Leonardo (2 stars)

Leonardo

Da Vinci's true story is warped by a fake murder mystery that destabilises this drama's credibility

TV viewers of a certain vintage might recall The Flashing Blade, a Saturday morning affair about horse-backed fencers in 17th century France. That dubbed catastrophe became the thing of legend and was a leading inspiration for out-of-synch parodies across the following decades. Leonardo, a new drama series covering the life of da Vinci, is mercifully not as bad as The Flashing Blade, but it invokes its spirit with British actors delivering lines as though English is a foreign tongue, while the Italian cast go through the same motions. Had the makers gone full Gomorrah and plumped for authenticity over star names, this would almost certainly have been a different palette of paint.

Aidan Turner (he of And Then There Were None and Poldark fame) plays the eponymous Renaissance Man, whom we see learning his trade in Florence at the behest of grumpy genius Verrocchio (Giancarlo Giannini). At one point, this Whiplash-esque teacher slams a student's work as being inferior to a monkey throwing its own faeces straight onto an easel. Our Leo at first gets seriously into Verrocchio's bad books for seemingly not taking his art seriously, though we all know that da Vinci was several steps ahead of everyone on the planet. Soon, his master is grateful for da Vinci's vision and talent, digging him out of a design hole when constructing the city's ancient cathedral.

The true story of Leonardo da Vinci is jaw-dropping in itself, but here we are given a fictional twist from the start as we see him being interrogated by a made-up cop played by Freddie Highmore. His sleepwalking style here suggests that even he can't believe he's landed the role of a fictional detective investigating a non-existent crime, that of the murder of da Vinci's muse, Caterina da Cremona. Not only was she not killed, art historians claim that even if she had indeed existed, she was merely a passing figure in da Vinci's true story. This playing fast and loose with fact can barely be justified when his remarkable biography should provide enough drama. That the cast are universally stilted when uttering dialogue that feels like a first draft suggests everyone involved is fully conscious of Leonardo's insurmountable problems.

All episodes available now on Amazon Prime Video.

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