John C Adams Reviews 'Alta Mar'
Updated: Jun 7
Alta Mar (Netflix, 2019-20)
'Alta Mar' is today's One-Star Wednesday offering, but what do you do when you love your One-Star item so much you can't stop watching it? Answer, file under 'guilty pleasures' of course.
My daughter and I watched 'Alta Mar' in the original Spanish with English subtitles and a second time dubbed into English ('High Seas'). On balance, we felt it retained the feel of a Spanish soap opera much better using subtitles. After a single episode, we were hooked.
The action takes place onboard the ocean liner 'Barbara de Braganza'. Trapped together on a transatlantic voyage from Spain to Brazil, almost every passenger appears to have something to hide. Sisters Eva and Carolina want very different things out of life. Carolina is about to marry the ship's owner and enjoy a life of luxury and ease, waited on hand and foot by a veritable army of servants. Eva longs to become a writer. Meanwhile, co-owner of the ship Natalia is finding marriage a burden, and she takes refuge in drunkenly snarling at everyone who approaches her at the bar. The ship has barely left port when a young woman stowaway is flung over the side of the ship.
In Season One, the three main plot strands centre around love, marriage and family. Eva's onboard romance with a ship's officer brings heartache as he is about to be reunited with his wife, having recently discovered that she survived the war. Caroline worries that her fiance won't prove faithful, and is disturbed by the disintegrating marriage of her soon-to-be sister-in-law Natalia. Most of the action is provided by the third plot strand: Carolina and Eva discover that their father Carlos is alive two years after his supposed death, is onboard ship and is trying to smuggle himself, his pregnant lover and some Nazi wealth over to Latin America to begin a new life.
'Alta Mar' is set in the late 1940s, so the costumes, hats and makeup all epitomised the glamour of the era of the oceangoing liner. The sets were very good at reflecting the ostentatious luxury of the period in the kind of flamboyant tastes that still grace cruise ships today. Every opportunity was taken to change apparel, with a step up to black-tie glamour and sparkly evening gowns on a nightly basis. Make up was perpetually flawless, and there were times when I wondered how even such pampered individuals could spare enough from preening themselves to solve complex mysteries with such aplomb.
The soap opera feel of high jinx at sea gave the series a lightness that balanced the more gruelling aspect of Natalia's husband's sexual predations and the sinister tone of Eva's investigation into the disappearance of the young woman, her father's smuggling of Nazi assets and the related mystery of which family members used their business to support the Third Reich during the war. There was much that was serious and thought provoking in terms of the reckoning that almost every European nation went through postwar about collaboration with the Nazis.
I've listed 'Alta Mar' under 'One-Star Wednesday' for its irrepressibly frothy tone and style. The hilarity of the twisted plot, improbable combinations of passengers onboard ship and many highly unlikely reasons for being there meant that, more heavy-weight themes notwithstanding, I wasn't ever quite able to take it seriously. That didn't stop me thoroughly enjoying Season One, though by Season Two it felt like the ship's transatlantic voyage would never end and the contortions needed to introduce a fresh set of plot strands into the same trip before the ship had even landed in Brazil were becoming a little tired. Nevertheless, my daughter and I loved it, even if we shamefacedly avoided looking each other in the eye whenever one of us casually suggested watching 'just one more episode'.
'Alta Mar' was renewed in 2020 for a third, and final, season.
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Many thanks to photographer Juanra Nu for providing the cover image for this blog via freeimages.com