“It’s a chaotic mess. I overreached, attempted to cram too many ideas into a single work,” says a young Leonardo Da Vinci (Aidan Turner) while looking over a rejected commission. His critique is of the unfinished canvas in front of him (on it, his Adoration of the Magi), but it’s also an uncannily accurate description of Amazon’s newest historical drama series. This deep dive into the titular historical figure depicts a struggling artist, a strained father-son relationship, a tortured genius, sexual awakenings, and talk of superstition and curses – and this is all within the first two episodes.
This series is Leonardo, a biographical work of sorts that centres around the life and career of the Renaissance icon. Framed as a murder mystery, it begins with Da Vinci behind bars, accused of murdering his closest companion, one Caterina da Cremona (Matilda De Angelis). Though he’s supposedly caught red-handed, he’s unwilling to admit any wrongdoing in her death. The show then jumps back 15 years to the day the pair first met and continues to explore their friendship, as Da Vinci struggles to get his career off the ground. Although Cremona plays a pivotal part in the show (her death literally being the catalyst), it must be stressed that the character is fictitious, dreamt up by historians hundreds of years ago in a bid to mask the artist’s homosexuality.
Turner plays the central role with a giddy, boyish excitement. His constant curiosity regarding the universe’s unanswered questions is infectious, and the upbeat performance brings a much-needed levity to every scene he’s in. The actor’s energy is only matched by De Angelis’s, who explodes onto the show like a firecracker. They have such a great rapport that watching their relationship inevitably deteriorate to murder is certain to make for engaging viewing.
The show’s presentation comes with an artistic sophistication: each scene is framed as if every shot were an oil painting. Unfortunately, overall it lacks creative spark. Everything (except for the central performances) goes half-heartedly through the motions, trying to squeeze as much drama into the opening episodes as possible. Though the beginning of the series doesn’t make for a great introduction, Leonardo has potential, provided it’s able to streamline its clunky script.
Leonardo is released on Amazon Prime Video on 16th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for Leonardo here: