Highly watchable and proudly inscrutable, Holy Family is a binge-worthy portrait of motherhood in all its forms — even the most extreme.
This review of Holy Family season 1 is spoiler-free.
Anyone who has had a Netflix subscription over the last few years will likely be aware that the streamer has an ever-increasing library of Spanish content that seems almost scientifically designed to become the next binge obsession. Fitting in with that crowd just like the mysterious mother in this series who worms her way into Madrid’s high society, Holy Family, from The House of Flowers creator Manolo Caro, is the latest in a long line of virtually guaranteed Spanish hits.
This is one of those shows that builds a mystery by unveiling it piece by piece, like a narrative version of Russian dolls, each secret squatting inside another, bigger one. Gloria (Najwa Nimri) evidently has something to hide. She’s a newish mother to a baby boy she says is named Hugo but who is sometimes referred to as Nico. Her daughter, Aitana (Carla Campra), poses as Hugo’s au pair for the benefit of upscale mothers Blanca (Macarena Gomez), Alicia (Ella Kweku), and new neighbor Catarina, but none of them know that Gloria keeps her son, Abel (Ivan Pellicer), locked in a room during the day, apparently for his own protection.
Caterina and her husband German (Alex Garcia) have secrets of their own, and they aren’t the only ones. But assembling the mysteries isn’t the only pleasure. There’s a strangely gothic feel to the whole endeavor, exacerbated by a stylish focus on stained glass and other religious imagery, that keeps the plot compelling. The feeling of nobody being who they say has the viewer second-guessing themselves at every turn, and the overall effect makes for a captivating story.
But there’s also a thematic backbone. The show is explicitly about women but about mothers, specifically, and while it isn’t at all subtle about this, it commits to it wholeheartedly. The plot hinges on the extremes a mother might go to in order to protect her brood, but it also manifests in sneakier ways, such as how a certain type of woman – in this case, the moneyed upper-class kind – navigate social dynamics, relationships, and appearances.
Across eight episodes, all with zippy runtimes, these nested mysteries and themes unfold with a pretty notable amount of satisfaction for the viewer who has mentally assembled the pieces along the way. But there is still lots to discover even as things progress, with some virtuosic acting turns really selling the idea of double lives and concealed truths. That lingering threat of potential violence in the past or possibly the future adds something, but Holy Family is really, at its core, an endlessly watchable portrait of motherhood in all its various forms, even some of the most extreme, and another Spanish Netflix original that comes with a solid recommendation (and probably a built-in audience ready to go.)
You can stream Holy Family season 1 exclusively on Netflix.