Almost 160 liters of film blood will be spilled before the eyes of ZDF viewers starting Monday: The international production "Borgia" revolves around one of the most enigmatic dynasties in European history. And one of the darkest chapters of the church.
Lust for power and murder, vanity and jealousy, incest and intrigue – there is hardly a mortal sin that can be attributed to the Spanish-Italian noble family that lived in the 15th century. The Vatican, which has produced two popes in the twentieth century, does not say. Now the second shows the six parts of the 25 million euro saga .
More than 130 actors from 18 countries star in Europe's most expensive TV production centered around Rodrigo Borgia (John Doman), who in 1492 was Alexander VI. ascended the chair of Peter. Rodrigo's skillful political intrigues that lead him and his illegitimate children to power and influence are shot in opulent settings, especially in Prague. Just as much as they did not spare the sumptuous decor, the makers around screenwriter Tom Fontana and director Oliver Hirschbiegel did not spare the hefty sex and violence scenes. A terminally ill Pope Innocent VIII. (Udo Kier), who sucks milk from the breasts of a wet nurse for strength, a witch who rubs fever patients with pig excrement and whose neck is broken as punishment after the death of a patient, as well as torture and copulation wherever the eye looks. And Rodrigo, who makes his sons cardinals, generals or counts at will and selects Lucrezia's husband according to influence, is so unlike the image of a man of God.
"Do not put the church in a bad light"
"I hope not," director Hirschbiegel emphasizes, "that the impression is created that we want to cast the Catholic Church in a bad light.". People at that time were deeply religious, sometimes to the point of superstition. "Apart from that, of course, they did things that absolutely do not run congruent with what is written in the Bible."In this respect, "Borgia" tells how much strength, safety and security faith can give people – then as now, says the director.
And Andrea Sawatzki, who plays Lucrezia's governess Adriana de Mila, emphasizes that she has "a very good feeling" about the acceptance of "Borgia" in Germany, because a series that deals with a different time and yet does not slip into kitsch has never been shown in Germany before. "It is not a schmonzette, but of high quality," the actress is convinced.
Historical clarity follows
The U.S. screenwriter Tom Fontana refers to the historical sources that he used to the best of his knowledge, first and foremost the diaries (Liber notarum) of the papal master of ceremonies Johannes Burckard (c. 1450-1506). But even these are only of limited use as credible testimony, since some of them were later altered by someone else. "The same kind of gossip, lies and distortion of the truth is – unfortunately – easy to believe, and is also the order of the day today," says Fontana. He was able to convince the Bishop of Prague of his good intentions towards the Church, so that he gave the team permission to film in several churches. "We live in a time of fear and extremes, and perhaps it is comforting and enlightening for us to see how people in earlier times dealt with crises, doubt and fear," Fontana says.
A little historical clarity should the documentary "The Borgia Case" on Wednesday (19. October) at 22.3 pm bring. The editors deepened the "powerful images of the wonderful moral picture" with experts and facts, says Alexander Hesse, head of the ZDF editorial department History and Society. Among other things, this is done with the help of Fernando Borja Rivero from Chile. The black legend about the Borgia name around murder, orgies, sex and corruption is not relevant to him, says the historian, a descendant of the Borgias. "I think that the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. did more important things, and in my family we're all proud of that ancestor."From Monday, television viewers will be able to see this for themselves.