I’m a bit divided over which lingering memory stays with me more from Da Vinci’s Demons: the sight of Hugh Bonneville’s bare buttocks (seriously) or the fact that this grandiose drama turns Leonardo Da Vinci from being widely perceived as gay, to straight.
David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises, Dark City, Batman Begins, Flashforward) takes an historical figure and shapes him as a matinee idol in this brash new FX drama. If anything this bears a great deal of influence from Showtime’s The Tudors and Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s rock star Henry VIII.
Da Vinci’s Demons is a rollicking, historical fiction, fusing the inventory skills of its lead character with political drama, religion, romance and action. He swordfights two men at the same time, invents mechanics that fly and draws freehand with the flourish of a hand.
He is at odds with his father, is drawn to alluring women, and is considered a troublemaker by authorities. He also has a backstory of trying to remember the face of his mother. But more than anything, this Leo is a debonair action hero, portrayed by Tom Riley (pictured, left) complete with a buff chest.
“I see things as they are. Not as they might be,” he insists.
There’s money on the screen here, and more than a bit of CGI, with elaborate sets and renaissance costumes. Produced by Goyer and Julie Gardner (Doctor Who) and Jane Tranter (Torchwood), it’s a big pitch to establishing a new franchise.
Expect to see masquerade balls, sex scenes, banquets and duels.
The first episode takes a while to get going, and centres mostly around Da Vinci’s desire to be employed as a military engineer for statesman Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan). His chief invention is a multi-cannon gun, but it has never been tested.
Da Vinci is also dabbling with death by having a tryst with Medici’s semi-naked mistress Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock). Any suggestion that he was having affairs with his male pupils is overlooked here, in this most Hollywood of period adventures.
The show’s most impressive character is the villainous Count Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson) who gets all the best scenes as Da Vinci’s nemesis. Ritson’s contained performance as the resident bad guy is enjoyable stuff. By the second episode the two men have been nicely set-up as broad personifications of good vs evil.
Goyer directs this as a sexed-up tale, bringing contemporary narrative concepts to a classical canvas. Like most of his works there is a dark undertone throughout, but so far it is more about style than substance.
Da Vinci’s Demons doesn’t look like knocking off Game of Thrones anytime soon but it has a sense of fun that may yet surprise, so long as historical facts aren’t your thang.
Da Vinci’s Demons premieres Tuesday 7.30pm on FX.