Review of the TV series “Leonardo” – Murder / Mystery with a queer Da Vinci
With Leonardo, we finally have a well-written historical drama featuring a truly bizarre Leonardo da Vinci. In the eight-episode show, Leonardo waits to be executed for killing his muse Caterina da Cremona. I couldn’t do without it!
This review of Leonardo contains a lot of spoilers. You were warned.
Previous representations of Leonardo da Vinci left a lot to be desired. For some reason, the creative teams are unable to portray the iconic painter as a well-written queer man. The centered adolescent Leonardo series on CBBC, starring queer actor Jonathan Bailey (Bridgerton), never mentioned that he was queer as he lasted for two seasons (a total of 26 episodes) from 2011 to 2012. The Tom Riley with Da Vinci’s demons (2013-2015) on Starz was a complete mess as the narrative mentioned him as being queer in only one or two episodes (from what I remember) over the three seasons (28 episodes) and only focused on the artist’s romance with a woman.
Queer representation on Da Vinci’s demons was so poor that actor Tom Riley had an entire discussion in the comments section of the gay-centric website The Backlot to try and figure out what the queer audience was talking about. Due to the disbandment of The Backlot in 2015 and its merger with NewNowNext, her interview that led to this discussion is on file. I think you should consider reading it. In my opinion, it all came out as the creative team wanting queer audiences to just be happy to have shown Leonardo to be queer in one episode and allow him to keep telling a “pure” story.
Either way, that’s why I was wary of watching the flow Leonardo series. But then I read some promotional material on how creators Frank Spotnitz (X files, The man of the high castle, Medici) and Steve Thompson (Sherlock) would look into Leo’s queer sexuality and I decided to watch this show. And I’m glad I did.
Keep in mind that this is a very fictionalized account of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. This content is not intended to offer a history lesson. So, in order for you to enjoy what’s going on, you will have to refrain from trying to find historical details in what is displayed on the screen. Of course, some facts about Leo are present. He is vegetarian and left-handed. Apart from that, relax and let the narrative take you on an exciting journey full of mystery, political intrigue, and emotional development.
We dive into the drama from the first episode. Leo has been charged with the murder of Caterina. We have young officer Stefano Giraldi (Freddie Highmore) on the case. As far as Stefano is concerned, there are a lot of things that just don’t make sense. He can tell that Leo is hiding something. Each episode is split between the current timeline and flashbacks (spanning 16 years over the course of the series). We follow Stefano as he interviews different people in Leo’s life to understand what led Caterina to being murdered by poison.
Characters Stefano interview include Leo’s unreliable assistant Tommaso Masini (Alessandro Sperduti), Leo’s boyfriend Salai (Carlos Cuevas), and Caterina’s lover and Venice ambassador to Florence Bernado Bembo (Flavio Parenti). Each offers his point of view on the events and what he thinks of the Leonardo genius. As far as they are concerned, Leo is a selfish person. No one is more precious to him than his artistic expression. Of course, Leo has his own version. It’s so much fun trying to piece the puzzle together with Stefano knowing that not all storytellers will be reliable.
Other historical figures that appear include Ludvico Sforza (James D’Arcy), Leonardo Verrocchio’s teacher (Giancarlo Giannini), and Gian Galeazzo Sforza (Edan Hayhurst).
Along with the murder mystery aspect of the story, the creative team took the time to showcase Leonardo’s growth as a struggling artist, engineer, inventor, and more. Even though there are a lot of fictional tales involved, I liked the reasons the writers gave Leo when creating iconic pieces such as the Mona Lisa and the Portrait of Ginevra Benci. I shouted with joy when the woman who was supposed to inspire the Mona Lisa arrived. Again, I know things must have turned out very differently when Leonardo was alive, but I didn’t care. I was absorbed in what the show shared with me.
Inspiration for The last supper ended up involving a moment from a previous episode in which Leo had experienced immense grief because of a man he loved. So good!
Even a young Michelangelo showed up to clash with Leonardo over what is and is not considered real art.
They say artists are supposed to be sad if they want to create something worthwhile. And Leonardo made sure to show the main character drowning in sadness. He was cursed like a child for destroying everything he loved. This curse clearly took its toll on Leo growing up, especially as someone rejected by his father. Caterina’s arrival gave Leo the love that was missing in his life. But even their relationship has been marred by the circumstances the two have found themselves in over the years, ultimately snowballing into Caterina’s disappearance.
As someone who isn’t a fan of chilled women to cause man pain, I was very confused with the premise. The writers were essentially flipping a handful of tropes, even when dealing with a story about a queer character living in a society that didn’t accept him (staying true to the tapes, Leo was tried for sodomy on the show as well). And yet, as far as Caterina was concerned, I was unhappy that the writers decided to recreate a problematic trope by making it part of Leo’s life just to kill her.
However, all of my worries were wasted. The way the writers handled Caterina’s script was amazing. They gave a context in the finale that explained why historians remain in dispute as to whether it even existed in the first place.
Aidan Turner and Matilda De Angelis did a great job describing the strong bond between Leo and Caterina. The love shared between them will make you sad whenever they are separated due to certain situations. And for those who wonder, there is no jealousy between Caterina and Salai because the love that Leo had for them both was of two kinds.
So while the year 2021 still has content featuring chilled women and sad queer characters (* cough * The Irregulars *cough*), Leonardo made for a welcome offer that went against all of that. I loved every second.
Narrative decisions aside, Leonardois just a very pretty sight. The old school production design is a visual treat and the cast is gorgeous to watch.
While Leonardo maybe not for everyone due to the murder and mystery setup and freedoms taken to tell the life story of an iconic artist in this way, I still highly recommend watching this show. Each episode lasts approximately 50 minutes. The whole season is greedy and I think you too will enjoy a series that does not hesitate to have a queer Leonardo da Vinci as the protagonist.
As for nudity and sexually intimate scenes, there is nothing to worry about in my opinion. In fact, I was surprised at how chaste the whole series was considering how excessive the media can become as the creative teams try to find the weakest excuses to bring their actors down. the purpose of diverting attention from the problems present in the series. and maintain the public interest.
The limited nudity that is present in Leonardo involves an artistic setting (you will see this in paintings and sculptures).
Leonardo premiered on Amazon Prime UK on April 16, 2021.
Go watch it!
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Farid has a double master’s degree in psychology and biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in molecular genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville and The Game Master of Somerville. It gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime / manga, video games, and movies.
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