Fans of Cathedral of the Sea will be well-served by this compelling and richly-detailed but ultimately overcrowded period drama.
This review of Heirs to the Land Season 1 is spoiler-free.
Cathedral of the Sea, a pretty low-key Spanish historical drama based on the novel of the same name by Ildefonso Falcones, was something of a surprise hit for Netflix. It did decent numbers, inspired a lot of online chatter, and developed a pretty devout following who were into its blend of history, soapy melodrama, rich period detail, and high drama. The good news for those who pay attention to Heirs to the Land, an eight-part adaptation of Falcones’ second novel in the series that Netflix aren’t doing the best job of marketing as a sequel, is that it works on very much the same basis.
“Revenge” is the word of the day. Thanks to a string of unpleasant circumstances, Hugo Llor, a poor orphan who finds favor with a nobleman named Sir Arnau Estanyol – who was a major player in Cathedral of the Sea, not that this series does an especially good job of establishing this context – and is compelled thanks to political unrest and infighting to go on a personal crusade against noble usurpers. I’m trying not to give too much away, so you’ll forgive the lack of details, but suffice it to say there’s plenty of religious and political turmoil and social unrest that helps to set these events into motion and also give Heirs to the Land a compelling, lived-in texture.
But it’s important to note how little of this will resonate for those who aren’t familiar with the prequel series. Heirs to the Land clearly expects its viewers to have brushed up on their lore, and while that’s a reasonable expectation, it being billed as a standalone offering can create a difficult entry-point for new viewers. All the requisite genre elements are certainly there, but even so, it would have been nice to tailor the early going as a bit of a primer (or at least a refresher).
Then again, Heirs to the Land has a lot going on at the best of times, and while I’m always lamenting the slightly overlong runtime of most Netflix originals, eight episodes scarcely feels like enough here – until it feels like altogether too much, but that’s a consequence of the creeping pressure of so much stuff. Luckily, strong characters, impeccable production design and cinematography, and plenty of twists and turns help to keep the whole thing watchable even during its most plodding moments.
I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation, but if I were to take a guess I’d imagine fans of the novels would be well-served. Falcones was involved in the process, and it’s hard to imagine such a well-observed show being a half-hearted transplant. But I must stress again the importance of some familiarity with the prequel; the dynamics between certain characters aren’t all that fleshed-out by any measure, even Hugo’s defining motivation, the circumstances of which occur almost on fast-forward, and one does get the sense of other aspects of the production being expected to do most of the heavy lifting. Still, anyone in the market for just this kind of show – and you know who you are! – are definitely going to find it in Heirs to the Land.