'The Borgias' is lively 'history'

Sex, deceit, Jeremy Irons. What more do you need?

The Oscar-winning actor plays Pope Alexander VI in the first season of the Showtime series The Borgias, about the notorious 15th-century Italian dynasty.

Created by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With a Vampire), the series vaguely adheres to history, but don't worry if dates and events don't line up. Just look at it as a precursor to The Godfather and The Sopranos. The difference, of course, is that the Borgias were legitimate. Those were the days when the former Rodrigo Borgia could openly have mistresses (Joanne Whalley and Lotte Verbeek), a son whom he named a cardinal (Francois Arnaud as Cesare Borgia), and a daughter he married off for political gain, the infamous poisoner Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger).

Jordan, who directed a number of the first-season episodes, has always had a mischievous streak in his filmmaking, and he certainly is having fun with The Borgias, which so far is being fairly sympathetic toward Lucrezia. Here, she is more a victim who learns how to survive in a man's world and protect her family than the venomous snake she has been portrayed as in the past. As historians are coming to think, that might be nearer to the truth, and what Jordan has done in the series is give us an interesting portrait of corruption and hypocrisy while being deliciously entertaining.

The Borgias: The First Season retails for $49.99 or $65.99 Blu-ray.