On My Watchlist: The Time in Between – A Review

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Every so often I check out another drama that’s not Korean. The Time In Between (currently available on DramaFever) is one such drama. This Spanish drama blends history, fashion, and espionage seamlessly as it follows a humble seamstress who becomes an undercover agent for the Allies in the years leading up to World War II.

The Time In Between is an adaptation of Maria Dueñas’ New York Times’ Bestseller El Tiempo Entre Costuras. The heroine is Sira Quiroga (played by a stunning Adriana Ugarte), a young seamstress who works with her mother in a high-end dressmaker’s workshop in Madrid. Her talent grows as does her beauty, and she attracts the attention of an aspiring ministry employee, Ignacio. Just when they’re about to marry though, she meets the roguishly handsome Ramiro (Rubén Cortada), who sweeps her off her feet and away from Ignacio’s loving and safe arms.

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Watch the trailer here:

Given the opportunity now to live her life for herself, she escapes to Morocco with her new boyfriend. However, hopes of building a future together is dashed when she realizes that Ramiro is nothing but a lavish spender with no desire to work. After racking up more debt than he can manage he abandons her just as she’s become pregnant.

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She loses the child and must now work to repay Ramiro’s debts, and this is when her life really changes for the better. Though under the watchful eye of Detective Vasquez (who’s afraid she’ll run without paying it off), she blossoms as a kindly innkeeper Candelaria recognizes her talents and helps her set up a workshop in Tétouan, Morocco. She quickly gains the favor of the many British and German expatriates there with her modern Parisian styles and befriends Rosalinda Fox (Hannah New), the British lover of the current Spanish Chief of Indigenous Affairs Juan Luis Beigbeder (Tristán Ulloa). Their friendship is one that lasts through all the years and pulls them through the most difficult moments of their lives.

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When the Spanish Civil War breaks out Sira would do anything to get her mother to safety in Morocco. Enter Marcus Logan (Peter Vives), a dashing British journalist with a secret who promises to help Sira in exchange for information about Beigbeder. Naturally they fall madly in love with each other, but with the heartbreak Sira experienced with an equally mysterious man, she’s not ready to give her heart to him. Marcus’ extended stay in Morocco attracts the suspicions of Detective Vasquez, and he’s chased out of the country with only the hope that he and Sira can meet again.

History happens, and Rosalinda Fox and Beigbeder are bid to Spain, leaving Sira alone with her mother and her best friend/possibly-gay neighbor Félix. (I say ‘possibly-gay’ as a way of expressing my disappointment because he was such a sweet and gentle friend to her that I had hoped she could find love and happiness with him… until I realized that they would never have that kind of love and happiness together. It’s a shame because Félix is a really good person, and Sira deserved some happiness.) But more history happens, and with Francisco Franco ruling Spain the country is pulled ever closer to Nazi Germany. You all know where this would lead to…

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With her connections in high places, Rosalinda Fox recommends her to the British Secret Service as a possible undercover agent. With a new name (Aris Agoriuq, which is the backwards spelling of her name) and a new passport she returns to Madrid to be the dressmaker for all of Madrid’s elite German wives. Through the wives she is to learn of their husbands’ plans and parties where they will do business, and then relay the information to the British through Morse code on the patterns of her designs. Quite ingenious really.

However, Sira is quite unforgettable and she finds herself face to face with her past. Her past threatens to reveal her cover as well as her safety during her increasingly dangerous missions. While we all know how history resolves World War II, Sira plays an invaluable role in the Allies’ effort to prevent Spain from entering another disastrous war.

I don’t know how faithful the drama’s adaptation to the book is (which on a side note, you can easily get here), but the way it plays out makes me think I am reading an annotated book because it goes from one incident to the next very quickly, as if the drama is trying to hit all the main points in the book. Nevertheless the drama holds up very well on its own, and is a piece of art for the fashion and the locations that lend itself to the overall beautiful cinematography of this series.

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First up: the fashion. OH. MY. GOD. The fashion was gorgeous. It started off with simple dresses in a lot of floral patterns and wide collars, and were totally not my style. However, a lot of people liked Sira’s work so I guess I had to too to go along with the drama. But then she started making the evening gowns, and the progressively became more and more daring and elegant. More skin was shown, but silhouettes remained refined. I loved that she kept her own dresses classy and understated so as not to overshadow her clients’ designs, and yet managed to be far more stunning than anyone else’s. I will complain that the better clothes came in the latter half of the series, but at least it was worth the wait. If you’re into classic fashion of the 1930s-1940s and like Coco Chanel’s work then just watch this series for the clothes and the hair.

Secondly: the locations. I have never wanted to go to Morocco, Madrid, or Lisbon more in my life until after watching this drama. The Time In Between really showed off the beauty and Old World grandeur of these locations and I can’t help but marvel at the historic beauty of the European capitals. After watching so many Korean dramas where the buildings are either cosmopolitan high rises, straw-thatched roofs over mud houses from the past, or humble apartment buildings in the middle of the city, I can’t help but marvel at the marble stone buildings and the colorfully tiled Moorish interiors. Don’t get me wrong – Asian dramas and buildings have their own attractions. But it’s really nice to be reminded of the European attractions as well.

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Now as for the characters… We don’t get much time to really know all the characters except for Sira, but we all do know one thing: They all love Sira. (Even the baddies.) It gets established pretty quickly and very convincingly even though these characters may only appear for one or two episodes and can be difficult to do in so short a time. Adriana Ugarte plays Sira with such fragility in the beginning that you know she’s making foolish mistakes because of her naiveté and youth. She starts out as a selfish character, but that selfishness is rooted in her immaturity rather than a greed for material things. And then as the series goes on she becomes a stronger and willful woman, to the point where she’d assign herself a mission when her British handler would tell her to stop. She becomes more selfless, and in that you see her mature, and become a better and stronger person spiritually. But all throughout she is charming and loving that you can’t help but like her or trust her. She’s a very lucky woman to have a revolving door of men in her life though, and most of them end up taking a paternal role over her because they can’t help but want to protect her. I wish that sometimes she could recognize earlier how lucky she is to have these men care for her. But it’s not just men who like her, it’s also all of her girlfriends and clients. She has an alluring and irresistible draw that makes her clients want to go to her for all their dresses when they don’t even know her, and she manages to be so good to her friends that they remain forever loyal to her no matter what dangerous business she ends up in.

The actors are also given time to act out the characters’ emotional turmoil with only their expressions without so much of a soliloquy explaining their feelings or even flashbacks. Speaking of flashbacks, I think I only saw one use of it in this drama and it was used most effectively. Instead of using a flashback to explain every emotional moment like all K-dramas, this one was used to reintroduce a character we met briefly in the beginning of the series and were likely to have forgotten who he was. I was most definitely grateful for this because I had totally forgotten who he was.

A lot of decisions (both good and bad) made in the drama are fueled by love, whether it’s love for one another, love by friendship, love of country, love of family, or even love of money. But it’s a powerful motive that allows Sira to complete her missions to the best of her abilities.  Of course, being a Spanish drama it was much more sensual and passionate than your average Korean drama, but not more risque than your average American drama. And no outright nudity – can you believe it!? It is definitely a new experience watching a drama where everyone’s body language signifies a sensual closeness even if no romantic feelings are involved. I guess it’s just the difference between Spanish and Korean culture, and it’s not just the fact that the actors are closer together to fit in the frame.

The Time In Between is inherently a romantic melodrama but it’s not without the tension of an espionage thriller. While a lot of Sira’s spying tactics are quite rudimentary because she’s not given handy gadgets from a Spanish ‘Q’, it makes it all the more nerve-wracking because she can easily get caught anytime, anywhere. If her underhanded schemes get found out she can easily be blacklisted or killed, and thus fail her mission. And it is so easy to fail because she is working with a tightly-knit group of social elites within Madrid. There have been several times when I hold my breath out of fear, even though I know she has to survive because there’s still one more episode to watch. Then again, this was also a drama where I was unsure how it would end until it ended.

Unfortunately though, I think the part where this drama was at its best was in the episodes before she started her final and most important mission. I felt the series lag a bit towards the end and it was probably because I could not believe in what she was doing in Portugal. I could not believe in her espionage tactics and I could not believe that she was getting away with it. It’s one of those things where I start to question if the drama is letting her get away with it out of convenience and laziness. The final episode tied up things too neatly than I think was necessary and (sadly) didn’t return to characters I cared about.

Despite all this, the drama is still really good. The history buff in me enjoyed watching the beginnings of World War II from a different perspective and the girly-girl in me ate up all the fashion. Also the men are SO. HOT. I know it’s shallow of me to mention this but did I mention that Ramiro is HOT!? Tall, dark and handsome with GREEN eyes. My goodness… And then while Ignacio and Marcus Logan were Ramiro’s paler counterparts and frankly not as striking because of that irritable mustache they don, their charm and onscreen presence more than made up for their looks.

Verdict: 8/10. I highly recommend that you check it out if you have the time.

Programming note: The drama aired in Spain as 11 episodes at about 80 minutes each. DramaFever has it split into 17 episodes in more manageable 40-minute chunks. I think watching it in 40-minute segments definitely helped urge my need to marathon because it would feel like the episode went by so fast and I’d need to watch the next one right away.

 

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