The Vineyard (aka La Templanza), an Amazon runs over ten parts. Based on the novel of the same (Spanish) name by María Dueñas, it’s pure melodrama, but don’t let that stop you from watching it. Melodramas, after all, stand or fall on good characters and an engrossing plot, and The Vineyard, essentially an old-fashioned soap opera, has both.
The story begins in 1850 Spain in the famous wine-growing country around Jerez. The Montalvo family, headed by the venerable Don MatÍas (Emilio Guitiérrez Cabo), has big plans for marrying his elder granddaughter Inés (Ana Tomeno) to a middle-aged English wine merchant Edward Claydon (Nathaniel Parker), a widower with a young son. Don Matías means well, and Inés is anything but horrified by the prospect; she even blushes and smiles prettily when the engagement is announced.
But not everybody is happy about the match. A fledgling doctor, Manuel Ysasi (Marco Cáceres) loves her, and, heartbroken, pours out his soul to Inés’ younger sister Soledad (Carla Campra). Sol decides there’s nothing to do but approach Claydon and entreat him not to stand in the way of young love, and to her surprise he agrees, but only because he so admires Sol’s spunk that he quickly modifies his suit and asks Don Matías for her hand instead. Who’d have thought it! And even though Sol has her own love interest, this time the course of young love goes nowhere, and she is shackled to Claydon and moves to England.
Give the writers—and, I assume, Dueñas’ novel—credit: the plot has its share of surprises. In addition, there’s a second plot working in parallel. Mauro Larrea (César Mateo) in Spain loses his wife in childbirth, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, emigrates to Mexico with his newborn son and young daughter to work in the silver mines. It’s a tough life, but he discovers two things. The first is a talent for billiards, which he exercises to pick up extra cash; the second is intelligence of a “cursed” silver mine, just waiting for someone to ignore its multiple cave-ins and reap the rewards. He gains a partner, Tadeo Carrúz (Gerardo Martinez Trejo), tools, donkeys, and a crew that includes the loyal Santos Huesos (José Pescina). But the mine does seem cursed. They get nowhere, and Carrúz cashes in his share and leaves, but not Santos who swears that he saw signs of a vein. Mauro, Santos, and the crew persevere, and, you guessed it, strike it filthy rich.
Now these two plots unfold in about forty-five minutes when the story jumps ahead twenty years. The transition is handled well, but it is something of a shock because instead of using the same actors made-up to look older, The Vineyard brings in a new cast to play Mauro, Sol, Santos, and, when they appear, Inés and Manuel. However, the new Mauro and Sol quickly become familiar (with nine episodes to go, how could it be otherwise?). As for the story, marriage for Sol is a compromise of contentment over bliss, but she proves a dutiful wife who rears two lovely daughters. Ah, but melodrama requires conflict, usually with the help of fortune’s cruel hand and a villain or two. For Sol, fortune threatens her through Edward’s declining health (he is, after all, much older) and the appearance of his son Alan (Henry Pettigrew) who, behind a mask of good will, wants to destroy Sol and have her daughters declared bastards.
As for Mauro, wealth and relative happiness are his lot. He has not remarried, but he is on the verge of seeing both son and daughter happily wed. Disaster comes when a shipload of modern mining equipment he’s bought founders, leaving him all but broke. What to do? He goes to his former partner for a loan, offers as security all he has left, and heads for Cuba to raise more funds to save his house and reputation. There he meets Carola-Gorostiza (Juana Acosta) who, coincidentally, is married to Sol’s youthful flame. She is all afire to help Mauro, but her plan is shady; she’s tied up in the slave trade and wants to fill his pockets by enlisting his help. Where’s that going to lead?
One warning. Amazon Prime gives viewers the option of watching The Vineyard dubbed or with subtitles. I strongly recommend the latter. The scenes in England, which take up maybe a fourth of the action are un-dubbed in UK English; the Mexican and Spanish scenes are dubbed using flat American voices that spoil authenticity. If your vision is good and you don’t mind mixing viewing with reading, go with the original languages.
The Vineyard has its share of coincidences, believable and not so believable, but they won’t ruin the story. I must mention one glaring mistake in episode 5, when Sol and Edward leave England, heading for Jerez. Lo and behold, Mauro leaves Cuba for Spain about the same time, and somehow, as they approach the mother country, we see the hero and heroine on the same boat. This isn’t ships passing in the night so much as it’s two people on the same ship passing in the day with no explanation of how they got on the same deck.
For the record, they don’t speak on that occasion, so you may be curious about whether Mauro and Sol formally meet to tie the two plots together. But if you watch The Vineyard, you won’t wonder at all: Sol’s early voice-over narration reveals an eventual meeting. As to how that happens, I’ll only say it occurs amid a jumble of treachery, slavery, billiards, and wine. Is this confluence of plots like the gentle meeting of waters or, less happily, like two floods pouring down opposing mountainsides into a valley? Probably the latter, but it’s great fun. A fine wine? No, but tasty enough. Enjoy!