A few months ago I wrote about discovering the TVE soap opera Amar en Tiempos Revueltos and how it had helped me improve my understanding of preterite/imperfect verb tenses. I stand by it; Season One was pretty addictive.
However, I just wasn’t into the new characters and new story lines of Season Two. I tried; I really did! But I eventually lost interest and gave up on it. (Sorry Manolita, I did like your family and your bar, but I just didn’t care much about the girl who wanted to become a singer at the club.)
So I started searching for a new series to watch, and I was excited to find that Isabel is streaming for free and viewable from within the US. Go to the TVE Isabel series website and click on “Capítulos Completos.”
Entertaining Historical Fiction
Isabel is a historical fiction series which covers the ascent of Isabel of Trastámara to become Queen Isabel I of Castilla, her marriage to King Fernando of Aragón, their crusades against the Jews and the Moors, and their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World. Juana La Loca also plays a big role in the final season.
From what I can tell, there are some liberties taken with the real timeline of events, but if your knowledge of Spanish history is less than elementary (as mine admittedly is) this show will at least give you the basics of this era. Just remember it’s historical fiction, not canon!
Isabel reminds me of Game of Thrones in that its characters are always vying to either maintain or usurp power. All the story lines come back to Isabel, but there are mini-plots woven in as well. You won’t find the dramatic battle scenes that GoT offers, most likely because Spain’s state-funded television channel can’t match budgets with subscription network HBO.
Yet I found the overall production value and design are very high. Surprisingly high, actually. Isabel and Gran Reserva (which alas, is no longer available for streaming in the US) are two shows that have comparable production value to shows on networks like ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX.
I loved Season One of Amar en Tiempos Revueltos, but the production quality of Isabel blows it out of the water. Coincidentally, both series star the handsome Rodolfo Sancho. He plays Antonio in ATR and gives life to el Rey Fernando (aka King Ferdinand) in Isabel. As for Queen Isabel, she is portrayed by Spanish actress Michelle Jenner, who also served as the Spanish voice of Hermione in all the Harry Potter movies!
Advanced Learners at TVE, Lower Levels at DramaFever (Possibly)
This series is for advanced Spanish speakers. The characters use the antiquated voseo form of address, which differs from modern voseo in South America. I think it can best be described as using the subject pronoun vos, the object pronoun os, and the vosotros conjugation for verbs addressing a single person instead of using tú or usted. Forgive the clumsy comparison, but think of it as “Shakespearean Spanish” if you will.
Despite having lived in Spain for six months, I never really did master using vosotros. No one ever emphasized it or insisted upon it in all my years of schooling, and the reason given was that as Americans we would interact primarily with speakers of Mexican and Central American Spanish, and they don’t use it. Now that I am considering taking one of the C-level DELE exams this year, I think I better get a handle on conjugating this beast. I found that watching Isabel helped me get used to hearing vosotros, since they use it all the time disguised as vos.
You might remember that TVE’s ATR streaming episodes also had options for helpful Spanish captions and episode transcripts to help you with your comprehension. Unfortunately, TVE’s site does not offer any of those features for Isabel.
However, I’ve discovered the website DramaFever.com has the first season of Isabel with English subtitles. I only watched a few minutes of the first episode there, but the subtitle translations appeared good quality to me.
I did have some problems getting the streaming video to load, though. I’m using the latest version of Firefox, and I had to clean my cookies, and then close my browser and restart it before I was able to get the first episode working.
But now I can’t get episodes two and three to load. I don’t know why, and I attempted some of the suggestions under the FAQ without any luck. Yet I did click the “pop-out subtitles” button below the black non-functioning media player, and the English subtitles still popped up in a separate box even though the video wouldn’t load. Maybe there is some way you can use those subtitles as an accompaniment to watching the episodes on the TVE site?
If you have any luck with this approach, please let me know in the comments. I am really curious about it. Or just let me know if DramaFever worked for you beyond the first episode, so I know whether it’s everyone or just I who am having this playback issue.
Also, each episode on DramaFever comes with a mature content warning and asks you to certify that you are over eighteen. I had never heard of DramaFever before, so I have to admit I was a little worried I’d been suckered into some weird porno site masquerading as TV shows. Something about the “fever” I guess. 🙂
It does seem though that DramaFever is a legitimate site that legally licenses its content. TVE is listed as a content partner on the Isabel series page, and when I did certify my age, I was shown the episode I expected, which was episode one.
In the fall of 2014 Isabel ended its original broadcast run in Spain, so it is a current series! I have watched all three seasons, and all that remains for me is the series finale.
The Isabel links, one more time
Official series website:
Streaming episodes on TVE (Seasons One through Three, no subtitles):
Streaming episodes on DramaFever (Season One, English subtitles):
So give it a shot and let me know what you think of it, os lo ruego!