The Borgias (2011–2013)
3 user

The Poisoned Chalice 

Extremely ruthless and ambitious cardinal Rodrigo Borgia uses bribery to take advantage of the death of the current Pope and rise to the Papacy.


Neil Jordan


Neil Jordan (creator), Neil Jordan

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Jeremy Irons ... Rodrigo Borgia
François Arnaud ... Cesare Borgia
Holliday Grainger ... Lucrezia Borgia
Joanne Whalley ... Vanozza Cattaneo
David Oakes ... Juan Borgia
Sean Harris ... Micheletto
Simon McBurney ... Johannes Burchart
Derek Jacobi ... Cardinal Orsini
Aidan Alexander Aidan Alexander ... Gioffre Borgia
Colm Feore ... Giuliano Della Rovere
Peter Sullivan ... Cardinal Ascanio Sforza
Stephen Noonan Stephen Noonan ... Deacon Cardinal
Michael Poole Michael Poole ... Pope Innocent
Vernon Dobtcheff ... Cardinal Versucci
Bosco Hogan ... Cardinal Piccolomini


On the death of Pope Innocent VIII in 1492, Cardinals meet in conclave to elect his successor. Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia has waited all of his life for this opportunity and he is not going to let it pass. With no successful candidate on the first and several successive ballots, he secretly communicates with his son Cesare, advising him on which Cardinals to bribe in order to get their votes. Successfully elected, he moves quickly to establish his control over the Church. As Pope Alexander VI, he also decides that the Pope must not be chaste but be seen to be chaste and tells Vanossa, the mother of his children, that they can no longer have a physical relationship. The Pope is no sooner elected than his son Cesare discovers a plot to poison him at a banquet hosted by Cardinal Orsini. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Canada | Ireland | Hungary


English | Latin

Release Date:

3 April 2011 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

Hungary See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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Did You Know?


Even though Cesare played by Francois Arnaud is older than Juan, actor David Oakes who plays Juan is 2 years older than Francois (Cesare). See more »


Handel's "Zadok the Priest" is played during the coronation procession. This piece of music was not written until the mid 1700s - almost 350 years later. See more »


[first lines]
Pope Innocent: [on his death bed] You are afraid to enter, but you must. I am about to meet my maker. I have confessed. And I confess I am very afraid. Colonna. Sforza. Orsini. Borgia.
Rodrigo Borgia: Your Holiness.
Pope Innocent: Della Rovere. You will fight like dogs over this corpse I leave for this throne of St. Peter's. But it was pure once. We have all sullied it with our greed and lechery. Which of you will wash it clean?
Rodrigo Borgia: It shall be cleansed, Your Holiness, with the tears we shed for you. I swear before the Living God.
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The Borgias Main Titles (Instrumental)
Written by Trevor Morris
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User Reviews

Gorgeous televisual monster
5 April 2011 | by igoatabaseSee all my reviews

Note : This is a review of the two episodes premiere, The Poisoned Chalice and The Assassin.

Even with Jeremy Irons as lead, Showtime and Michael Hirst (The Tudors) as producer I still had doubts about The Borgias. Indeed recently Episodes, at least its pilot, proved that the network can pick shows that should have never been filmed in the first place. Enduring it was even more painful considering their Dexter is my all time favorite TV series. It's not like if Showtime had to redeem itself but many viewers like me worried that The Borgias would turn into a televisual orgy or at least something superficial and inconsistent. Now that I have sinned its premiere I see a magnificent white dove flying in the blue sky and a giant black bird about to devour it.

There was nothing surreal about it but the production was so immersive that you should instantly feel like traveling back in time. Right when the opening credits began I knew I would enjoy my journey. As creative and artistic as Dexter or True Blood's one I found them quite inspiring and original. It was the perfect appetizer before the feast. And what a feast ! The first part, The Poisoned Chalice, was just flawless and from its sets to its well designed costumes I can't see anyone who wouldn't believe these fictional elements actually existed. From time to time I also noticed the music and I'm convinced it discreetly contributed to the premiere success. The digital renderings, a city flyby and large crowd for instance, were also marvelously blended with real ones. There were also some interesting ideas used to interrogate the viewer. Who's the distorted figure in the mirror ? And what about the first person view right before the procession ended ? Still despite these many astounding qualities I feel the need to point out how the second part, The Assasisin, disappointingly jarred with the first. That's when you should notice some questionable lighting and audio recording. Nothing disastrous but it means the upcoming episodes won't be as well produced as The Poisoned Chalice. The issue is not new but I'll never get used to it. However people who taste the bait shouldn't bite the dust !

If I had to compare the show with an other one that would be Rome. They're similar in many ways. First the acting is really convincing and I didn't spot any weak link in the casting chain. But of course Jeremy Irons shined among them like a living god. His performance in Lolita and Fatale was so brilliant that I really anticipated his charismatic portrayal. The transformation of his character was intense and almost grotesque at times, a smart way to criticize how a simple mortal can be turned into a living god with unlimited power. Second most characters, if not all, have tremendous potential and their first encounters were quite thrilling. The assassin should send gamers straight to heaven. His controversial role reminded me of Ashur from Spartacus : Blood and Sand. He was just unpredictable and made the story even more twisted and shocking ! Actresses and specially Joanne Whalley also did a good job. The last plays the mother and she's so easy on the eyes that I couldn't believe it when they dared question her mature and natural beauty. Blasphemy ! It leads us to the third element, not the fifth. Indeed the connections between characters, their relationships, shouldn't be as spectacular as in Lost but their realism can only move and make the viewers even more uncomfortable. For example the early chasing game between the sister and the brother has a dual meaning, specially considering what the last had just done. The last shot above the forbidden grass was also probably a direct reference to Christianity. And the contrast between the pure and innocent young daughter and corrupted older son made it even more spiritual.

To sum things up Neil Jordan can be proud of the show he created. The last time I was so impressed by a pilot was after watching Boardwalk Empire. However I think The Borgias has more potential. There was almost something hypnotic about the white versus red costumes. It's simple, most scenes were both interesting and entertaining. For example the painting one in the garden was educative. Using beauty as a weapon of mass seduction ? Sharping wit and intelligence ? Sequences were also tainted by sins and the one you should appreciate the most could be luxury. Indeed I was gladly surprised by the subtle way sexually oriented scenes were written and filmed. Far from crude productions like Spartacus there was something both substantial and sensual about them. The angles were shy on nudity and the tension peaked during the confession. Of course greed was also covered considering the opulence of their society and their obsession with the soul, tormented and scared by their own doing.

The masquerade of all masquerades has begun. Let you manipulate like a wooden puppet because the show's masters clearly know what they're doing. Already intriguing with its many opened plots, from the conspiracy to the upcoming war, I can't see anyone who could resist The Borgias. The religion, the beauty and the beast. What a happy family painting !

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