Master Leonardo of Florence, originally of the tiny town of Vinci, became Italy’s greatest Renaissance man, inventor, philosopher and naturalist, not to mention a painter of the world’s most beguiling portraits. Such a life is ripe material indeed for this mini-blockbuster, although there are enough bum notes and broad brushes in this opener to doubt the genius of such a daring undertaking.
This Da Vinci sees visions and some of the titular demons after smoking black hellebore – whatever that is – although it must be good shit as he spies future plotlines and helpful season teasers in the first two minutes. The dashing, twenty-something Da Vinci is young, dumb and full of, um, contraptions, waiting to bust out of his potent brain; he was by all contemporary accounts even more resplendent and rakish, rather than the occasionally dunderheaded, shorthaired dandy as here. Among other details that seem out of whack is the early death of Milan’s Duke of Sforza, one of Leonardo’s greatest benefactors, but ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ plays fast and loose with history. And why not, when you get a glimpse of Leonardo as creator of a clockwork flying metal bird or as uber-hetero womaniser (neither of which are accurate)?
The lead is a relative newbie Brit, Tom Riley, who may well grow into the role of ravenous collector of information, beauty and military hardware (episode two is more intellectually intriguing and anatomically gruesome, as befits ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy creator, David S Goyer). At least it betters the other tame American vision of quick-witted brilliance that is ‘Elementary’.