So here’s the thing:
I am two episodes away from finishing the second season of TVE’s Isabel, an excellent series based on the life of Queen Isabella of Spain. I have raved about this series before, and I am going to rave about it again.
The story never once shies away from the harsh brutalities of the middle ages, and yet it is full of humanity and beauty. Deadly intrigue, deep passion, timeless love, human failure, unflinching prejudice, religious fervor, implacable dogmatism, ambition, triumph, cruelty, and compassion. Name an element of the human experience, and I bet you will find it in ISABEL.
Best of all, the women characters are not in any way shortchanged. Isabel is not presented as a token woman in a man’s world, but as a powerful figure who stands at the center of a diverse array of equally complex male and female characters.There are many women among Isabel’s friends, rivals, and enemies. They have their own interests and ambitions, and they assume important roles in the unfolding of Spain’s history.
Who’d’ve thought there were so many women during the middle ages? We hardly see them in all those other films and movies and books set in this period.
And I haven’t even gotten started on the costuming, the casting, the acting, the writing, and the directing. . . There are so many wonderful dimensions to this intriguing story. I am, in a word, spell bound.
I am also constantly tempted to compare ISABEL to that “other” medieval-style series that is so popular on this side of the Atlantic, Game of Thrones. And with all due respect to the much admired George R.R. Martin (I admire him too!), HBO’s interpretation of his classic series cannot hold a candle to what the producers of ISABEL have accomplished.
ISABEL regularly moves me to tears; that is how engaged I am in the fate of each of its characters, no matter what side of the conflict they are on. And ISABEL has many characters – at least as many as GoT – yet somehow they are easier to keep track of, more memorable in their unique contributions to Isabella’s journey, and more capable of inspiring my empathy.
An example: Yesterday’s episode included the first appearance of Christopher Columbus. In one short scene, the character had me captivated. How often does that happen in a series? (The only other series that I can remember accomplishing such one-scene-wonders is HBO’s ROME, but that is a rave for another day.)
Of course, GoT has some things ISABEL does not. GoT has gratuitous sex and graphic violence. Like many resigned consumers of the modern age, I’d begun to believe you couldn’t make a series anymore without gratuitous sex and graphic violence. Yet ISABEL manages to deliver an extraordinarily engaging story (including heart wrenching scenes of torture) without ever once resorting to the distasteful (even perverse) excesses of HBO’s GoT.
Oh, yeah. And GoT has those dragons.
But you know, sometimes the most interesting dragons reside in the human heart. In the end those are the dragons that make or break a story.
ISABEL does an exquisite job of letting each character’s personal dragon flourish, and this more than anything else is what marks it as an amazing series.