Dr García will see you now
Director Joan Noguera previews Spanish period drama Los pacientes del doctor García (The Patients of Dr García), an adaptation of Almudena Grandes’ sweeping novel involving war criminals and fugitives set between the Second World War and Franco’s Spain.
Los pacientes del doctor García (The Patients of Dr García) is the fourth instalment in Spanish author Almudena Grandes’ Episodios de una guerra interminable (Episodes of an endless war) series – and the first of her books to be adapted for television.
The story connects the Second World War and Francoist Spain, depicting the lives of characters who are impacted by the affairs of both Spain and Argentina. The series follows republican doctor Guillermo García (Javier Rey), living in Madrid under a false identity following Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. In a story filled with intrigue and deception, Dr García becomes embroiled in an undercover operation involving war criminals and fugitives.
The ensemble cast is led by Rey, alongside Tamar Novas (Dr García’s best friend Manuel Arroyo) and Verónica Echegui (Amparo Priego), while production took place on location in the Spanish cities of Segovia, Madrid and Guadalajara.
The series, which debuted last month at the Festival de Málaga, is produced by Spanish broadcaster RTVE, Diagonal TV (Banijay Iberia) and DeAPlaneta, in association with Netflix. It is directed by Joan Noguera (Isabel, Sin identidad) and written by José Luis Martín (Isabel).
Here, Noguera tells DQ about the significance of adapting the late Grandes’ work, finding a visual style for a story spanning 40 years and the challenge of ageing actors with prosthetics.
How did you join the project?
It was a simple process really. Diagonal TV, a Banijay Iberia company, called me and asked me to direct the series. I was immediately taken with the idea of coming on board and bringing the epic novel to life for television.
What was your interest in making the series? Had you read Almudena Grandes’ novel?
I was absolutely interested from the outset, both because of the significance of the project and because it was the first time that a novel by Almudena Grandes was going to be fictionalised for TV.
As soon as we started talking about the project, I ran to buy the novel. It engaged me so much that I finished reading it before we started pre-production. The Patients of Dr García won the National Narrative Award in 2018, and as it focuses on part of the history of Spain, you can imagine what it has meant to me as a director.
How would you describe the series? Is it a faithful adaptation?
I would define it as a spectacular fresco of Spain from 1936 to 1976, and an intimate portrait of friendship and loyalty. José Luis, the scriptwriter, has done a magnificent job with this totally faithful adaptation. It’s true some things had to be left out, since reducing the novel to 10 episodes, with everything that happens in it, is impossible. But I’m convinced Almudena’s readers will love it. Almudena, before passing away, was able to read some scripts and see the cast, and I’m incredibly proud that she really liked both.
Can you compare it to anything you have made before?
All projects are different, and all are important, but in this case, it is hugely significant. On the one hand, this is because it’s a period novel, starting in Madrid in 1936 and ending 40 years later, touring different countries. On the other, it is important to me because of what it means – it’s a work by one of the most prominent authors in Spanish literature.
How do you usually prepare for a new series – and was this project any different?
As a period drama, this series needed special care, especially as it is set across a number of years. With that, we had numerous challenges in terms of costumes, settings and make-up. In addition, the story travels through different countries at different times. Having the different departments collaborate was essential to the evolution of the series. The more we got into the history, the more we learnt, and we enjoyed adapting this wonderful work.
What were your initial thoughts on how you might create a visual language for the series, which features different countries and a large number of characters?
First, we did a study of the different moments and the different countries that appear in the series, and from there we began to work. For example, the Madrid in 1936 at the beginning of the series, when Franco’s troops besieged the city and are bombing it, does not resemble at all the Madrid of 1976, after the death of the dictator. Viewers will also get to see the visual differences between the countries in which the novel takes place.
How did you work with writer José Luis Martín?
José Luis has done an impressive job, since it is not easy at all to adapt Almudena’s novel in 10 episodes. Throughout the novel, many things happen, and José Luis captures the way in which Almudena narrates the story, with a unique profile of each character and their relationships. This adaptation is very authentic and Almudena’s readers will approve of the effort.
The series was filmed in Segovia, Madrid and Guadalajara. How did you use the locations?
The series was filmed almost entirely outdoors, which meant we needed highly skilled staff across production, art direction and direction. Many of the locations that appear in the series are those that feature in the novel. We have tried to always be faithful to the period and the evolution of architecture. We use the same locations, but sometimes with a difference of 20 years in the series. Therefore, this evolution must also be shown.
In Segovia, in the Río Frío Palace, we recreated the interior and exterior of the San Carlos Hospital, which was the building where the Reina Sofía Museum is located today. We generated the exterior of the old Atocha station using VFX.
In Guadalajara, we recreated the interior and exterior of La Meridiana, the transport company that appears in the novel, in addition to many other locations such as gyms and cells. No matter where the story was set, whether Madrid, Berlin, London, or Argentina, we always stayed true to the historical architecture as a priority. And we are very happy with the results.
Was it challenging to recreate this period of history on location?
It’s difficult to recreate a street from 1936 in Madrid, because of both fixed and mobile architecture – the streets, the sidewalks, the trams. Recreating a barge in the estuary and filming a chase scene in bombed Berlin was very complex, hence the need to work a lot with VFX.
What other challenges did you face making the series?
One of the biggest challenges was filming the entire drama with the same actors and depicting ageing through prostheses. It is very laborious. And for the actor, the evolution of the character is very complex. Another great challenge, as already mentioned, was the different locations, and especially dressing the characters over time – with more than 2,500 extras.
Were there any memorable scenes or moments from shooting the drama?
There was a very emotional moment: one day after Almudena’s burial, in the Almudena Civil Cemetery in Madrid, by chance we went to film some sequences from the novel that appear in the series, since the location had already been scheduled in advance. It was very intense.
How does the series seek to push the boundaries of traditional period dramas?
It covers a very wide arc of time, as well as several countries.
Why might the show appeal to international audiences?
Well, without any doubt, the first thing is that it is a reliable recreation of a work by Almudena Grandes, a writer who is read all over the world. And although The Patients of Dr García tells the history of Spain at that time, it also presents the regime’s relationship with the Nazis, the basis of the plot, and places part of the series in Argentina, London, Berlin… On the other hand, we also wanted to make a more international series in which non-Spanish characters were played by Spanish actors, such as Martina Gusmán, Stephanie Cayo and Marius Biega.
What are you working on next?
I’m waiting for another project but, as always, I’ll be cautious and not comment on anything yet. I’m still enjoying The Patients of Dr García and waiting for the broadcast. I want people to enjoy this drama because we have done it with great affection and respect. Our sadness is that we would have loved if Almudena could have seen it. Wherever she is, I hope she can enjoy it.
tagged in: Almudena Grandes, Banijay Iberia, DeAPlaneta, Diagonal TV, Javier Rey, Joan Noguera, José Luis Martín, Los pacientes del doctor García, Netflix, RTVE, Tamar Novas, The Patients of Dr García, Verónica Echegui