CANNES — A TV institution in Spain – a once TV ventriloquist turned variety act and then comedy producer – few of the country’s TV figures can claim as big a format adaptation hit abroad as Jose Luis Moreno whose “Escenas de Matrimonio,” comic sketches of marital life heavily influenced by Spain’s sainete humor, were adapted in France by M6 as “Escènes de menage.” It proved a French TV phenomenon.
Now Moreno is returning to international TV markets with his most ambitious production yet, “Queens,” an English-language costume drama with mostly British actors. Launched by Spanish pubcaster Radio Television Española (RTVE) at MipTV and created, produced and co-directed by Moreno, it chronicles the tragic confrontation between Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Stuart. That conflict’s resolution – Mary’s execution, forced upon Elizabeth, Moreno claims – consolidated Elizabeth’s power, help lay the foundations of a British empire.
An Anglophile – the interview was conducted in English and Spanish – and history lover who speaks about historical figures as if they were living personages, Moreno enthused to Variety about the hugely high-end drama for Sapin – costing some three times at least the Spanish average – which marks a departure in Spain’s already fast-evolving TV drama scene.
Kicking off in 1561, as a young, headstrong Mary (Olivia Chenery, “Brotherhood”), just 19 and the the widow of France’s Francis II, returns to Scotland, “Queens” pays strong attention to historical detail, whether character, costume, props, sets or events. It is not naive, suggesting Elizabeth , played by Rebecca Scott, (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” like Chenery in her first big role), was certainly a commanding regal presence but certainly not a virgin queen, and warms to the idea of instituting slavery in the New World. Nobody in “Queens” is a total heroine or villain, Moreno said.
This is also a series where women exercise enormous power – Mary forcefully faces down her rebellious court in an early scene – but act in a context where they are surrounded by men who talk, whether Scotland’s John Knox or Spain’s Philip II of exterminating one another. Dropping from 1.9 million viewers in its first week this January to 1.3 million, and then settling in around the million mark. “Queens” was seen in Spain as “a foreign production,” Moreno argues. Aimed especially at English-language markets, he added, it will be one of the first Spanish series whose success will be determined on how it performs outside Spain.
Why choose the subject of the confrontation between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart?
I read Winston Churchill’s work, which was impressive, wonderful and became excited about the world of Elizabeth and Mary but as two women – not so much two queens – in a world of men. They were far more intelligent than the masculine world around them, also considerably more sensitive and enormously cultured, polyglots, played musical instruments, had an enormous sensitivity. In this series, there is no heroine or villain: Elizabeth never wanted to kill her cousin but it was the men around them who created the conflict and forced her to make that decision.
But they were also contrasting characters, which may explain Mary’s downfall?
Yes, they fought against adversity from two totally different points of view and two sensibilities marked by their own femininity. Elizabeth had a physical problem, a problem in the uterus. That’s why she never married, so she didn’t have to have children, which made her stronger and at the same time sentimentally vulnerable to any kind of aggression endangering her throne. That was all she had. Mary Stuart was the opposite. Very feminine, very pretty. For her it was more important to be a woman than to be queen. She was very young and had adult responsibilities. This is maybe the essence of “Queens.”
You speak about the characters as if they were living human beings…
That’s what we wanted to portray, infuse the dialogues with a sense of humanity while respecting historical elements.
And why shoot in English? Few Spanish series have shot in English.
For the acting! I’ve lived a long time in England and the acting is in another league compared to the rest of the world.
Do you have plans for another historical series?
We are preparing multiple ideas. One of the things we like best is a possible series about Inquisition. We are now suffering a sort of inquisition with jihadism, religious fanaticism. Benito Perez Galdós, the Spanish novelist, wrote “Episodios Nacionales,” which I adore. What interests me is the mindset which moves people to be so strong and powerful. Men are capable of anything.