matteo Martari, are Lorenzo’s main nemesis. I think most people already know Bean is a terrific actor who often plays a ‘guy one loves to hate’ so well that you’re still captivated by him even if you know he’s a scoundrel. Well here, Jacopo is more than just a scoundrel, he’s downright devious and filled with hate for the Medici, as the Pazzis descended from a more noble blood than the Medici family, and Jacopo longs to reclaim the glory of his family and rule Florence once and for all.
Francesco on the other hand, was more of a frenemies to Lorenzo… they grew up together as boys, before Francesco and his brother Guglielmo lived with Jacopo. While Guglielmo ended up marrying Lorenzo’s sister, it’s Francesco who’s torn between the two sides. I’ve never seen Martari before but I think he’s really terrific here and could match Bean’s intensity. Francesco actually appears more multi-dimensional than Jacopo who seems consumed only by his ambition to rule and his hatred for the Medici. You could see the conflicted emotion in Francesco’s eyes, before he finally succumbed to his uncle’s maniacal desire to obliterate the Medici entirely from the face of the earth.
In season 3, the arch nemesis role goes to Girolamo Riario (played by Jack Roth). If you think he looks familiar, it’s ’cause he’s the splitting image of his dad, Tim Roth. Now, Riario played a key part in the Pazzi conspiracy, but since he’s Pope Sixtus’ nephew, he’s the only conspirators left alive as most were hanged/mutilated by the angry Florentine mob. In season 3, Riario is the Captain General of the Church with a predilection for violence and bloodbath.
Lastly, there’s Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (Francesco Montanari). Though he was initially Lorenzo’s the spiritual mentor, as he became more and more radical in his teachings, Savonarola’s conflict with the Medici family deepens to the point that he wanted to banish Lorenzo out of Florence. They are already political rivals, but another source of conflict is Lorenzo’s deep love and admiration for the arts, which Savonarola despises and considers as distractions and mere vanity. I love how this relationship played out between these two strong characters in season 3, down to the finale which is truly heart-wrenching.
6. The amazing ensemble cast
Behind a fantastic show there’s got to be a terrific ensemble cast, and it certainly is the case with Medici. I love how internationally diverse the cast is, not just UK actors but featuring Italian talents as well. Many of the season 2 cast (pictured below) also appear in season 3 in varying capacity.
Two characters I have to give special shout outs to are Synnove Karlsen (as Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife) and Sarah Parish (Lucrezia, Lorenzo’s mother). Two actresses I wasn’t familiar with before watching the show but I’ve become a fan of now. Karlsen especially, whose transformation from an innocent, mild-mannered girl who desired to be a nun, to a formidable wife of a statesman who became a vital backbone for her husband.
As they say, ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ (more on this topic later)… well in the case of Lorenzo, there are TWO great women, and perhaps that’s why he’s magnificent!
So that’s the first five reasons why I find this show so binge-worthy! Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about even more reasons why YOU should binge watch this one!
Well, have you seen the MEDICI series? I’d love to hear what YOU think!