Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence is a superb and riveting costume drama about the powerful Medici family, de facto rulers of Florence in the 15th and 16th century Renaissance era. Richard Madden plays Cosimo de’ Medici, the second-generation head of the banking dynasty, who is thrust into the role of running both the family business and the city-state of Florence after the murder of his domineering father, Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman). As he investigates his father’s death by poisoned grapes, Cosimo must also handle more overt threats against his family’s fortunes and his position as leader of the Florentine Republic by people like Rinaldo degli Albizzi (Lex Shrapnel), the head of a rival noble family who resents the self-made Medicis and what they did to gain power over the city. Nevertheless, Cosimo often manages to outmanoeuvre his opponents, keeping his business, political position, and family afloat while also channelling his spiritual and artistic tendencies into the construction of the magnificent Duomo Cathedral. The rest of the tight-knit Medici household consists of Cosimo’s wife Contessina (Annabel Scholey), their son Piero (Alessandro Sperduti), daughter-in-law Lucrezia (Valentina Belle), Cosimo’s younger brother Lorenzo (Stuart Martin), and his friend and bodyguard/knight Marco Bello (Guido Caprino).
Slipping effortlessly into yet another princely role since playing Robb Stark in Game of Thrones and, well, Prince Kit in Cinderella, Madden takes on an intriguing and significant figure from history all while sporting a fetching grey forelock and stern, inscrutable gaze. Cosimo, as shown in Medici, is a brilliant player in the chess game of Florentine society who expertly handles business affairs, political machinations, and family problems while battling his own spiritual demons. As seen in flashbacks being introduced to the cutthroat world of banking and politics by his father, Cosimo is shown to be a man of passion, integrity, and vision, all of which he fights to retain in the current storyline.
The real MVP of the show, however, is Scholey’s Contessina, who proves the adage that behind every great man is a great woman as she leads the role of women on Medici. Cosimo’s wife is more than his equal, holding her own against challenges in high and low society with impeccable poise, quick thinking, incredible willpower, and admirable boldness. Unfortunately, her greatest difficulty is her own husband, who constantly rejects her and almost never appreciates her sacrificial devotion to him and the family. Even with Cosimo’s complete ingratitude, Contessina is a fully realized character who proves her mettle in a heavily patriarchal society and inspires her daughter-in-law to the same level of behind-the-scenes activity in keeping the Medici family unified and powerful.
Aside from the intriguing characters, the show indulges in lavish Florentine costumes, breath-taking scenery, and stunning architecture. Of course, art also gets its time in the spotlight, from countless interior frescoes and tapestries to the exquisite marble Duomo and Donatello’s famous depiction of David in bronze. However, some depictions of art and society in Renaissance era Italy stretch the imagination: Cosimo’s own charcoal drawings of figures and buildings are laughably bad. Inexplicably, Hoffman retains a very strong American accent whereas everyone else has an English or Italian accent. And the theme song is rather terrible, loud, and annoying. But these are minor complaints for an otherwise entertaining period drama about a truly fascinating historical family.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 4