Netflix keeps pushing for international productions to enter its roster and find audiences worldwide thanks to its titanic reach. This time it’s the turn of Spain, a country that has mostly been known for producing romance and drama films. Heirs to the Land has bigger ambitions, being the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ildefonso Falcones. The novel is the sequel to Cathedral of the Sea, which started the series of novels way back in 2006.
The Cathedral of the Sea was a huge success, and subsequent sequels were equally successful, establishing Falcones as one of Spain’s most famous historical fiction authors. The plot revolves around Hugo Llord, a young boy living in 14th-century Barcelona who aspires to be a shipbuilder.
The adaptation comes from the collaboration of Astresmedia, Television de Cataluña, and Netflix. All the episodes are directed by Jordi Frades, and the show stars Yon Gonzalez, Michelle Jenner, Elena Rivera, and Rodolfo Sancho.
The show consists of only 8 episodes, each running time of around an hour. Heirs really feels like a step-up in terms of production values, when it comes to this type of story made by Spanish filmmakers. Taking on the challenge of building and telling a story in such a time as the 14th century is not an easy task.
In this case, the filmmakers do the best they can to recreate that world. But to be honest, the producers would need such a huge amount of resources in order to pull it off in a convincing way, that it feels unrealistic to ask that from this series. It is clear, that the production doesn’t have the resources or the ability to pull off the standard of something like Game of Thrones, Vikings, or the Last Kingdom. If you’re going to watch the show, try to focus on the story and try to filter every single other aspect out, because if you don’t, the immersion will break very easily.
So, if your first reaction to the show is that it looks cheap, you are not wrong. It looks cheap, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to enjoying the story the show is trying to tell. Of course, this will depend on each member of the audience. The show really doesn’t make it easier, as the costumes and sets all feel very low quality.
Even when the show is being shot on location, you can feel how they are trying to hide the signs that they are shooting in the 21st century instead of the 14th century. There are also a lot of green screens being used, mostly for short pickup shots that they probably couldn’t get during the main photography. The composition of the footage with the green screen backgrounds is very noticeable.
Maybe the biggest immersion-breaking element is the actors themselves. Especially when it comes to Yon Gonzalez, who plays the main character, Hugo. In the first episodes, the actor is supposed to play a young man, an apprentice who would be a teen in his early years.
However, Gonzalez is not a teen but a 35-year-old man, and when he’s trying to act as a younger version of himself, it doesn’t come naturally at all. It also breaks the immersion when other characters refer to him as “a boy” and his looks tell you right away he is anything but that.
The acting, on the other hand, varies from solid to awkward. The actors never seem to feel comfortable with their characters. You can see that they are trying their best, but maybe the low production values are not enough to give them a chance no matter how hard they try. It is a shame because the show could be amazing if it had the right amount of resources.
Jordi Frades also does very little to bring the show to a new level. His directing style feels mundane, and visually, the show feels very static. There is a lot of aiming the camera and letting it roll, which can be fine on certain occasions, but the lack of visual style in the show makes it feel even cheaper. Framing is important, especially when you’re trying to tell a story visually, but Heirs of the Land doesn’t really have the opportunity to use the cinematographic language in such a way that is noticeable.
Heirs to the Land isn’t a bad show. It will certainly find its audience among the millions that go through Netflix each day, but the lack of resources and the lack of a powerful storytelling style hold the show back from becoming something fascinating. Historical fiction is filled with powerful and fascinating stories, but they need to have the proper resources in order to execute them well. Sadly, this is not the case.