Borgias v Kennedys, O – O
THE KILLOUGH CHRONICLES | REVIEWS
by James Killough
It was Fat Bitch Sunday yesterday at Tuttle’s. I made my slow-cooked Bolognese sauce and we downed cranberry margaritas while we settled in to watch The Borgias followed by the infamous The Kennedys, the production that was dumped by The History Channel, apparently under pressure from the Kennedys themselves, or from “friends of the Kennedys,” of which there are many because they themselves are multitude.
For those of you more interested in what a Fat Bitch Sunday is than in a review of shows that turned out to be less interesting than the margaritas, a Fat Bitch Day of any kind — Mon, Tues, Fri, or Sun — is the one day in any exercising Ghey’s week when he can eat what he wants, and take in twice the amount of his allocated daily fat, if not more. This means cheesy things like quesadillas de carnitas from Baja Fresh, carrot cake with ice cream, and tankards of high caloric cocktails. To give you an idea of how serious a Fat Bitch Day is, Tuttle had two full shakers of margaritas in the fridge at any given time all night long.
First up was The Borgias. I was really looking forward to this. Not only does it star Jeremy Irons, whose industrial-accident voice, strafed by years of chain smoking, I aspire to, but it’s also directed by Neil Jordan, whose work I have been a huge fan of up until recently. He lost me with Ondine, the Irish selkie movie starring Colin Farrell and his ex Alicja, which was beautifully shot, but brought to mind a one-sentence review Mira Nair spiked at me personally on the opening night of a film I wrote: “The characters were believable, and that’s a lot coming from me, but I just ask myself, Why make this film?”
Mira Auntie, as I call her, was right about my film, but I was just thrilled to have it made at all, so I tried to enjoy the rest of the premiere party without feeling that I’d been pepper sprayed in the eyes with chili masala. With regard to most of Mira Auntie’s films after Salaam Bombay, I would take her comment further and ask why she makes films at all. Her characters aren’t even believable. And that’s a lot coming from me.
Back to The Borgias. You know a production is in trouble when midway through you comment on the superior quality of the sets and costumes. You’re not watching the film, you’re fondling the wallpaper.
Jeremy Irons delivers to a certain degree, but the script is sluggish, the direction sluggisher, and the characters around him, not many of whom are believable, don’t ever seem click with him. It’s as if they’re in a completely different show, or they’re the stand-ins for the real actors who never showed up on set, so they went with whoever was on hand. Derek Jacobi did the same role he’s been playing for the past decade, which is the bewildered old woman about to be granny-bashed.
Irons tries to make Rodrigo Borgia sympathetic, but I’m not sure that’s a wise direction to have taken. Dictators and tyrants in flowing robes like Mama Gaddafi and the Borgias are best when they are just campy evil, when they are the lime and the salt of a drama’s margarita. Let the hate flow, don’t ask us to have compassion. Throw some whipping-boy character in there on the side for that.
I blame my lack of enthusiasm for Borgias on the fact I was raised in Rome. I went to school or knew socially the descendants of three of the cardinals portrayed in the series so far, which is not just to shamelessly name drop even more than I already have, but to illustrate that I have a particular view as to who these people should be. (I sometimes sum up my fiction-worthy childhood with Roman princelings this way: the problem with playing hide-and-go-seek in a classmate’s palace is there are so many rooms you can never find anyone after you’ve all scattered.)
The biggest issue for me with Borgias is they aren’t behaving like Italians, much less Spaniards. They aren’t even pretending to be Italians. There’s no screamin’-at-ya passion, no gesticulating, no splattering themselves across the screen with more histrionic fervor than an entire season at La Scala.
As Tuttle commented, “Why are films about foreigners always in English accents?” To which I replied with all of the wisdom of my years, “Because they’re foreigners.” Indeed, the whole tone of Borgias is Anglo-stiff, too much starch in the cassocks as well as the lines. I just don’t see Lucretia Borgia as a blond English rose who sounds like she would rather be reading Emma for the third time than flirting with her brother. Lucretia Borgia should be a dark Monica Bellucci with a wild gaze and a venomous bust.
The Tudors was far more lusty, gutsy, life-at-dagger-point Italian than The Borgias. Despite the anachronism, I would rather have seen Jeremy Irons slumped on the papal throne chain smoking and scratching his nuts; it would have been realer. And the lighting overall is way too bright. This is a candle-lit, smoky world emerging from the Middle Ages. Dim the lights, Neil, and slap a gob of wax on the lens.
My first reaction to The Kennedy’s was that The History Channel hadn’t dumped it under pressure from the Kennedy mafia, but because it was just too damned cheesy for them to broadcast and still take themselves seriously afterwards. I’ve been a fan of Greg Kinnear’s since he was the host of Talk Soup, and he does a great imitation of Jack Kennedy in this series. But that’s what it is, an imitation. That goes for all the performances.
I wasn’t able to watch the whole pilot episode because by the time Tuttle and I screened it, I was crocked and in no mood to be a responsible reviewer and watch it through until the end. Katie Holmes struck me as just being Katie Holmes impersonating a WASP in a pillbox hat, nothing like Jacqueline. And before anyone says, “But the Kennedys can’t be WASPs, they’re Catholic,” I should state that by my definition of WASP, they are members of a sociocultural group from the American northeastern establishment, in which schools and connections outweigh relatively minor religious differences. So, yes, Catholics can be WASPs; there’s not even much of a difference between the Catholic and Episcopal liturgy, anyway, as far as I can tell.
I switched The Kennedys off after the scene when Rose and Joe Kennedy, Sr. are informed that Joseph Jr. died. Joe Sr. plucks a crucifix that’s hanging by the front door like an oversized mezuzah and threatens to brain Rose with it. She wrenches it from his hands, clutches it to her bosom and wails to Jack and the other children when they run in asking what’s going on, “Your brother Joe… IS DEAD!!!”
This was just beyond Hecuba in The Trojan Women, too much grand opera even for Italy. The way she blared “Your brother Joe… IS DEAD!!!” took me so by surprise I literally had a kneejerk reaction, burst into flash gales of laughter and rolled off the sofa. As I scrambled for the remote that I had knocked over, I could hear more brilliant lines like,
“I can’t take Joe’s place!”
“But you must, Jack!”
Speaking of tyrants with dynastic ambitions, our own Rodrigo Borgia of North Africa, Mama Gaddafi of the House of Gaddafi, fierce voguer of caramel nougat cassock muumuus with matching pillbox hats that might have given Jacqueline pause to puke a bit in her mouth, politely covering her reaction with a white glove, is amazingly still alive and churning his patch of the Sahara into a turbid quicksand into which she hopes to suck NATO and anyone else she can take with her.
An article in the Guardian last Thursday by Simon Jenkins was an attack on what he calls “liberal interventionism” in Libya and elsewhere. Right from the first few sentences, we know Jenkins is yet another opinionating dingbat riding a bouncy cloud of specious argument:
“Welcome to 21st-century war, liberal style. You do not fix an objective and use main force to get it. You nuance words, bomb a little, half assassinate, scare, twist, spin and make it up as you go along.”
That sounds like any war, ever, any style. Regardless of this rather fatuous opening, he then goes on to say that we have the potential just to go in, take Mama Gaddafi out and settle the score quickly, rather than bolstering a very weak, ragtag rebellion. I tend to agree with his standpoint. But that’s about it. The rest of the article read like a bitchy sports commentator dissecting a team’s performance on the field and faulting them for not having had perfect 20/20 hindsight while the game was in progress.
On the Libya front, I also tend to agree with my evil twit twin Andrew Sullivan today in The Daily Beast. His concerns are that we are setting ourselves up for a situation similar to Iraq between the wars, when we tried to force Saddam out of power by squeezing him between economic sanctions and a no-fly zone like a “ripe zit.” Of course, the perennial adolescent in me snickered at this analogy, and it has almost made me rethink my attitude towards Sullivan, mainly because he seems to have shifted his own perspective and clarified his earlier concerns over our involvement in Libya, which were, indeed, fatuous.
Sullivan had me reappraising him on the first line of his article: “There are obvious differences between the Iraq war and the Libyan clusterfuck.” It’s not just that he’s toning down the hysteria and thinking this through more carefully as said clusterfuck unfolds. It’s that when any kinky bottom bitch like Andrew Sullivan uses the word “clusterfuck,” I’m reminded of some of my favorite filthy porn and I’m suddenly mollified. As I’ve said before, in my copious experience, practicing religious Gheys like him tend to be dynamite in bed, and that causes a Pavlovian reaction in me.
Woof! Andrew, come to daddy. That’s a good boy!