MADRID — Rolling off their partnership on “While at War,” one of the biggest and highest-profile Spanish movies of 2019, Academy Award winning director Alejandro Amenábar (“The Others,” “The Sea Inside”) is now teaming with Movistar +, the pay TV division of Spain’s Telefonica, on the development of a drama series, inspired by the Spanish graphic novel “El tesoro del Cisne Negro.”
Created by comic book artist Paco Roca and Spanish diplomat Guillermo Corral, the six part series will turn on the the Black Swan Project: the Odyssey Marine Exploration’s discovery and recovery and transport to Florida of 17.1 tons of coins from the wreckage of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a 30-gun Spanish frigate sunk by the British Navy off the Portuguese coast in 1804. Beginning in 1807, the Spanish government fought a legal battle through U.S. courts to claim the treasure. claimed to be the biggest shipwreck booty in history, as its own.
An adventure thriller straddling the historical voyage of the fated Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and the modern-day legal battle for the treasure claimed to be worth $500 million, the series’ action will straddle the U.S. and Spain.
The title, long in development at Mod and Movistar +, will mark Amenábar’s move into drama series creation after writing and directing seven feature films stretching back to 1996’s “Thesis.”
According to Movistar + sources, the series is currently set up as a co-production between Movistar + and Madrid-based Mod Producciones, headed by Fernando Bovaira, Amenábar’s producer since his second feature, 1997’s “Open Your Eyes.”
Details of the series’ double storyline were first announced by Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Given Movistar + drive into overseas production and sales partnerships with some of the most prestigious players on the TV drama production scene – such as Germany’s Beta Cinema, Studiocanal (“Instinct,” “On Death Row”), owned by Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, and French broadcaster Arte (“Hierro”)- it would not be at all surprising if the series is structured an international co-production.
That is all the more likely given the scale of the series, confirmed to El Pais by Domingo Corral, Movistar +’s director of original fiction, as possessing “a brutal level of ambition, and a long and complex shoot.”
The series will no doubt continue to boast many of Amenábar’s hallmarks: A large canvas, when required by the narrative; mainstream tropes such as neo-horror beats; an urgent contemporaneity in fictions which grapple with hot-button modern issues whether set in 4th-century Alexandria or 1936 Salamanca, Spain (“While at War”).
The series , for example, explores pillage and realpolitik down the ages: Spain’s pillage of Latin America’s silver; the British Navy’s attempt to break Spain’s alliance with Napoleon’s France; a company’s attempt to claim the Mercedes’ silver as its own.
Chronicling the enormous courage of writer Miguel de Unamuno who denounced Spanish general Francisco Franco out in public in 1936 for his barbarous and systematic execution of Spanish civilians in the Civil War, “While at War” marks Amenábar’s return to Spanish filmmaking and Movistar +’s first Original Film after initiating the release of Original Series in September 2017 in what marks the biggest push into original fiction creation of any telecom in Europe.
Rolling off the purchase of pay TV operator Canal Plus and offering pay TV as part of an attractively-priced quad play offer, Telefonica has grown Movistar + into the biggest pay/SVOD player in Spain, with 4.1 million clients, more than Netflix, though OTT players are building subscriber bases in Spain fast.
Amenábar’s first series is a large coup for Movistar +’s drive into original fiction, steered by CEO Sergio Oslé and Corral, as the Telefonica pay TV unit goes head to head with Netflix, Amazon and HBO in a battle for Spanish talent. Few are better known, in or outside Spain, than Amenábar, whose other movies take in “Open Your Eyes” (1997), “The Others,” starring Nicole Kidman, (2001) and 2004’s “The Sea Inside,” with Javier Bardem, which won a best foreign-language picture Oscar. He has gone on to direct 2009’s “Agora” with Rachel Weisz, and “Regression” (2015) starring Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson and his first film shot in the U.S..