Lucrèce Borgia (1953)
A film directed by Christian-Jaque

Genre: Drama / History


Lucrèce Borgia photo
1498. Rome, the powerhouse of the Renaissance, is governed by the tyrannical Cesare Borgia, a man who has no scruples when it comes to furthering his political ambitions. To secure an alliance with Naples, he has arranged that his sister Lucrezia shall marry Alphonse, the Duke of Aragon. On the eve of her wedding, Lucrezia secretly joins a street carnival, where she meets and falls instantly in love with a stranger - who later turns out to be her intended husband. It is not long before Alphonse realises the extent of Cesare's cruelty and thirst for power. Lucrezia reveals how her brother has used her in the past for his political ends. When the Duke of Aragon is of no further use to Cesare, he will surely meet the same fate as his predecessors...
© 2012

Film Review

This sumptuous Franco-Italian blockbuster production exemplifies historical film dramas of the 1950s - beautifully shot in Technicolor and showing a meticulous attention to detail in its lavish costume and set design, to say nothing of the exciting, well-choreographed action sequences. Whilst the film may be legitimately criticised for its overly sympathetic portrayal of Lucrezia Borgia (you'd almost think she was heading for a sainthood), it would not be fair to fault its production values. The film looks stunning.

Since the extent of the complicity of Lucrezia Borgia in her brother's Machiavellian schemes is a matter of considerable conjecture, director Christian-Jaque is perhaps justified in presenting her as an innocent party, a pawn in Cesare Borgia's nasty political games. Even so, it's a little difficult to swallow Martine Carol's slightly over-sentimental portrayal of Lucrezia, face stained with tears whenever brother Cesare does the dirty on her. What is missing is some motivation for Lucrezia's acquiescence to her brother's plans - is it sibling loyalty or is she genuinely helpless?

Attractive as the film is, it does have a slightly irksome theatrical artificiality (it doesn't help that Pedro Armendariz's Cesare Borgia has all the subtlety of a stock pantomime villain). That said, the film does pack a few punches. Some of the darker sequences (such as the gruesome man hunt) do have a shocking, almost visceral, realism, making the film unsuitable for youngsters. Likewise, the ending, whilst a tad contrived, has a genuine poignancy about it.
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If you like Lucrèce Borgia you may also like: Que la fête commence... (1975), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Die Gezeichneten (1922) and Titanic (1943).
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