• Stanley Tucci in 'La Fortuna' (Telefonica Audiovisual)Source: Telefonica Audiovisual
Plundering between the lines of the law, this rollicking drama depicts a stoush over the discovery of deep sea treasure.
Stephen A. Russell

7 Dec 2021 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 9 Dec 2021 - 7:45 AM

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That applies equally to treasure hunters too. We celebrate the big screen adventuring of archaeologists like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, but from another perspective, they’re rampant colonial thieves plundering desecrated graves.

Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar (The Others, Vanilla Sky) works this good guy/bad guy duality to great effect in the opening moments of his TV show debut, La Fortuna. A lavish co-production with the US, it opens with a fun bait and switch featuring Stanley Tucci as billionaire explorer Frank Wild. We meet him aboard a research ship loaded with hi-tech gadgets, including a deep-sea diving camera not unlike those favoured by Titanic filmmaker James Cameron.

Amenábar playfully encourages us to root for Wild as he discovers a long-lost shipwreck on the ocean’s floor, near the Rock of Gibraltar, that’s positively bulging with doubloons. Surely he’s a good guy, as he slips his geekily overjoyed daughter one of these glimmering golden coins on the down-low?

It’s easy to convince us Tucci is legit. Sure, he has played outright villains, including serial killer George Harvey in The Lovely Bones and Caesar Flickerman, the mouthpiece of a tyrannical, child-slaughtering empire in The Hunger Games movies. But more often than not, we’re used to him flexing his mercurially impish charms for good. Amenábar counts on this to temporarily hoodwink us with Tucci’s sparkle, before we realised things are not so simple. The find has been surreptitiously snapped up by a scruffy man on a teeny boat nearby, and he seems unimpressed with Wild’s quest.

We then leap headlong into the corridors of power in Madrid. Soon we see a very different side of the story through the rapidly opening eyes of rookie cultural diplomat Álex (Álvaro Mel, A Different View). A conservative young man who runs along Madrid’s streets of an evening listening to classic operas, his worldview is blown wide open when he’s contacted in the middle of the night by Lucía (Ana Polvorosa, Cable Girls).

Lucía is a chain-smoking heritage expert, a proud lesbian and a progressive warrior ignored by most of the government. She’s convinced the ship is a Spanish vessel sunk by the British Empire, sparking a desperate race to lay claim to the bounty, as assisted by American maritime lawyer Jonas (Clarke Peters, Da 5 Bloods), who has his own beef with Wild.

Wild fights back vehemently, assisted by right-hand woman Susan, as played by the increasingly ubiquitous, towering presence that is Years and Years star T’Nia Miller. She quickly enacts a claim that forces the Spanish wonks to prove their case within the week, something Wild gambles their torturously intransigent bureaucracy will not be able to do.

This battle of wills is based loosely on Paco Roca and Guillermo Corral’s graphic novel El Tesoro del Cisne Negro, itself dredging up a real-life legal stoush that saw Spain go head-to-head with the US over the discovery of the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes in 2007. It was sunk by the dastardly naval forces of the British Empire in 1804. A dramatic flashback depicts this scene, whisking in a little familial tragedy to egg the pudding.

La Fortuna combines this historical skulduggery with contemporary action thriller set pieces alongside the sort of snappy political sniping you get from the likes of Aaron Sorkin or Armando Iannucci. It’s a jolly old tussle that relishes its central idea of laying claim to ‘truth’ long submerged.

La Fortuna premieres exclusively in Australia and is now streaming at SBS On Demand

Follow the author @SARussellwords

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