I review the first season of Da Vinci’s Demons, starring Tom Riley, Lara Pulver, Laura Haddock and Blake Ritson, created by David S. Goyer.
Earlier this year, Starz debuted a show created by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel) named Da Vinci’s Demons. Its first season lasted eight episodes and as far as I’m aware it’s been renewed for a season two. Starring Tom Riley as Leonardo Da Vinci – Da Vinci’s Demons explores the early life of the man himself with several supernatural elements thrown in there for good measure. It’s like Starz caught onto the success that Game of Thrones was giving HBO, but wanted to make something in the historical era. This series first piqued me after some interesting trailers and I’ve enjoyed it over the course of its eight hour long episodes. Whilst it might not be Game of Thrones level it’s certainly entertaining fun, with some strong acting and an interesting premise – it unfortunately doesn’t quite hit the status of all-time greats.
Let’s talk about the actors first. Tom Riley does a fantastic early Leonardo Da Vinci – playing the character as a mix of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. He’s eccentric, an inventor, an artist and a genius. It’s a British-American drama which explains the British accents (and the fact that it was filmed in Wales), but benefits from some interesting cast outside of the well-picked Tom Riley. Laura Haddock plays the devious and cunning Lucrezia Donati, the mistress of Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) as well as the lover of Da Vinci. She’s also got her own secrets and by the end of the season is fully fleshed out as a three dimensional character, much like most of the other cast. Eros Vlahos also plays an early Niccolò Machiavelli, and the character portrayed here is very different to the one that history paints him as and it’ll certainly be interesting to watch that transformation in later chapters. Here, Machiavelli is known as “Nico” and is one of Da Vinci’s closest allies, along with Hera Hilma’s Vanessa and Greg Chillin’s Zoroaster. They display an interesting friendship and the chemistry between them is very fun to watch, as is the chemistry between Riley and Haddock. There’s also Sherlock’s Irene Adler thrown into the mix as well, with Lara Pulver playing the wife of Lorenzo de Medici. All in all, it’s a well rounded cast with not too many big names and by the end of Season 1 they’re all fleshed out beyond mere stereotypes.
Tom Riley as Leonardo Da Vinci
On the flipside, the cast of Da Vinci’s enemies is quite impressive as well. Blake Ritson plays a strong and well rounded Count Riario, who is Da Vinci’s main foil over the course of these eight episodes. The show itself can also flip genres each time around – you never quite know what you’re going to expect, with one week being a courtroom drama, the next being a hunt to free a man from Vlad the Impaler, and another week it might be Da Vinci breaking into the Vatican itself. The show is complex and engaging and whilst it sometimes may feel like it’s struggling to decide on which genre it wants to be in – there are also some heavy ‘influences’ from Batman, which are no surprises given David S. Goyer’s involvement – it does provide an entertaining watch and you never quite feel like you’re getting the same episode over and over again. It’s also helped by Da Vinci’s inventions – we get to see a fresh one each week that each serves a different purposes, and Da Vinci’s Demons uses them very well indeed.
This show is also quite clearly a show meant for adults, not children. Within the first few minutes of the show, we are instantly told what to expect, gore – sometimes more than necessary, sex – also sometimes more than necessary – and violence. Many times it can be disturbing but Da Vinci’s Demons manages to be compelling and engaging despite that. For good or ill – this is Da Vinci like you’ve never seen him before, as well as being a blend between Sherlock and The Doctor he also brings his inner-Ezio Auditore to the table too, displaying several swordfighting skills over the course of the season. He’s charismatic and energetic and easily one of the highlights of the show is watching Riley play Da Vinci, and it adds to the overall quality of the show.
Da Vinci's main rival, Count Riario - played by Blake Ritson
The show itself looks visually stunning. There are several amazing shots of Florence and there’s never really anything that looks out of place for the era. Whilst the show may be too complex at times, it delivers a large amount of plot in its eight episodes and it can be hard keeping track of them all at times. Things get even more complicated in later episodes as well – so this is certainly, like Game of Thrones – a show that you’ll have to keep close attention to. However – the episodes improves overtime as well, and whilst I wasn’t too keen on Da Vinci’s Demons at the beginning, it transformed itself into some great viewing by the end as this is really where the show itself excels.
Whilst the early episodes may be slightly formulaic, Da Vinci’s Demons ends up being a great watch. It’s compelling, engaging and tells an interesting battle of science (Florence) versus mythology (The Vatican) with all the added bonus that comes from the novelty of suing Da Vinci match wits with Dracula. Above all else, this show is a lot of fun and is something that will appeal to everyone who loved that old school, swashbuckling adventure shows. And an added bonus is that there’s only eight episodes – so not much catching up is required.
SEASON 1 Individual Episode Ratings:
- S1x01: The Hanged Man - ****
- S1x02: The Serpent - ***
- S1x03: The Prisoner - ***
- S1x04: The Magician - ****
- S1x05: The Tower - ***1/2
- S1x06: The Devil - ****
- S1x07: The Hierophant ****
- S1x08: The Lovers ****1/2