El Cid

This is being billed as the Spanish Game of Thrones, but it’s more like the Spanish version of The Last Kingdom  (a good thing).  It’s the story of a born military leader in a martial age, who is smart enough to know how to outwit his enemies as well as outfight them. 

Rodrigo Diaz was born into the minor nobility of 11th C Spain, during what is known as the “taifa” period. The Caliphate of Cordoba had fallen, and Spain was divided into a group of kingdoms, some run by Christians and others by Muslims, who fought against each other for dominance.  Political alliances didn’t always form along sectarian lines – Christian kings sometimes allied with Muslim ones against Christian rivals – although the two groups were already starting to move into the fundamentalist corners which would define Spanish politics for the next few hundred years.  El Cid himself fought as a mercenary soldier in Muslim armies – his historical name is derived from the Arabic “al-sayyid”, or the Leader – and eventually he led a multicultural alliance against the invading Moroccan Almohads.

I thought the series did a good job depicting life as it might have actually been experienced in 11th C Spain. People’s lives were hard and uncertain, and there was always the possibility of random violence.  Most of the blood and gore, however, were confined, as in real life, to the battlefield, and full-on battles weren’t that frequent. The depiction of tSpanish Muslims as relatveiy relaxed in their practice of Islam – many even drank alcohol – is historically accurate.  The scenes involving military training are pretty good, and the scale of the joust seems about right as well.  The battle scene, while well done, involves way too many mounted knights, but I guess the lure of filming knights on horseback is hard for filmmakers to resist.  

The performances are fine.  The actor playing El Cid is surprisingly short, but he has the requisite intensity.  I particularly liked the women, many of whom portray tough as nails characters who, despite their legal inequality, know perfectly well how to wield political power.

My principal complaint about this show is that it’s too short – only 5 episodes.  We see Diaz’s early years, his first great battle success, and what appears to be an important turning point in his life.  But the series seems to end in the middle of what looks like a 10-episode story arc.  I don’t know if filming of the series was interrupted by Covid or financial pressures.  But it’s a good beginning, and I hope it will continue.  

Recommended. On Amazon Prime.

Note:  I usually watch foreign shows with English subtitles, because I like the cadences of the original language.  I’ve read that the English dubbed version of this series is particularly bad, so I urge you to try the subtitles, even if you don’t usually like them.  This is not a particularly “talky” series – there’s a lot of action, and the plot is simple to understand.  

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