“The worst moments of my reign were the terrorist attacks that the Spanish people have suffered for so many years; more than 800 people dead,” says Spain’s former monarch Juan Carlos with tears in his eyes, in a scene from a new documentary that Spanish public broadcaster RTVE is now refusing to show.
Earlier this month, I attended a private screening of the 150-minute documentary, a French-Spanish co-production made by Miguel Courtois and Juan Carlos biographer Laurence Debray. Commissioned by French state television, it was filmed between late 2013 and mid-2014, and also uses archive footage.
As the king’s former communications director, I am baffled by RTVE’s decision not to show the film”
The production was ready to be aired on the first anniversary of the king’s abdication, but the channel has now blocked its screening. “It’s a product that is no longer current,” said a spokesperson from RTVE. “It deals with a king who is no longer king.”
I might as well admit that as Juan Carlos’ former communications director, having overseen the five hours of interviews with Juan Carlos at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, I am not the most impartial observer. This might explain why I am baffled by RTVE’s explanations as to why it will not keep up its end of the deal and show the film, which will be broadcast by TF3 this fall on prime-time television in neighboring France.
“No response” from the PP
When the editing of the documentary was completed, TVE called on the producer to include interviews from a representative of the governing Popular Party (PP). The channel based this demand on the fact that the appearance of two Socialist politicians, Alfonso Guerra and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, needed to be balanced out. “The film is historic,” counters director Miguel Courtois. “And at the key moments of the Transition [to democracy] the protagonists were the Socialists. To narrate the attempted coup d’état it was more logical to speak to politicians from the era than with [current Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy.”
The producer was willing to include an interview with a high-ranking politician from the PP – which at the time of the Transition was known as the People’s Alliance (Alianza Popular), and was mostly made up of former Franco-era figures. “But we never received a response [from the PP],” explains Courtois, who argues in favor of the appearance of Guerra and Rubalcaba in the film – “They explain what happened with great intelligence and talent” – and also points out that no one from any other Spanish parties appears in the final cut.
The film opens with Juan Carlos’ abdication on June 2, 2014, and then looks back over his life from when he arrived in Madrid as a child from Lisbon, where his father had taken up residence, until his own son, Felipe VI was proclaimed king on June 19, 2014. Neither Courtois or Debray knew that Juan Carlos was going to abdicate while they were interviewing him, but looking at the footage now there are clues in both Juan Carlos’ and Felipe’s comments.
The interviews took place in Juan Carlos’ office, with the former monarch seated at his desk watching footage of his life and times on a TV screen. Laurence Debray then asked him questions about key events, to which Juan Carlos comments; sometimes off the top of his head, and other times by saying nothing. He seems comfortable in front of the cameras, and seems sincere: sometimes upbeat, other times determined to make his point, and on others melancholic, such as when he discusses the tragic death of his brother (“I miss him greatly”), or his difficult relationship with his father, Don Juan de Borbón. “I now believe that my father’s abdication should have been a more solemn occasion, with more pomp, because that is what he deserved,” he says looking into the camera: “He was a man who gave up everything for democracy and for the monarchy.”
Asked about his first meeting with General Francisco Franco, in 1948, Juan Carlos laughs. “He called me to a meeting in his office and I was just a kid then. He talked about all sorts of things and to tell the truth, I wasn’t really listening to him because there was a small mouse running around the floor and all I could do was look at it, and I told him that was what deserved my attention.” But when pressed on why he stood by Franco for almost 30 years, finally inheriting the position of head of state, he becomes more serious. “If I hadn’t put up with what I put up with, then what happened to Spain next wouldn’t have happened: the restoration of democracy and a parliamentary democracy.”
Juan Carlos also reveals little-known aspects about his decision to legalize the Communist Party in the run up to the country’s first democratic elections after the death of Franco. “I was absolutely convinced that without the Communist Party there couldn’t be democracy. I made sure that Santiago Carrillo [the head of the party] knew months ahead, warning that I would do so how and when I chose. He accepted the deal and supported the monarchy and the Spanish flag. Later, when we met, he apologized for calling me Juan Carlos the Brief; imagine that.”
Juan Carlos also reveals little-known aspects about his decision to legalize the Communist Party in the run up to the country’s first democratic elections
What’s also interesting is the way that Juan Carlos minimizes the importance of many of the most important decisions of his reign, such as sacking Carlos Arias Navarro, one of the leading figures of the Franco regime, as his prime minister in 1976, or the decision to pursue the full democratization of Spain.
“The truth is that by then I had inherited Franco’s power,” he says smiling, “and I rejected it because there was no other way forward than democracy.”
The successor to the Spanish throne, Felipe, also appears in the documentary. He praises his father and grandfather, explaining that Juan Carlos always told him that he would have to stamp his own identity on the monarchy. Felipe knew during the filming that his father intended to step down and that he would indeed be taking a new approach to the job of head of state.
A king talking about his reign was something exceptional, a unique audiovisual testimony that will lose its character if its broadcast is delayed”
But for now, at least, no one in Spain will get the chance to see the film. Even its directors are puzzled as to why. “We are not journalists,” the executive producer from Cinétévé, Lucie Pastor, said about the production. “We work in a historical format that has no place within politics. This is a documentary work, not a news format.” For Pastor, “a king talking about his reign was something exceptional, a unique audiovisual testimony that will lose its character if its broadcast is delayed.”
Additional reporting by Rosario G. Gómez.