Tuesday, 12 May 2015
TV Series: Isabel
I've just finished watching the first season of the Spanish television series "Isabel". It's a historical drama based on the life of Spain's Queen Isabel, who lived from 1451 to 1504, and reigned from 1474 to 1504. The emphasis of the series is on historical accuracy, and I can see that great pains are made to present every detail of her life, even at the expense of pacing. I appreciate this attention to detail. I come from England, so I knew almost nothing about this woman before I began to watch the series. A Spanish friend of mine recommended it to me, calling Isabel the greatest monarch who has ever reigned in Europe. That's a difficult claim for an Englishman to accept, but I put my patriotic biases aside and let myself be educated. After watching the first few episodes I read a summary of her life, and I have to say that I now agree with my Spanish friend. What Isabel did for Spain is greater than anything any other king has ever done for his country. It could also be argued that some of the things she did have benefited all of Europe, even to this day.
The first season deals with the years 1461 to 1474, i.e. from her childhood to her appointment as Queen of Castile. Castile was at that time the largest kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. During Isabel's reign it united with the neighbouring kingdoms to become the country known as Spain. Wars were necessary to achieve this, but wherever possible Isabel preferred peaceful negotiation. She was very popular with the common people, which made the unification of Spain easy. On the other hand, she was unpopular with the noblemen who called themselves her "advisers". Castile, like most of the other European countries in the Middle Ages, had had a long succession of weak monarchs who were controlled by the noblemen. The noblemen took it upon themselves to decide who would be the next king, if there was any uncertainty about the line of succession, based on which person would give them the most favours, in riches or land ownership. The noblemen were not above poisoning the kings and other members of the royal families. Isabel put a stop to this. She took control of her country and ruled with absolute power, eliminating the corruption around her. She was a deeply religious person (Catholic) and very patriotic, wanting to serve her people more than her own personal interests. People who oppose monarchies in principle should look at Isabel as an example of a good Queen, someone who did more for her people than most democratically elected rulers.
The series has won many awards in Spain. It's very much a talkie, if you know what I mean. Most of the episodes contain long conversations between the different characters. There are a few fight scenes, but overall there is little action. Wars were taking place throughout the first season, but most of the battles took place off screen. The series has more of the character of a history lesson than a drama series. That might disturb some people, but for me it's perfect, it's just what I want to see.
The series has been released on DVD and Blu-ray in Spain, unfortunately without English subtitles. It's possible to watch the first two seasons on the web site Dramafever, a streaming video service that specialises in Korean TV series. Dramafever is only available in the USA and Canada, but if you're able to spoof your IP address it can be watched anywhere. I've subscribed as a paying member of Dramafever, so it's not in their best interests to block foreign access.