Set in 11th Century Spain, El Cid is an ambitious, lavishly produced historical drama streaming on Amazon Prime. With shades of Game Of Thrones, Vikings and The Tudors throughout, El Cid is an impressive medley of influences that serves up an authentic slice of Spanish history across its run-time.
It’s a great period of time to explore too, as we find Spain carved up into three distinct Kingdoms with warring Kings, tense alliances and bubbling feuds just waiting to explode at any moment. Our protagonist in the midst of all this is Ruy, a young boy who’s raises by his Grandfather Rodrigo.
Taken to the palace and raised as a page boy, Ruy soon becomes a squire to Sancho, the son to King Fernando and next in line to take the throne. When Ruy thwarts a threat against Fernando’s life, he inadvertently paints a target on his own back as Count Flain and Queen Sancha work to try and oust the King – and kill Ruy – without being found out themselves.
With lots of political scheming and tense dialogue oozing from the capital of Leon, a conflict in neighboring city Zaragoza is what sparks the fuse of battle. With Fernando’s brother Romiro making his move and attacking the Northern border, Fernando sends Ruy and Sancho in his stead to resolve this conflict.
Both of these storylines work well together, running parallel and intersecting at different moments across the 5 episode season. Despite a 75 minute opener and a decent pace however, the ending does leave you wanting more after leaving things on a cliffhanger.
Despite its obvious Game Of Thrones influence (before Seasons 7-8 of course) El Cid fails to capitalize and flesh out its characters more. Instead, most of the players here don’t have an awful lot of development as the overarching story takes centre stage.
Orduno, for example, is clearly a key player by the end of the fifth episode but yet his limited screen time and weak dialogue do nothing to build him up as a compelling threat. Likewise, Ruy has glimmers of heroism and seeing his rags to riches story is good but you never quite get a grasp of who this man is beyond his overwhelming loyalty to the Kingdom.
Foe the most part though, El Cid does a fantastic job with its production and visually every scene looks crisp and vibrant. The sweeping establishing shots of the battlefield, intricate costume design and detailed interiors really work harmoniously together to give this a suitably epic feel.
Fans of Spanish TV will certainly recognize some familiar faces here too, namely Jaime Lorente who seems to be a mainstay in these big productions. For those with a keen eyes, he’s starred in both Elite and La Casa De Papel this year.
Alongside him is Lucía Díez who played a role in fellow historical drama Cathedral of the Sea, while a talented supporting cast do a great job with their lines. It’s just a pity that more time wasn’t spent flesh these characters out a bit more to make them more memorable when the final credits roll.
Characterization aside, El Cid is another surefire hit out of Spain. The Europeans have a knack for creating compelling TV and this may just be another one to join the illustrious roster of growing IPs for Spanish TV. There’s certainly enough here to warrant a second season and based on this 5 episode showing, Amazon may have found a suitable replacement when Vikings finishes its run next year.