14/12/2012

CBBC's Leonardo in second season finale triumph

The last three episodes of season 2 of Leonardo
This CBBC series is a sort of hidden secret that a relatively small number watch but which rewards them with strong drama, great performances and striking direction. It is a children’s drama but sometimes shows inventiveness that makes it accessible to viewers of all ages. This second season concluded recently with three episodes that bring the ongoing plots together with some surprises.
The cast and crew of Leonardo are quick to hide thier sandwiches
For an episode that involves a lot of dressing up and disguises, there is a more sombre note to `Hitched` that underlines family commitments. Leonardo comes up with a scheme whereby Lorenzo and Angelica can be extracted from their marriage that seems preposterous to say the least. It relies on the Medici’s never having met the King of Naples and his daughter which seems unlikely. It also suggests that nobody would spot that the old courtier who arrives with the supposed message from the king really isn’t an old man; when it comes to tricks like there Leonardo can’t quite muster the magic of Merlin.
That the idea gets any traction is mainly thanks to writer Brian Jordan’s crisp dialogue which mixes some jokes and more serious stuff into an enjoyable stew. Also James Clyde’s false sincerity is always enjoyable. To our surprise the kids’ plan works; you’d imagine the wily Duke would spot something afoot, not least because we know he has spies everywhere. Yet Jordan has an unexpected conclusion with Angelica declining the offer to run off with Mack due to her loyalty to her father. This thoughtful ending suggests that the episode might have benefitted from a re-think.
One of the very best episodes, `The Fugitive` bristles with drama as the kids struggle to help a girl nd her gran who have been driven from their home as anti- Milanese sentiment seeps into the public consciousness. This is quite an adult theme; mirroring what happened to German businesses here during the Second World War and while it is naturally toned down a bit there is still a palpable sense of persecution. All this is paralleled with the completion of Leonardo’s `invincible war machine or prototype tank as we would know it. There is an excellently staged montage at the start of the episode depicting the project’s conclusion that resembles a music promo film! After weeks of mishaps around his proposed wedding, Lorenzo finally gets a serious storyline, taking the side of the anti Milanese feeling until he realises his friends are right. Colin Ryan proves how versatile he is by projecting an altogether more regal mood when needed.



Jonathan Bailey finds the sandwich wagon well guarded

You know it’s a mint episode when Leonardo’s wings appear and they prove to be the way that he gets the girl out of the city. There is something exhilarating about this device that seems to sum up the adventurous nature of the series. With some well placed continuity references and faultless direction from Steve Hughes  and a final scene in which Placidi finally turns on his master (as we said he would),  the penultimate episode of the season is the perfect launch pad for the finale.
`The Dogs of War` does not disappoint. Proceedings are presented in a different style to the usual liner storytelling with each strand starting at a key point before fast framing backwards to the beginning. This allows the episode to leap about with one surprise after another and exceptionally well put together. The economical script allows all the ends to be tied up satisfactorily while keeping a perfect balance between dialogue and action. Everyone excels and you can see how comfortable they are in these roles; it’s nice to see Lisa in particular be able to use her real appearance to help foil the villains.

Ultimately though it is both James Clyde and Jonathan Bailey who own the episode; there is a real hatred between the characters when Pierro’s true intent is revealed and Clyde, whether cool in apparent victory or sneering in defeat gives a masterclass in dramatic villainry. Bailey matches him too, providing a real heroic character for the viewer to root for. Some may find the ending too simplistic but for a show that does have to mind it’s budget and bearing in mind the age of the target audience it concludes matters with a flourish that some so called `adult dramas` would struggle to match. There are lots of surprises and even a coda to suggest Pierro is not quite finished yet. In short; a superb way to end the season.

Leonardo is made in South Africa on a limited budget but the series’ ingenuity is in its writing and production style as well as the excellent cast. All concerned should be pleased and proud of what they have achieved with the series and it is to be hoped a third season might be made.

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