Top 10 reasons I LOVE ‘Medici: The Magnificent’ series – PART 2

I’m writing this second part in front of my TV, with one of the final season’s episodes playing on screen. Well, you’ve [hopefully] read the first part of why I LOVE Medici: The Magnificent series. If not, well I hope this last post will convince you 😉

You could say that my Summer and now Fall, has been consumed by Medici. By now I think I’ve rewatched season 2 + 3 at least twice. That is rare when I love a series so much that I wanted to rewatch it right away after I’m done. I’m actually still having Medici-withdrawal now given there are mere sixteen episodes total of season 2 + 3. To help alleviate that, I started reading The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert (so many juicy details!), which I just finished last week. Right now I’m reading Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Miles J. Unger.

Before I continue with the list, here’s the trailer for the final season:

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So in Part I, I talked about the Italian scenery, production design & costumes, music, the excellent bad guys and the amazing ensemble cast.

Well, without further ado, here are the last five reasons why MEDICI: The Magnificent is so binge-worthy:

5. Renaissance arts, politics & culture

You can’t make a series highlighting the Medici family without covering the important aspects of Florentine life. I love how the series doesn’t just show the iconic art painted by famous painters of the day, but entwined them brilliantly to the plot. Sandro Botticelli is a recurring character (played wonderfully by Sebastian De Souza), a personal friend of the family. I love the scenes that shows the inception of the Mars and Venus painting, using his bestie Giuliano de’ Medici (Bradley James) as Mars and the woman he loves, Simonetta Vespucci (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as his models.

Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo also make appearances in season 3, and his Sculpture Garden at his palace was practically an art educational institution. They even depicted the famous story of Michelangelo’s time in the Garden where Lorenzo made a comment about his Faun statue.

As an Italian statesman, Lorenzo’s been consumed with the political affair of Florence, groomed for power since he’s a young man. Season 3 is even more intriguing in terms of how much the affairs of the state consumed him more and more. Lorenzo would often be off to Rome (on horseback no less!) to meet the pope and other important religious and political figures.

Though he’s not crowned, he’s practically a King as the Medici’s family dominated practically all aspects of the state. It’s certainly not the job for the faint of heart, Lorenzo has to constantly work on balancing power between the the Italian states like Venice and of course, maintain good relations with the Pope and the Papal state for the good of the Medici bank. Naturally the Medici also had a hand in the Pope selections too, in fact, his own son Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X and his nephew Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici became Pope Clement VII.

One of my favorite politically-charged episode in season 3 is when Lorenzo undertook a risky diplomatic journey to Naples to negotiate peace with the ruthless King Ferrante (Ray Stevenson) and somehow managed to succeed with the help of the King’s own daughter in-law Ippolita Sforza (Gaia Weiss). It’s an intense, suspenseful and also sexy episode rolled into one.

4. Fantastic direction + stunning cinematography

As with plenty of other series, there are multiple directors hired throughout the season. In series 2 and 3 however, there are two main directors who I should call out for their phenomenal work… both happen to be Italian: John Cassar and Jan Michelini.

One of the best episodes I’ve seen, not just in Medici, but even amongst other similar series, is no doubt the the season 2 finale, which depicts the brutal Pazzi Conspiracy. Michelini directed that episode and man, what a perfect end to a magnificent second season. Frank Spotnitz has said that the real event is actually far more brutal & bloody that it would be unsuitable for TV… I’ve just read that chapter in the House of Medici book and it’s certainly true). I’ve rewatched it half a dozen times and I’m in awe every time how they pull it off.

Bradley James + Daniel Sharman

Both Daniel Sharman (Lorenzo de’ Medici) and Bradley James (Giuliano de’ Medici) acted their heart out in this particular episode. The two have such a great chemistry depicting such fun brotherly love, which makes the final episode in season 2 even more agonizing. It’s truly one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever seen on TV, not just in this series but amongst comparable series… suspenseful, dramatic, powerful and emotional… it’s surely violent without being overly gory or unnecessarily bloody. Totally an adrenaline rush every time I watch it.

I’ve mentioned how much I LOVE the Trust episode in season 3, but the quieter moments are just as great. One scene that jumped out at me in Season 3 (The Ten) is the moment between Lorenzo and young Giulio, the son of his late brother Giuliano, when he finally accepts him for who he said he was.

Medici The Magnificent - The Ten

I love how Lorenzo’s face changes when the boy showed him the Medici ring he’d kept hidden since he came to live with the family. The music, the acting, the atmosphere, everything just works here to create such an emotional and indelible moment.

I feel like I should’ve made a separate post to appreciate the cinematography of these series. I want to particularly single out Alessandro Pesci, the DP of the final season. For a film that touched upon the Renaissance art, it’s fitting that nearly every frame of this series is so frame-worthy! I feel like I cannot do it justice by posting stills of them, so you’d have to watch it to fully appreciate the beauty of Italy captured by this series!

Thanks to Medici Facebook for the photos. Click to see a larger version.

3. The formidable Medici women

I find that many of the period dramas that I love over the years… the Jane Austen’s adaptations, Jane Eyre, various films about British reigning queens such as Elizabeth and Victoria, The White Queen series which focused on the women during the War of The Roses, etc. have something in common. They all have strong women at the center… and by strong I don’t mean having superhuman strength, but an inner strength that made them all formidable.

Showrunner Frank Spotnitz has said that one of the great things about this Medici series have been the roles they’ve found for women to play, considering how in history, women’s roles have not been fully recorded. I’ve mentioned Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife (Synnove Karlsen) and Lucrezia, Lorenzo’s mother (Sarah Parish), the two important women in Lorenzo’s life.

They weren’t just confined in the palace running the household, but while Lorenzo was often away on state business, they were were also instrumental in helping him run the bank. If it weren’t for Lorenzo’s mother and wife, the Medici bank

I have to mention three other key women in the Medici story… Lorenzo’s former lover Lucrezia Donati (Alessandra Mastronardi), Lorenzo’s sister Bianca de’ Medici (Aurora Ruffino) who’s banished by his own brother but later came back and helped him when he needed most.

 

Last but not least, there’s Medici’s unlikely ally, Caterina Sforza Riario (Rose Williams). Despite her brief appearance, she made quite an impact politically for the Medicis.

Rose Williams

I’ve already mentioned about Ippolita Sforza in the Trust episode in Part 1. Well she’s not the only Sforza who helped Lorenzo.

I love how in The Holy See episode we saw that the wife of his most bitter nemesis ended up coming to Lorenzo’s aid in a critical moment during the Papal election. The conversation between Clarice and Caterina, specifically about Caterina lamenting about the fate of women in a world of powerful men is a deep and thought-provoking one. But then she proves to be a woman with a plan… with schemes all her own to alter her fate. Total bad ass!

2. Solid writing right down to its epic conclusion

Apparently Frank Spotnitz is a history buff and it shows! Apparently the filmmakers took more artistic liberties with season 1 of Medici: Masters of Florence, but Medici: The Magnificent (season 2 + 3)  are more faithful to historical facts. I suppose the extraordinary life of Lorenzo de Medici lends itself to great drama and political intrigue.

If you were to ask me which season I love most, I have to say the final season, with season 2 being a close second. In an interview, Spotnitz said season 3 is the most powerful and emotional as it’s less plot-oriented. I love that because it’s more character-driven and the motives of the characters, especially Lorenzo himself, drives the story right to its heart-wrenching conclusion.

Lorenzo through the years…

In season 2, we see a still naive, idealist Lorenzo who wants to do good to be good. Yet, after the events in season 2, especially the violent death of his brother Giuliano at the hand of the Pazzi, Lorenzo is a changed man. Now his motto is ‘do whatever it takes to achieve good’ that is ‘good’ by his own standards, not anyone else’s. Thanks to the writing of lead writer James Dormer, we get to see an in-depth look of this important figure and how his new outlook on life impacts his family, Florence and its people.

The spiritual aspect of the Medici’s story is explored beautifully in the final season. The major change in Lorenzo the fact that he’s losing faith, even turning against God, which in that era is a huge deal. It not only impacts his relationship with a powerful, increasingly popular figure at the time, the friar Girolamo Savonarola (Francesco Montanari), but also his devoutly Christian wife Clarice.

It’s interesting looking back in an episode in season 2, after a tumultuous event,  Lorenzo lamented to Clarice how there’s blood on his hands… ‘by trying to seek peace, I brought war. By trying to save lives, I lost them’ and Clarice replied saying ‘God does not judge us by the outcome of our actions. He judges us by what is in our hearts. Your heart was and remains pure.’

Johnny Harris as Bruno Bernardi

Well, that version of Lorenzo had slowly deteriorated over the years and as he’s become a much darker, more ruthless leader who decided he wanted to mold the world as he saw fit. The introduction of Lorenzo’s new strategist, Bruno Bernardi (Johnny Harris) makes for an intriguing storyline as it shows just how far Lorenzo would go to wield his power over Florence and to avenge his brother. The more Lorenzo trusts Bruno, the more callous he becomes and the bigger the rifts between him and his own family.

Jacob Dudman as Giulio de Medici

I have to mention how heart-wrenching it is to see how Lorenzo is perceived by his children, which I think is a brilliant way to show his moral decay through the years. In particular, Lorenzo’s relationship with his brother’s son, Giulio de’ Medici (Jacob Dudman) who as a young boy wanted to avenge the death of his mother. But as he’s been training to be a priest, Giulio revealed to Lorenzo that he’s prayed for God to take away his anger. Thus, it’s quite a stark contrast to Lorenzo who increasingly become more and more driven to avenge his brother (ironically, Giulio’s own father), even to the point of murder in the name of Florence and the Medici family. The end of The Holy See episode shows Giulio’s reaction to Lorenzo’s brutality and it always takes my breath away.

1. Daniel Sharman – a truly magnificent Lorenzo 

So I’ve been saving this part for season 1 because I feel like Daniel Sharman‘s magnificent performance as Lorenzo de Medici deserves its own post. Now, I still might dedicate a post for him in the future. But here I’ll try to summarize just how much I appreciate his performance in this role.

I’ve actually never seen Daniel before this show. I learned since then that he’s been on the popular show Teen Wolf, but seeing clips in that show I can’t believe it’s the same actor. It just goes to show just what a skilled performer Sharman is and even the fact that he’s not familiar with the Medici story (by his own admission), he’s able to embody the character of Lorenzo so beautifully. Check out this video below that shows a clip of his audition… I agree with Luca Bernabei‘s assessment that Daniel possesses the charisma and confidence needed for the role.

As much as I appreciate how stunning Daniel looked in the prime of his youth in season 2, I absolutely love his soulful performance as the older Lorenzo. He’s made up to look much older, grizzled and more world-weary. But it isn’t just the make up that makes the character believable – Daniel sells me the transformation from being an idealist, dutiful young man who loves his country, to a ruthless statesman driven by vengeance and power in equal measure. It’s interesting that during Lorenzo’s reign, it isn’t just the Medici’s family that’s going bankrupt, towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 43), he’s also morally-bankrupt.

It is a testament to the show’s writing AND Daniel’s performance that even at his worst, one can’t help but sympathize with Lorenzo. No, I’m not excusing his actions, but even when he was driven to kill his adversaries, he seems more misguided and lost, not exactly a bloodthirsty sociopath. That’s why the title of the episode before the final one, Lost Souls, is such a fitting title.

One thing I LOVE about Daniel’s performance is how he never resorted to over-acting, which could’ve easily been the case with a less-skilled actor. It’s such a juicy role that I’m glad the show-runners found the right performer to bring it to life. I love how Daniel constantly acts with his eyes to express certain emotions – subtle expression changes, body movements, even altering the tone of his voice, can be more effective than an overblown declaration or a grand gesture.

In the final season, Lorenzo also suffered from gout, a joint disease that has plagued his family, and Daniel believably portrayed this with his body language. This role requires so much physicality from an actor. The horse-riding, sword-fighting, jousting, etc. are not easy things to master, but I’d think the scenes where he has to appear frail and weak must be equally difficult to do, if not more, especially for a young actor.

Pardon the clichéd statement that there’s beauty in sadness… but it’s truly the case with Daniel’s performance portraying Lorenzo’s final days. There’s unspeakable sorrow in his eyes that almost feels too much to bear for one man. His utter heartbreak when Giuliono was savagely murdered and when Clarice suddenly died was palpable… it’s not just grief of losing someone he loved, but also immense guilt that ravaged him as he felt responsible for their demise.

The heart of that final episode is Lorenzo’s inner tumult… a once-powerful man who realizes he’s lost it all and must decide what legacy he has to leave his family, especially his children. As Lorenzo had plotted to kill Girolamo Savonarola, in the last minutes leading up to that event, the camera showed multiple close-ups of his conflicted face. It’s a powerful scene with crowds gathering at Piazza della Signoria, and Lorenzo tore up the cross bead necklace… his past flashed before him as the beads scattered to the floor…  then at the last minute he did the unexpected that shocked everyone, even himself. It’s such a suspenseful and emotional scene every single time I watched it.

Ok, I could go on and on about Daniel’s performance as Lorenzo. I think I’d have to dedicate an entire post for that at some point. For now, I’ll leave you with this terrific fan video that shows clips of Lorenzo from both seasons.


 

Well, I think it’s time you check out the MEDICI series if you haven’t already.

If you’ve seen the show, I’d love to hear what YOU think!

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