RThe arrival of osa Vargas to a small town in northwestern Spain to investigate the disappearance of a young woman marked an unlikely milestone. Vargas is the fictional police detective in The taste of margaritas (Bitter Daisies), which in 2019 became the first series in Galician, a language spoken by less than 2.5 million people, broadcast by Netflix. The series became one of the top 10 most watched non-English language shows in the UK and Ireland just a month after its international launch.
A decade after Nordic noir captured the attention of international television audiences, a television genre that some call “Galician noir” is emerging from the rainy corner of Spain. HBO debuted in the Galician language last year with a Spanish-Portuguese miniseries Dry water (Dry Water), a murder mystery set in the port city of Vigo, which was soon followed by the Galician-produced police thriller Unit (La Unidad) on the Spanish subscription platform Movistar +. More recently, The mess you leave (The mess you leave behind) based on a novel by screenwriter Carlos Montero, released on Netflix in December.
The rise of Galician productions is part of a wave of Spanish dramas that have had worldwide success, among which Netflix shows such as the teenage thriller stand out. Elite, also written by Montero, and The Money Heist (Money Heist) – The most watched non-English language show on the platform. Seeing the potential for Spain to reach audiences not just in Latin America but around the world, Netflix established its first European production hub in Madrid in 2019 and has been investing heavily in Spanish content, with a focus on “Local stories created by local talents and produced locally”.
Galicia offers a good starting point thanks to its landscape, strikingly different from the rest of Spain, and an existing film industry, according to Ghaleb Jaber Martínez, one of the Bitter Daisies scriptwriters. “Galicia has a great diversity of landscapes, cities, towns, sea, mountains … and that is always very attractive for fiction,” he says. “We also have a network of film industry workers with great technical and creative skills.” Last month, Amazon Prime was the last platform to launch a Galician production with 3 Paths, a drama series about a group of friends who come together as they travel the Camino de Santiago route.
But it is the stories of crimes that emerge from Galicia that have their roots in the literature of the region. As part of a broader cultural movement, literary crime fiction took off in the 1980s after the success of Carlos G. Reigosa’s detective story. Crime in Compostela. Galicia has long been a landing place for pirates and smugglers, and its recent history has been plagued by drug trafficking, a common theme that runs through several Galician crime novels. In the last decade, the genre has continued to grow, most notably with Domingo Villar’s bestseller Death on a Galician Shore and Nacho Carretero’s non-fiction book. Farina, which was adapted into a television show and premiered internationally on Netflix as Cocaine coast in 2018. Public institutions even recognized a new subgenus called Viguesa crime novel, dedicated to the many criminal stories set in the city of Vigo.
When it comes to bringing these stories to life for the screen, Galician landscapes play a leading role. From its rugged coastline and sandy beaches to its windy coastal towns and mountainous countryside, it offers a variety of mostly rural settings that are particularly suited to these kinds of stories. “There is a different light, a different atmosphere, and that helps with the tone of a thriller,” says Diego Ávalos, vice president of original content at Netflix Spain. “It’s a place that, on the surface, seems very peaceful and that lends itself to narrative tension.”
“There is a ‘saturation’ of Madrid and other big cities,” says Martínez. “As with Nordic Noir, bringing history to a small town in Galicia simply offers a new environment, something authentic that moves away from the more uniform aesthetics of a city.” Like Bitter Daisies, Montero’s The Mess You Leave Behind, based on his novel of the same name, takes place in a city, where the tight-knit community is haunted by the mysterious death of a teacher at the local high school. It was precisely the village mentality that provided the intensity that Montero was looking for. “I come from a small town like that, where everyone knows each other and where you have to fight to preserve your little corner of privacy. It’s the perfect setting to develop a mystery story, “he says.
The Galician narrative tradition goes hand in hand with decades of film and television production promoted by the regional channel in Galician, which served as an important driving force in the sector. The great talent pool in the region is reflected in these new productions, such as The mess you leave behind, where 85% of the creative and technical team is Galician. “Televisión de Galicia has always opted for fiction, and that is where many of the creators come from,” says Martínez. “The film industry managed to work with very few resources, but this allowed creativity to flourish,” he says. The arrival of Netflix, HBO Spain (which was launched in 2016), Amazon and Movistar + have given the local industry the opportunity to go international. “There is no doubt that Televisión de Galicia has been an important lever,” says Emma Lustres, who has produced The Mess You Leave Behind and Unit. “And now we are lucky to have Netflix and other platforms, which have suddenly put us on the map.”
Streaming platforms have accelerated the growth and global reach of TV shows in languages other than English, a trend started by Scandinavian and Korean drama, and now benefiting other European regions. “One of the best things about TV shows is that you always want to learn more. You want to discover a new place in the world that you didn’t know, and language has a lot to do with that, ”says Montero.
As Netflix steps up its dubbing efforts, shows like Bitter Daisies, which is only shown in Spanish on the platform, continue to show that subtitling is not a barrier to reaching English-speaking audiences. For Montero, it’s about telling universal and relatable stories. “I think about the audience I know, and if it moves me, hopefully it will move someone else, even if they live in New York,” he says. “What changes is the hyperlocal environment, and that is what makes it much more authentic, if you are true to yourself and your place.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism