Tag Archives: Elliot Cowan

Da Vinci’s Demons paints a wider canvas for Season 2

Tom Riley stars in 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Tom Riley (center) returns as Renaissance inventor, artist and adventurer Leonardo Da Vinci in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ premiering tonight on Starz.

Da Vinci’s Demons, the sexy historical fantasy that kicks off its second season tonight on Starz, opens with a surreal prologue that finds Da Vinci (Tom Riley) and his nemesis, Count Riario (Blake Ritson), in a setting and situation that may have you wondering whether you’ve wandered into Indiana Da Vinci and the Temple of Doom by mistake.
As weird as that scene is – don’t worry, you’ll find out what it means in a few episodes – it serves notice that the fantastic adventures of the title character are going to take him far away from his hometown of Florence, Italy this season.
After that brief opening scene, however, the action flashes back to pick things up where we left them at the climax to Season 1: the chaotic violence shaking Florence to its foundations following a ghastly betrayal by the treacherous Pazzi family, in cahoots with the forces of Rome. His brother dead, a critically wounded Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) struggles to stay conscious as Da Vinci frantically tries to get him to safety. Nearby, Medici’s wife, Clarice Orsini (Lara Pulver, Sherlock), desperately tries to keep ahead of angry mobs as she rushes their young daughters to the relative safety of the Medici palace.
Resolving the pandemonium that prevails throughout the city takes up most of the first two episodes, but ultimately Da Vinci returns to the same obsession that drove him last season: locating a fabled tome called the Book of Leaves, which he suspects contains vital clues about his dimly remembered mother, as well as the truth about his own identity. That book, he learns, is located across the ocean, in the New World. Unfortunately, Count Riario, seeking the volume for his own ends, has a head start on Da Vinci.
In the season’s other major story line, we learn the secret of Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), former lover to both Da Vinci and Medici, and her relationship to the mysterious prisoner in the dungeons of the Vatican, a revelation that sends Lucrezia on her own dangerous journey to Constantinople.
In terms of sheer scale, these new episodes (Starz made the first five available for preview) dwarf what preceded them as fate separates these principal characters and sends them in pursuit of their individual (and eventually interlinked) destinies. Each of these threads has engaging plot developments that fans should enjoy, but I have to admit, I miss seeing these main characters sharing the screen together as often as they did before. Season 2 is bigger and more epic, to be sure, but there’s a trade-off in terms of focus, which simply isn’t as sharp as it was last season.
Among new cast additions, Lee Boardman is delightful as Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer portrayed here as the P.T. Barnum of the Renaissance, but Da Vinci’s Demons properly is dominated by Riley’s Da Vinci, a performance that is even more finely detailed than it was previously. Like Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, Riley artfully conveys the impression of a genius whose mental gears never, ever stop spinning, as well as the frequent impatience and arrogance that comes with being the smartest guy in any room. With a prickly hero like this, fans of Da Vinci’s Demons will happily follow him to the New World and beyond.
Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons.’


Arabian nightmare

Elliott Knight
Tomorrow night Syfy temporarily surrenders its Saturday night slot normally devoted to gloriously terrible movies to two new series it acquired from international distributors. Neither show is really worth your time, but one of them is so INgloriously terrible that you’ll want to give it wide berth.
That would be Sinbad, a wrong-headed 12-episode BBC adaptation of the old legends about the seagoing Arabian hero and swashbuckler. This new series, apparently aimed at very undiscriminating tween girls, stars charmless British newcomer Elliot Knight in the title role, here a cocky teenager who spends life in his hometown port of Basra running various scams and con games. One of them ends tragically, leading to the death of his older brother, so his grandmother (Janet Suzman, Nicholas and Alexandra) places him under a curse: Sinbad will be doomed to roam the seas, never allowed to spend more than 24 hours at a time on land until he atones for his guilt.
The premiere episode appears cheap and ill-produced, with some of the men’s costumes looking as if they were purchased at a Gap outlet. The script takes so long to lay out Sinbad’s back story that the episode is half over before he finally boards The Providence to flee the wrath of an angry nobleman (Naveen Andrews, Lost), at which point the lethargic pace picks up a little. The passenger list on the craft includes two of Sinbad’s most recent marks (awkward!), as well as an imposing Nordic traveler named Gunnar (Elliot Cowan, most recently seen as Lorenzo Medici in Da Vinci’s Demons on Starz).
The biggest among Sinbad’s many problems is that it simply lacks any sense of magic. Sinbad battles a CGI water creature in the opening episode, but the special effect looks like something a not particularly gifted teenager might knock out on his laptop. All things considered, it’s easy to see why the BBC opted to pull the plug on this feeble series after these first episodes aired in the UK.
Airing immediately after Sinbad is Primeval: New World, a Canadian spinoff of the moderate British hit Primeval, which ran for a few years Stateside on BBC America. Like your favorite niece’s third-grade pageant, Primeval: NW is more sophisticated and better acted, written, directed and produced than Sinbad, but it’s also little more than the British original transplanted to Canada with a new cast.
If you saw that original show, you know that means Primeval: NW revolves around a plucky band of scientists who are trying to contain the threat when “anomalies” in space and time begin to open, spilling prehistoric beasties onto modern-day streets. Their job is made more complicated because they can’t just kill the creatures that come through; as anyone who has seen a time-travel yarn knows, if they snuff out the wrong ancient creature, they risk setting off a ripple effect throughout time that could have devastating effects on the current day.
Perhaps the most familiar face to U.S. audiences will be Sara Canning, who starred for a time on The Vampire Diaries as Nina Dobrev’s doomed Aunt Jenna. Andrew Lee Potts, an original cast member from the British Primeval, reprises his character as Connor Temple in Saturday’s premiere to provide a bridge between the two shows. The special creature effects are indeed a cut above the usual TV standard, but if you saw the UK original, they’ll look pretty familiar to you.
Like Sinbad, Primeval: NW was axed by its production company after a single season, so the 13 episodes Syfy has scheduled for this summer will be all she wrote. Consider yourself warned.
sara canning
Sara Canning

Starz conjures some devilishly entertaining ‘Demons’

Tom Riley and Laura Haddock
The life of Leonardo da Vinci was dazzling and eventful enough that, even played straight, it probably could drive a successful historical drama series. Instead, however, David S. Goyer (FlashForward) has used Da Vinci and his world as a jumping-off point for Da Vinci’s Demons, a very promising new historical fantasy premiering tonight on Starz.
Set primarily in 15th century Florence, Italy, the series introduces us to Leonardo (Tom Riley) in his twenties, on the cusp of fame but still searching for a patron. Cocky and impetuous, he looks like a rock star in his provocative leather outfits (by all appearances, Leonardo apparently invented hair gel at some point), but as the illegitimate offspring of a local nobleman and a servant whose face he can’t remember, Leonardo is haunted by a need to clarify his identity – particularly regarding a mysterious episode in his childhood that he can recall only in fragments.
He crosses paths with Al-Rahim (Alexander Siddig, 24, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), aka The Turk, an enigmatic figure who shares a mind-expanding pipe bowl with Leonardo and tells him some of the answers he is seeking may be found in a mystic volume called The Book of Leaves, which, alas, is also highly sought after by the ruthless Count Riario (Blake Ritson), nephew to Pope Sixtus (James Faulkner) in Rome.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan), the de facto ruler of Florence, commissions Leonardo to paint a portrait of his mistress, the beautiful Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), but Medici also becomes fascinated with Leonardo’s sketches for war machines and hires him to create new weaponry to help protect Florence in the looming conflict with the surrounding papal states, whose formidable armies are led by Count Riario. Smitten by Lucrezia’s breathtaking beauty, Leonardo rashly embarks on a torrid affair with her, one that could turn deadly: Unbeknownst to both Medici and Leonardo, Lucrezia is working her own agenda, one that is unlikely to help either man.
It’s probably obvious to you by now that Goyer throws a staggering amount of information at us in tonight’s premiere episode, and forgive yourself if you find yourself struggling to sort out all the characters and where they stand in the immensely complicated Renaissance power plays that figure throughout the story. Just go with it: By the time you hit the second episode, the storytelling becomes much more focused and you’ll start to work things out with relative ease.
And trust me, Da Vinci’s Demons is worth the effort. I know Starz has had a somewhat spotty track record with its original series, apart from its guilty-pleasure Spartacus saga, but Goyer’s series is intelligently written, well acted and lushly produced. As we expect these days, the scenery is CGI-enhanced, but the juncture of what is real and what is computer-generated is surprisingly seamless, and designer Annie Symons’ eye-popping costumes give a fantastic twist to historically accurate garb of the period. And while Goyer does take Leonardo on flights of fancy, he’s careful to keep the story anchored in Italian Renaissance reality.
This being Starz, I probably don’t need to add that sex and nudity are plentiful, yet not truly gratuitous (although Downton Abbey fans may be stunned to see a major cast member from that international smash contributing a small, uncredited and extensively nude cameo appearance during the opening moments of tonight’s premiere). So if you were thinking this might be an ideal way to spoonfeed the kids some world history: not so much.
I’ve seen the first three episodes and they only left me wanting to see more. Riley is ideally cast as the mercurial title character and so far, the story moves at a very brisk clip, and looks glorious as it does so. Da Vinci’s Demons just may be the most promising original series Starz has fielded to date. If adult sexual content isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for you, check it out.