‘The Bourbons’: the dirty rags and miseries hidden in the back room of the Royal Family | TV | The USA Print

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This is the story of an ordinary family, a broken family, with fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law who don’t get along, with brothers-in-law who only see each other on forced dates and with temporary cessation of coexistence that become permanent. Everything more or less normal, except that this is the history of the Spanish Royal Family. The six chapters of the documentary series The Bourbons, a royal family ―the first episode premieres on Tuesday the 31st on Atresplayer Premium and La Sexta, the rest can only be seen on the paid platform with weekly release― direct an incisive and profound look at the Spanish Monarchy to show, through documentation and interviews with 40 characters, the contrast between the version that was sold to the public for decades and a backroom that has only come to light in recent years. Its premiere, moreover, comes a few days after the brief, but well-known, visit of Juan Carlos I to Spain after two years living in Abu Dhabi.

Journalist Ana Pastor and screenwriter and producer Aitor Gabilondo direct this documentary which, as Pastor explains, stems from a recurring question she asked herself when watching documentaries about foreign monarchies: why hadn’t the history of the Spanish royal family? For this, several producers collaborated. In addition to Atresmedia TV and the international Exile Content, Pastor and Gabilondo joined forces with their two companies, Newtral and Alea Media, to take advantage of what each one knew how to do best: journalism and data verification first, and narration and emotion typical of fiction the seconds. “Our two visions marry very well. We didn’t know each other, but we fit together because we have very different visions of how to tell a story. There were some facts and then they had to be arranged in a dramatic way so that it would fit emotionally and not be a report”, explains Gabilondo, responsible, among others, for the series Homeland.

Instead of following the usual chronological order of documentaries, this series organizes its content around different themes. Thus, the first episode begins in the present to jump to Alfonso XIII and show the parallels between the king emeritus and his grandfather. Also the complicated path of balance of Juan Carlos I until he became king or the betrayals suffered by his father, Don Juan. Some videos of Queen Sofía in the sixties, recordings of Don Juan, or photographs of Alfonso de Borbón, brother of Juan Carlos who died at the age of 14 due to an accidental shot by him, are some of the unpublished documents in Spain that it collects the documentary.

Don Juan de Borbón, with his wife María de las Mercedes and their four children, Alfonso, Juan Carlos, Pilar and Margarita, in an August 1945 image taken during his exile in Switzerland.
Don Juan de Borbón, with his wife María de las Mercedes and their four children, Alfonso, Juan Carlos, Pilar and Margarita, in an August 1945 image taken during his exile in Switzerland. Keystone (Getty Images)

Other chapters of the series focus on the relationship of the Royal Family with money, with women or the earthquake that led to the arrival on the monarchical board of Letizia Ortiz, commoner, journalist, divorced and granddaughter of a taxi driver. Ana Pastor chooses precisely that episode, her fourth, as one of the ones that has surprised her the most. “I knew that the king emeritus did not like the then journalist Letizia and that he tried in many ways that Felipe did not have a relationship with her or that he not put her in her family. What she did not know about her was the campaign that they orchestrated against her from within and from without, so brutal that it caused her much trouble. Sometimes she has been criticized for her character, but resisting what she has had to resist must have been tremendous, ”says the journalist, in a video call with EL PAÍS.

Both Pastor and Gabilondo highlight the documentation work behind this series. “We needed images that weren’t openings or kissing hands, images that had texture. They were always edited videos, short, information, and we had to dive”, explains Gabilondo. The result, according to the screenwriter and producer, is “a collage of very different images” that he likes “a lot aesthetically because it has very different textures, from pure cinema to video, digital…”.

“What I highlight is that you manage to move, that it goes from surprise to indignation, emotion, disbelief…”, adds José Antonio Antón, deputy director of content at Atresmedia. “That is the merit of the script team”, Pastor takes the floor. “The dramatic treatment that it provides was very important so that it was not a report. Those of us who are only journalists tend to report a lot. This is a documentary series on a par with others that have been made abroad”, he adds.

Family image taken at the Zarzuela Palace in November 2005, with King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofía and the then princes Felipe and Letizia after the birth of Leonor.
Family image taken at the Zarzuela Palace in November 2005, with King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofía and the then princes Felipe and Letizia after the birth of Leonor. Handout (Getty Images)

Another of the challenges posed by this documentary series, in addition to finding unpublished archive material and a narrative thread that would catch the viewer, was finding the right tone. “Between fellatio and the guillotine there is a middle way,” explained Gabilondo at the press conference prior to this interview. As confirmed by Pastor, the Casa del Rey was informed of the existence of this television project, but they have not received calls or inquiries of any kind to inquire about its content.

Explosion of projects on the Monarchy

The Bourbons: a royal family It is the first television title focused on the Spanish ruling house that sees the light of the handful of projects that have been announced in the last two years. In March 2020, the preparation of the documentary that is now being released was advanced. Then came projects like The king, by Javier Olivares and The Mediapro Studio; the adaptation of xrey podcast in fiction for the Starzplay platform; another fiction produced by Diagonal TV entitled Royal Palace; or a fiction series and another documentary that Mediaset announced at the end of 2020. However, little or no news has been received from most of them.

The Infanta Elena, Queen Sofía, Prince Felipe and King Juan Carlos I, in an undated image.
The Infanta Elena, Queen Sofía, Prince Felipe and King Juan Carlos I, in an undated image. Jacques Pavlovsky (Sygma via Getty Images)

“What has happened, and is mentioned in the documentary, is that for 40 years we have only seen them in the shop window,” says Pastor. And he continues: “When the scene in Palma de Mallorca took place in the cathedral, of the two queens debating over that photo, it was a shock for many people, especially for a generation, because until now we had not seen the back room.” The journalist recalls that “while the emeritus asked everyone to be exemplary and talked about having to pay taxes, he took money out of Spain and avoided paying taxes.” For Pastor, this documentary “talks about a family that is not real, but unreal, because it is unstructured, as some monarchists say in the documentary, because the emeritus have not been a couple in the last 40 years.”

For Gabilondo, this explosion of projects centered on the figure of the king emeritus and the Royal Family corresponds to a generational change: “Certain behaviors are no longer accepted. On top of that, Juan Carlos I has hit three red lines: violence against animals, being an unrepentant womanizer and stealing public money. He has done repoker”. Both also highlight the role of the press, analyzed in the documentary, in this change in the image projected by the Royal Family.

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