At last week’s Iberseries, Movistar Plus+ Internacional unveiled “Natural Law,” one of its first forays into third-party acquisitions.
Produced by Arquipelago Filmes, it is co-created by Edgar Medina, whose previous series, “Sul,” received the Portuguese Film Academy Sophia award for best fictional series and the Portuguese Society of Authors award for best fictional program.
“Natural Law” originally broadcasted by RTP (Portugal), sees Medina, co-creator Rui Cardos Martins, and director Joao Nuno Pinto weave crime noir with courtroom drama to craft a narrative spanning seven episodes.
The series follows the impact of a teenager’s murder, as it reverberates throughout a tightknit community. It focuses on a small town judge, Ana, played by Margarida Vila-Nova, also seen in “Sul,” as she faces a dilemma which threatens her family. The criminal investigation unfolds with detectives Mario and Maria, played by Nuno Lopes and Caterina Wallenstein respectively.
The early episodes are steeped with foreboding, as the town comes to terms with the fallout from the crime. The mood is textured by a synth-heavy score from composer Justin Melland and a subdued palette from director Joao Nuno Pinto. The murder investigation is punctuated by small court proceedings of various local cases. The stories of the cases were adapted from best selling book “The Defendent May Rise” by Rui Cardoso Martins, who is co-creator of the series.
“Rui and I had a very strong dramatic premise as a starting point and our method was to explore to the most its force – that was the focus. Noir and Nordic Noir are part of the references of the show but we were inspired by so many other things,” Medina told Variety.
With the international successes of crime thrillers, Nordic Noir in particular, carving a niche as a country clearly has benefits. Whether Portugal can introduce audiences to a different flavour of noir that appeals globally is unknown but the genre is in high demand. “Audiences are accustomed to the conventions, they find them familiar, and that is a good starting point for a conversation which aims to be as global as possible,” said Medina, continuing, “That’s a good possible path for Portugueses series to connect with world audiences but I do it without any kind of cynicism. The discovery of a dead body is a great way to start a story but great shows are much more than that.”
The series represents a concerted push by local platforms such as Movistar Plus+, to compete with Netflix, Apple TV, et al by backing high production value dramas in the most internationally popular genres.
With “Natural Law,” it is clear great care has been taken to deepen the narrative with references to art and philosophy throughout. “As storytellers we strive for our stories to be not only entertaining, but help to shed a light on human nature and relations,” Medina said
Quality trumps most things. Movistar and similar local platforms will hope that by backing local talent to tell compelling stories, with high production values, that they will generate hits at home internationally. But Movistar Plus+ Internacional is now spreading its net from Spain to neighbouring Porrtugal. “Natural Law” was made with with support funding from ICA, Visit Portugal, Pic Portugal, Lisbon Film Commision, Caldas Da Ranha, and RTP.