Medici: the Magnificent, review: why does Sean Bean look so grumpy? This historical soap is meant to be fun

Sean Bean in Medici: the Magnificent - Netflix
Sean Bean in Medici: the Magnificent - Netflix

The back-stabbing, bed-hopping antics of Renaissance Italy’s ruling dynasties have an obvious appeal in the era of Game of Thrones. And there is indeed a whiff of HBO’s bums-and-dragons saga in Medici: the Magnificent, a collaboration between Netflix and Italian production house Luxe Vide.

Swords twirl, as do moustaches, in this riotously cheesy tale of courtly intrigue in 15th century Florence. It is a sequel to 2016’s Medici: Masters of Florence, a surprise blockbuster for Netflix that went out of its way to woo GoT fans by casting a post-Red Wedding, pre-Bodyguard Richard Madden as an a-historically hunky Cosimo de' Medici.

Medici: The Magnificent is set decades later, with Medici hegemony over Florence now firmly established. Godfather-esque Giovanni de' Medici – Dustin Hoffman last time out – has long since shuffled off this coil, as has (dry your eyes Bodyguard devotees) chiseled Cosimo.

The obligatory Game of Thrones callback is instead courtesy of Sean Bean. As head of the Medicis’s sworn rivals, the villainous Pazzi family, he is essentially playing Evil Ned Stark. But it seems nobody has told Bean that he’s starring in a delirious romp. He comes across as pained throughout rather than, as might have been hoped, luxuriating in the silliness.

Stepping into Madden’s boots as reluctant hero is Teen Wolf star Daniel Sharman, playing the Medici’s latest princeling, Lorenzo. He’s at odds with ailing father Piero (a rather desiccated Julian Sands) over how best to keep the family bank ticking over while mother Lucrezia (Broadchurch’s Sarah Parish) flutters in the background as uneasy peacemaker.

There’s the standard hot-headed younger sibling (Bradley James), and a sister (Aurora Ruffino) engaged in a forbidden love affair (with a wimpy junior member of House Pazzi). In the Jon Snow role of semi-official family member is the artist Botticelli (Sebastian de Souza), looking as if he’s just come from auditioning as auxiliary banjo player in Mumford and Sons.

Sarah Parish, Daniel Sharman and Bradley James in Medici: the Magnificent - Credit: Netflix
Sarah Parish, Daniel Sharman and Bradley James in Medici: the Magnificent Credit: Netflix

A reported $27 million budget translates into decent production values – late medieval Tuscany looks like something out of Middle Earth – while the plot is gloriously barking. Episode one sees Lorenzo facing down an army of Milanese mercenaries despite being armed with nothing apart from a drop-dead glare. Later there are trips to the Vatican to meet Pope Sixtus IV and lashings of steamy love scenes.

More hysterical than historical, chronological accuracy obviously goes out the stained glass window – the Medicis were apparently not quite as cat-walk ready as suggested here – and, Grumpy Sean Bean aside, the acting is broader than a matinee pantomime in early January. Yet as a soap opera in a fancy cape it is an unexpurgated hoot. Game of Thrones fans craving a guilty indulgence as they count the days until their return to Westeros do a lot worse.