A serious historical drama that might be a little slow-moving and dreary for some, Cathedral of the Sea is nonetheless a fairly impressive adaptation.
Directed by Jordi Frades and adapted from the famed Spanish historical novel La catedral del mar by Ildefonso Falcones, Cathedral of the Sea is a blessedly short miniseries (only eight episodes, as opposed to the sixty of Undercover Law, which also debuted today) that reminded me in many ways of Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. They’re both set in tumultuous historical periods – the Inquisition and the Anarchy, respectively – and concern a salt-of-the-earth labourer toiling against religious oppression against the backdrop of a cathedral construction – in this case the Santa Maria del Mar.
You’ll probably be able to tell from that description alone whether or not Cathedral of the Sea is your cup of tea. The similarities in tone and style also make for similar issues – a persistent humourlessness and a restrained pace that can be mistaken for dreariness if the historical specificity and heavily-accented English dub aren’t enough to keep you entertained, but luckily the slim season order – even if the episodes run about an hour each – means that there’s plenty of plot to churn through before the end.
Cathedral of the Sea is also something of a technical achievement, boasting stunning landscapes captured with reverence by cinematographer Teo Delgado, and grubby production design that capably evokes 14th Century Barcelona. Well, as I imagine it, anyway, which is all any of us can hope for. The ever-present threat of black-garbed baddies is enhanced by Juan Federico Jusid’s score, which occasionally becomes a little heavy-handed but mostly does the job. And Frades is content to wring out tension where necessary by extending scenes to tortuous length, which brings me to another point.
This is heavy stuff. It isn’t gratuitous, but it’s a wringer of unpleasantness and undue suffering that a lot of folks won’t want or be able to put up with in their leisure time. It’s dark from the jump and never gets much lighter, which is often par for the course in historical fiction but worth a note all the same. Don’t go into Cathedral of the Sea expecting frothy entertainment, even if the odd line of dialogue – perhaps the fault of the dub – rings with a slightly dopey note.