If you haven't binged a Spanish period drama wondering if your hero and heroine are going to get caught by the law, a jealous spouse or somebody's scheming madre, buckle up. You're in for quite a ride.
We all acknowledge the greatness of a good British period drama, but I'm here to tell you no one does high-production-value real drama drama like the Spanish.
Murders! Affairs! Secret babies! Wild schemes! Illegal activities!
Every single one of these shows has them all in spades, the glorious, glorious drama dripping from every single episode.
I can already hear several people saying, "Ugh, I don't want to read subtitles" and going back to PBS Masterpiece and BBC.
Hear me out.
Once in college, I resisted watching a Bollywood movie with a roommate because I didn't want to read subtitles. Eventually, she wore me down, I watched, I fell in love, I am now the leader of a Bollywood movie fan club where I met my husband and fell in love again.
Okay, that probably won't happen to you, but JUST READ THE SUBTITLES AND WATCH MORE THINGS. It's worth it, I promise. You'll expand your knowledge of the world, which is never a bad thing, and oh, did I mention the drama?
Ladies and gentlemen, start your bingein'!
Morocco: Love in Times of War (Tiempos de guerra)
Netflix is the international distributor for this new drama — from the makers of Gran Hotel and Velvet — which is set, well, in Morocco during the Rif War in the 1920s. Particularly it follows a group of upper class women, led by a duchess, who train as Red Cross nurses as the Spanish army fights Berber tribes in colonial Morocco. At its heart is Julia Ballester (Amaia Salamanca, Gran Hotel and Velvet), who is not trained but goes along anyway hoping to find her brother (Marcel Borràs) and fiance (Álex Gadea), both soldiers whose unit has been lost in a conflict. Yet she just might get distracted by a dashing doctor (Álex García). Among the other nurses are Pilar (Verónica Sánchez), a young widow who runs into the love of her life who left her at the altar years before (Cristóbal Suárez); Magdalena (Anna Moliner), who renounces her family after falling in love with a Muslim man (Daniel Lundh) who works at the hospital; and the duchess Carmen (Alicia Borrachero), who is seen coughing up blood while stubbornly running the hospital despite military attempts to override her. Joining them is a cast of beautiful soldiers and army doctors I would not hesitate to call Señor Dreamy and Señor Steamy, among other things, and Velvet's José Sacristán as the head of military medicine. Watch with bated breath for what happens in the wild romances, military scandals and, well, yeah, that whole war going on out there. Season 1 is available on Netflix. For some strange reason, the show has not yet been greenlit for a second season in Spain, but here's hoping. I need more of these dreamy doctors, STAT.
This show is one of the most addicting things I have ever watched, which probably explains why I've written about it several times — and why Eva Longoria is producing an American version for ABC in the 2018-19 season. When I first wrote about it, I said, "Think Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain. But with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder." The show is set in a lavish hotel on the Spanish coast in the early 1900s. It follows the upstairs — the aristocratic Alarcón family with at least three killers among them — and the downstairs — the hotel staff that includes a serial killer, a thief, an aspiring social climber … and a secret Alarcón child — and how they mix. In particular, it focuses on star-crossed lovers Julio (Yon Gonzalez, Cable Girls), who is a waiter, and Alicia (Amaia Salamanca, Velvet), an Alarcón, who marries the villainous hotel manager Diego. There's also baby-snatching, affairs galore and, yeah, lots of murders. The OMG moments just don't quit. You can watch all three seasons of Gran Hotel on Netflix, where you can also find El hotel de los secretos ("The Hotel of Secrets"), a Mexican adaptation.
It's hard to describe the emotional rollercoaster this Spanish drama will take you on over the course of its four seasons; I almost missed it after being bored by the first episode but thankfully gave it another chance. Set in a prominent Madrid fashion store called Velvet, it follows the store's change of ownerships and bid to stay relevant in the '50s and '60s from more daring designs to jewelry lines to pret a porter. But really it follows the lives of its owners and employees, none more so than the since-childhood on-again-off-again upstairs-downstairs romance of heir Alberto Márquez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Sense8) and seamstress Ana Rivera (Paula Echevarría). Ana and Alberto go through so many ups and downs together and separately, from the pilot episode's car crash that nearly kills them both to more things I just can't spoil. But that is only one of the dozens of storylines that make the show great. Ana is also determined to make it as a designer, even in secret. Alberto has to keep the company afloat in all manner of troubled times. Alberto's wealthy half-sister Patricia learns the hard way about privilege and a different kind of autonomy while working as a sales-girl. Seamstress Rita is in love with the hapless boyfriend of her suaver sister, Clara (Marta Hazas, Gran Hotel), a sales-girl turned secretary who might be having affairs elsewhere. And of course, there are also a handful of murders, a few not-really-dead "dead" people and affairs and back-stabbing schemes galore. All four seasons are now streaming on Netflix. A spinoff series, Velvet Colección, recently aired in Spain with most of the characters other than Ana and Alberto; Netflix has just added it to streaming as of April 2018.
Cable Girls (Las chicas del cable)
This original offering from Netflix is off to a promising start, probably in part because it's from directors and producers of Velvet and Gran Hotel. Set in 1920s Madrid, the Netflix original follows a handful of women who work as operators for a telephone company; the show touches on struggles of an abused wife, a daughter of controlling society parents, a shy girl who has moved from the village and a closeted lesbian. But its central character is the one who really brings the drama up another notch: Alba Romero (Blanca Suárez) is a thief/prostitute who dreams of running away to Argentina until a policeman blackmails her into robbing the phone company. Of course instead she comes to love the other women who work there … and she encounters Francisco (Yon Gonzalez, Gran Hotel), the love of her youth from whom she was taken years before. Seasons 1 and 2 are available now on Netflix. The show has already been renewed for another season in 2018.
The Time in Between (El tiempo entre costuras)
You didn't know you needed a fashion-meets-spy drama in your life until now. This miniseries follows young seamstress Sira (Adriana Ugarte, Palm Trees in the Snow), who rebuilds her life after an elopement to Morocco goes wrong. And there's also the little matter of the Spanish Civil War. After building a dressmaking business in Morocco, she moves back to Madrid to build a couture clientele there with an assist from the British government, which enlists her help in spying on the wives of Nazi officers. Cue the intrigue. All 11 episodes are on Netflix.