New tonight: The Borgias on Bravo – series premiere

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THE BORGIAS is set in 15th century Italy in 1492 at the height of the Renaissance and an increasingly weak and dysfunctional Rome. Shot in Hungary and based on real characters and events, the nine-part, hour-long series chronicles the corrupt rise and ruthless consolidation of power by patriarch Rodrigo Borgia (Academy Award®-winner Jeremy Irons, Kingdom of Heaven, Being Julia), who stops at nothing to control the papal throne and feed his insatiable ambition for influence and wealth for himself and his family. Starring alongside Irons are Canadians Colm Feore (FLASHPOINT, 24) as his arch nemesis, Cardinal Della Rovere, and breakout star François Arnaud (J’ai tué ma mère) as Rodrigo’s ruthless son Cesare.

In the two-hour premiere episode (Sunday, April 3 at 10 p.m. ET), it’s 1492 and the height of the Italian Renaissance. While Milan and Florence prosper, Pope Innocent VIII lies dying in an increasingly weak and dysfunctional Rome. The struggle for succession is a political chess match, and though many established noble Italian families have expectations of obtaining the honour, it’s up-and-comer Rodrigo Borgia (Irons) who, with the help of his son Cesare (Arnaud), manages to bribe and cheat his way to the Papacy. The patriarch of perhaps the most fascinating, politically manipulative and ambitious family to have ever laid claim to the Papacy, Rodrigo becomes Pope Alexander VI. However, trouble follows this victory almost immediately – Cesare resents his father’s decision that he must become a Cardinal, while his younger brother Juan (Oakes) gets to lead the Papal armies. Their beautiful 14-year-old sister Lucrezia (Grainger) is set to become a pawn in the family’s power struggles and their mother (Whalley) does not take favourably to being sidelined by Rodrigo’s new lover. Cardinals Della Rovere (Feore) and Orsini (Jacobi) are high on the list of enemies opposing the Borgia papacy, and plotting their downfall. Assassination attempts loom, but Cesare quickly learns that it’s a game of kill or be killed, recruiting mercenary killer Micheletto (Harris) to take care of the family’s dirty work – and there’s no shortage in sight.