A few months ago, I found myself visiting the romantically gothic Margam Castle in the south of Wales.
A squall broke out while we were there, and as there were no other visitors at the time, the guide invited us to have a cup of tea with him. While chatting, he mentioned that in previous years, the castle had been used as a prime location for an established T.V. series I had never heard of, but which immediately caught my attention.
According to the castle guide, Da Vinci’s Demons (2013 – 2015) was centred on the life of the 20-30-something-year old Leonardo da Vinci in 15th century Florence. The fact that a series which was supposed to take place in Italy had actually been filmed in Wales piqued my interest, and this was why I resolved to watch it. Having actually been at the filming hub – we actually saw part of the constructed set – was of course also tantalising, since I was looking forward to seeing if I actually recognised Margam Castle and the nearby Abbey within the small screen.
As soon as I started watching the first episode, I knew I had finally found a series worthy of my attention. Maybe it was the beautiful enigmatic soundtrack, the flowing clothes, Tom Riley’s masterful portrayal of Da Vinci, or Blake Ritson’s honeyed voice – perfect for an antagonist – I was hooked.
Da Vinci is a dreamer, a genius, an artist – someone whose thought processes are so fast and complex that soon, not just Florence, but the whole of Italy would know his name. Tom Riley plays the part perfectly, amalgamating the vision of the eccentric with an all-too human passion and zest for the mysteries of life. We see the evolution of Florence and Italy’s history, mostly through da Vinci’s close association with the historical House of de Medici, who were a true power in Florence at the time. The series in fact makes it a point not only to portray characters who made their mark in Italian history and politics, but also to portray Leonardo da Vinci’s actual inventions and paintings… those we know about, anyway.
Historical characters like the Pazzi family, the Duke of Milan, Pope Sixtus IV, Niccolo Macchiavelli, the Medicis, Amerigo Vespucci and Andrea Verrocchio, amongst others, all make an appearance. All of this, not to mention the intricate politics between city states at the time, and the incumbent power of the Vatican, is interwoven together with Leonardo’s friendships, his love life, and his problematic relationship with his father. It’s also important to mention the dark mystery of the fabled Book of Leaves – a tome said to contain powerful notions which can change the world, as well as the devious cult known as The Sons of Mithras.
Unfortunately, the T.V. series is only three seasons long and there are no rumours of it continuing any time soon. However, the last episode of Season 3 ends satisfyingly, meaning that it’s still well worth watching. I would definitely recommend it for those who love series such as Game of Thrones, The Tudors, Outlander, and Vikings. However, although the series does follow historical facts and characters, one must remember to take it with a pinch of salt, since most happenings are productions of fantasy. Perhaps, considering it as an alternative reality would be a good idea.
For me, it had particular importance, as watching a series take place in a location which I had actually visited made me feel more part of it somehow. In fact, Margam Castle and Abbey were not the only locations I had been to while in Wales, and these had also featured in the series. Welsh-aficionados may also perhaps recognise Caerphilly Castle, Castle Coch and Tretower Castle.