Adapted from the Spanish novel La Catedral del Mar, Cathedral Of The Sea is a highly ambitious, impressively shot period drama rife with gorgeous cinematography and a slowly unravelling story. Split across 8 episodes clocking in around an hour a piece, the characters are given enough time to grow with believable arcs, especially Arnau who’s rag-to-riches story forms the crux of the plot. Inconsistent pacing and a lacklustre middle portion do hold this back from being a better series but there’s enough here to make Cathedral Of The Sea a well written and enjoyable show nonetheless.
The story begins with Bernat Estanyol (Daniel Grao), a humble farmer bound to wed Francesca Esteve (Nathalie Poza). After a brief moment of happiness together, a black cloud descends on their marriage in the form of the Lord Of Bella who appears unceremoniously at the wedding. After using his feudal rights to bed Francesca, their fractured marriage sees a glimmer of happiness 9 months later in the form of their first son, Arnau.
This sets the foundation and mood of the show as Bernat tirelessly works to carve out a future for his son after escaping the clutches of the Lord Of Bella. As the series progresses and time skips forward by several years at a time, the spotlight shifts from Bernat to Arnau as we follow his journey from a stonemason to a wealthy and high powered citizen struggling to maintain a path of righteousness in the face of temptation. Acting as a backdrop to this character-driven story is the construction of the Santa Maria del Mar, an iconic cathedral built as a tribute to the Virgin Mary which forms the historical crux for the drama.
While the story itself unfolds nicely, regularly jumping forward in time as Arnau grows into an adult, the series suffers from an inconsistent pacing that eventually grinds to a slow crawl during the middle portion of the show. The characterisation is generally high quality though and the various plot developments are interesting enough to keep you watching but in comparison to the first episode which moves the story along at a steady pace, Cathedral Of The Sea never quite matches the same intensity and engrossment this had.
The real stand out though is the production design and general aesthetic of the show. Both are outstanding and really help give Cathedral Of The Sea a big-budget feel. Vast stretches of the run time are set in exterior locations too with costumes, set design and general dialogue choices accurately reflecting the time frame with no anachronisms to be seen. Tonally, the show hovers around serious, emotionally charged drama and tragedy for much of the run time which feeds into the colour palette which remains muted and cold for almost the entire duration of the series.
Having not read the novel it’s difficult to know how faithful to the Spanish book this 8 part series is but based on the material that’s here in this slowly evolving story, Cathedral Of The Sea is an impressively shot, technically impressive period drama. Those after an interesting period drama set in the Middle Ages will find enough enjoyment with this Netflix Original to make it worth watching.