5 More (Bloody and Gruesome!) Medieval Stories that Would Make Great TV Series
PK called me up last week and we talked about what we thought would make cool medieval-themed TV shows. Naturally, we had different ideas. I liked PK’s picks, but felt that there were other shows that should get to see the light of day so I decided to come up with my 5 contenders.
I’m going to preface post this by saying 2 things:
1.) I purposely didn’t look at any of our reader comments on Facebook when Peter posted his list because I didn’t want anyone swaying my original choices, or influencing my thought process, so this is completely off the top of my head.
2.) I’m a mob fan, love crimes shows and I’m a massive horror buff. Those influences are definitely here in my list. Currently, I’m ploughing through Lilyhammer because as a Soprano’s fan, I can’t resist watching Steven Van Zandt reprise his role as a mobster again. I watch Goodfellas at least once a year, and growing up, I loved The Untouchables, and The Godfather trilogy. I worship the ground Al Pacino and Robert de Niro walk on. I watch re-runs Crimninal Minds obsessively, and love dark shows like BBC’s The Fall, and the American serial killer drama, The Following. On the supernatural side of things, I like shows like American Horror Story, and The Walking Dead (which PK happens to love as well!). So here is a darker, more sinister list of potential medieval TV shows…
Well, we had The Borgias, so why not The Medici? The Medici dynasty lasted a lot longer than the Borgias, yet Showcase gave Cesare, Rodrigo and Lucrezia 3 seasons. I think we could squeeze out at least 4 for Cosimo and company. The Medicis, like their Borgia counterparts, also had a rather stormy and seedy past. I’d dedicate an entire season to the build up of the Pazzi Conspiracy, with the season finale being the brazen attack of Lorenzo il Magnifico and his brother, Giuliano de’ Medici, in a packed church during Mass. It has shades of the The Godfather Baptism murders and shades of The Godfather II murder of Don Fanucci during a religious procession. The last scene of the season would be Giuliano dying on the floor after being stabbed 19 times and Lorenzo, torn cloak, flapping behind him, just escaping the same fate by fleeing to the sacristy. Season 2 would open with the gruesome fate that awaited the conspirators. The the family had it’s up and downs over its nearly 400 year history before the line, which started around 1296, died out in 1743. In my mind, the Borgias were definitely not, “The first crime family” as touted by the networks. The Medici family was full of political intrigue, sex, scandal, poisonings and murder – HBO, I’m looking at you. If you can give us a Red Wedding, you can give us a Pazzi Conspiracy!
The Guelfs and Ghibellines
Going back earlier by a few hundred years, but staying firmly in Italy, I’d love to see a show dedicated to these 2 bitter rivals . In the 12th and 13th centuries, we had 2 warring factions, the Guelfs (Guelphs), papal supporters, and the Ghibellines, suppporters of the Holy Roman Empire, jostling for power in the northern Italy. Their rowing went on well into the 15th century, long after the initial cause of their fight was a thing of the past. In Florence, the trouble was the worst.
I’d kick off the show with build up to the infamous Buondelmonte murder in Florence. Buondelmonte de Buondelmonti (Guelf) got into a row during a banquet in 1215 and stabbed Oddo Arrighi (Ghibelline) in the arm. To offset this grievous insult, he was instructed to marry one of the Amidei, supporters of the Arrighi family. The Amidei’s were also a powerful and prominent family in Florence, and Ghibellines. Buondelmonte added further insult to the Amidei family by breaking off his engagement and marrying a Donati, a member of the rival Guelfs. As he went to marry the Donati girl, he was ambushed on the Ponte Vecchio bridge by the angry Amidei supporters and brutally murdered. This triggered an all out feud between the Guelfs and Ghibellines in Florence. And you think the Five Families in New York are bad? Pffft. I don’t think so.
The Black Death
In the vein of The Walking Dead, meets 28 Days Later, I’d love to see a show about the Black Death from its inception. The Black Death decimated Europe for approximately 4 years between 1347-1351/52 before disappearing, only to come back with a vengeance in waves in the 1360s.
There’s the potential here for a 4 year story arc starting in 1347. Season 1 would start with the beginnings of the plague, in Kaffa, with Jani Beg’s Mongol troops throwing bodies over the walls. Then, I’d show the Genoese sailing back to Genoa with the plague. Season 2 I’d start in Italy and move to France and Spain. Season 3, I’d show the plague infecting Britain and in the final season, I’d show it reaching Scandinavia before eventually petering out. I’d also show other aspects of the plague, like the persecutions that took place against religious and ethnic minorities like the Jews, who were wiped out in certain parts of Germany, and the persecutions of Romani, and foreigners.
Obviously, plague sufferers didn’t turn into zombies, but maybe a stylised version like 28 Days Later, with a crazed, infected person running about infecting others would add some scare factor to an already frightening premise.
While not quite so bloody as my other picks, the Carolingians certainly did have enough drama and political intrigue to make for a decent show. I’d kick off season 1 with Charlemagne – the entire season devoted to his rule, starting with his. Charlemagne is a well known historical figure, so for the the second season, I’d change it up a bit and focus on his son and successor, Louis the Pious and the rebellion of his 3 sons: Lothair, Pepin of Aquitaine and Louis the German. After Charlemagne dies in 814, Louis becomes ruler of the Franks. He decides to include his sons in his government but that fatherly gesture turns out to be a bad idea when they rebel against him in 3 civil wars. Louis also didn’t fare quite as well as his father – his paranoia saw him send all his unmarried sisters to nunneries so they wouldn’t marry any competition and he sent his cousins to monasteries to remove any threat to his crown. He was embroiled in a nasty scandal after he blinded his nephew (his brother, Pepin of Italy’s son) because he thought he was plotting against him. Even after Bernard willing met him to surrender, Louis sentenced him to death and then commuted the sentence to blinding. Unfortunately, for Louis this ended up killing Bernard 2 days later and it left a bad mark on Louis for the remainder of his rule. There is no angle here, just a good story about a legendary king, and his dynasty.
Medieval Murder: Gilles de Rais
If you’ve watched the shows, Dexter, The Fall, or The Following, this is where I’m going with this serial killer angle. I’d like a show about catching a serial killer but in a medieval setting. Gilles de Rais gives us that. A knight from a noble family, a commander in the French Royal Army, Marshal of France, and eventually, a convicted serial killer, who mainly preyed upon young boys. It’s said he killed anywhere between 80-200 children, ages 6-18. However, because he burned most of the bodies, the figure could be much higher. The show would end, obviously, with his trial and execution, but you could have a few seasons leading up to his capture, the hideous crimes he committed, and how he was eventually discovered. In 1992, a trial was held to try and rehabilitate De Rais’s image and he was found “not guilty”, however, this re-trial was very controversial and many scholars disagreed with the outcome. There is a ton of material to work with here to pull off a chilling drama: he was “buddies” with Joan of Arc, he was an accused murderer, he supposedly dabbled in the occult, and he’s the inspiration for the grisly fairy tale, Bluebeard. I’d say that all adds up to some interesting episodes.
See also our first post: Five Medieval Stories that would make great TV series