That the world of theatre would be different if Lope de Vega had perished during his tour of duty in the Spanish army (1580s in the Azores) is not in doubt. The exceedingly prolific poet/playwright seems comparable to the likes of Antonio Vivaldi and Heitor Villa-Lobos—if only measured in GAO (gross artistic output).
Thanks to Andrucha Waddington’s vision and the inventive screenplay from Jordi Gasull and Ignacio del Moral, the life and times of the creator of such masterworks as Fuente Ovejuna (cross-reference below) has come to spectacular life.
Working creatively around the facts as known, Lope’s genius for words and predilection for women gets a marvellous outing on the big screen.
In the title role, relative newcomer Alberto Ammann seems born to play the infamous writer. For a genius of comedy, Ammann’s bearded visage positively glows as he pens the next yuk or sees/hears his art come to hilarious life. Stripped down to his chest with either of the two love interests (artfully gleaned from many others or a miniseries would be required for the father of fourteen children), admirers from any persuasion won’t come away disappointed.
The objects of his cinematic affections are Leonor Watling as the do-gooder by day (Friar Bernardo’s—Luis Tosar appropriately worldly and severe—charitable home for the infirm figures largely in the narrative), husband-searcher (preferably poetic) after hours, Isabel and the verse-loving daughter of Madrid’s leading theatre producer, Elena (Pilar López de Ayala exudes just the right mix of sexual heat, male domination and self-serving infidelity).
Not surprisingly, the key ingredient beyond the sumptuous sets (as well as magnificent dashes through the Spanish countryside) and first-rate cast is words.
On the more obvious level, Lope’s emerging talent is mixed with a healthy dose of artistic arrogance. Early on, he is commissioned by theatre Czar Jerónimo Velázquez (Juan Diego) to copy a voluminous play to “learn the techniques,” only to come back with “improvements” on the original “sacred” text. The dangerous seeds of jealously are immediately laid.
Soon aware that his talent is formidable and “game changing,” Lope’s arrogance and disdain for mere mortals combine to draw an arrest warrant and subsequent trial for libeling a privileged family (see jealous theatre mogul, above). Intriguingly—likely not purposefully—the capture and return of the sinning writer from Lisbon to Madrid has a look, feel and tone that immediately conjures up Mel Gibson’s truly awful portrayal of Christ’s persecution (cross-reference below). Once again, the different amongst us cause more fear and insecurity than understanding and acceptance.
Longtime theatre lovers and neophytes alike must plan to see Waddington’s triumph then scour the global stage for an actual show from Lope’s ever-creative imagination. JWR