4 January 2015 | chtellez
Impressive, given the task!
This series is ambitious, almost to a fault, but in the end, utterly successful. To narrate so many plots and subplots is arguably necessary to lift these historical characters of almost mythological stature from the danger of appearing as cardboard figures. Instead, we see how the triumphs and tragedies of these momentous times emerge out of the dreams and sins of passionate people with very specific character strengths and flaws. Not a single character is a monochromatic figure, and this, in a series of this length, is extraordinary. What took place during the reign of Isabel changed the world forever in almost every respect. I am a Spanish-speaker, and I have seen the series "a la carte" online at the RTVE site. With the opportunity to binge on a quick succession of episodes, one sees at first certain repetitive patterns of courtly intrigue and manipulation, and occasionally predictable reactions from Isabel and King Fernando in particular. But, on the whole, "Isabel" allows us to reflect on the role of kings and queens, and the need to be decisive at the opportune time, taking the right advice from the right people. Terrible things happen, especially to the Jews and the Moors, for political expediency; and to women overall for the necessity of heirs and alliances; but the horror is not sentimentalized in any way. Also during the first two seasons, one wonders if while securing the kingdom, and after the loss of friends and the destruction of foes, these Catholic kings ever had a moment of transcendent self-awareness or even fleeting self-doubt. However, by the third season, as Isabel and Fernando face death and the destruction of everything they built, then the depth of self-awareness is fantastic and even heart-wrenching. It was perhaps an overall tactic of director Jordi Frades and his team to keep the action moving forward, only to crash in emotional upheavals at the end, for which we are prepared then to understand as spectators . The last few episodes depicting the relationship of Isabel and Fernando's daughter and heir Joanna the Mad with her parents and husband Philip the Fair is one of the most nuanced and vivid I have seen on TV. Other characterizations are poignant and memorable, especially Pablo Derqui as the weak king Enrique IV, Julio Manrique as an egotistical and visionary Columbus, Lluis Soler as the deep thinker Hernando de Talavera, and Irene Escolar as Joanna. It must also be said that this series is often superior to the more recent historical recreations of royal episodes from England, by avoiding easy titillation and vulgar emotion at every turn. More often that not, the complexity of characterization is perceived over time, in particular with the central characters of Isabel (Michelle Jenner) and Fernando (Rodolfo Sancho). This is one of those cases where getting to the end in one sweep offers many rewards unavailable from any other dramatic genre. I hope a version with supertitles (and perhaps even one with English dubbing for those who do not like to read the TV screen) will be made available for the US. To those for whom history holds an attraction, this series will spark voracious reading to know more about Spain, a country that we can now see determined a lot of what we still live today. I personally would finish each episode with a desire to seek more in history books and the internet. I hear that a new series may be in the works on the life of Isabel's grandson Charles V, who ruled over the largest empire of his time. I will be hard to surpass "Isabel", but I do hope this team tries a task like this again!