Based on the popular, baroque, fifteenth century chevalier story Tirante el Blanco, the seminal Catalan novel that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra cites as a profound influence on the realization of Don Quixote de La Mancha, Vicente Aranda’s The Maidens’ Conspiracy is a lavish, risqué, and skillfully composed, but superficial and unsatisfying medieval adventure that combines the ambitious scope of epic, battlefield encounters with the intimacy and situational satire of sexual politics. Centering on the often comical (mis)adventures of a handsome, brave, and dutiful knight from humble origins named Tirante el Blanco (Caspar Zafer) who seeks to curry increasing favor from the benevolent, ailing Byzantine king (Giancarlo Gianini), initially through his assumed role as military strategist to defend the kingdom and stave off the inevitable incursion into Constantinople by the Turks, then subsequently, through his brazen seduction of the royal family’s only surviving child, the young, fanciful, and impressionable princess, Carmesina (Esther Nubiola), the film quickly devolves from grand, heroic tale to lowbrow, bedroom farce. As Carmesina is alternately counseled, manipulated, ordered, and bedeviled by a seemingly endless assortment of intrusive and interfering court handmaidens and servants – a stern and repressed widow (Victoria Abril), the Viuda Reposada (The Rested Widow), a hopeless romantic (Leonor Watling) named Placer De Mi Vida (Pleasure of My Life), a trusted confidante named Estefanía (Ingrid Rubio) who has fallen for Tirante’s roguish lieutenant Diafebus (Charlie Cox), a dutiful servant named Eliseo (Rebecca Cobos), and a royal page named Hipólito (Sid Mitchell) whose youth and sensitivity has attracted the attention of the neglected queen (Jane Asher) – and the dynamics of the Imperial Court is further complicated by her parents’ attempts to ensure peace and sovereignty in the kingdom from the Grand Turk’s (Rafael Amargo) insatiable lust for conquest, what unfolds is an effervescent, but confused, vacuous, and ultimately forgettable (and idiosyncratically cobbled) pastiche that is equal parts romantic ode, bawdy comedy of errors, and graphic illustration of the brutality (and inhumanity) of religious war.
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