Video | The Juan Carlos documentary that Spanish state TV refuses to air

Watch key moments from the film about the ex-monarch, already acclaimed in France

Juan Carlos I was a major figure in Spain's transition to democracy after the Franco years.
Juan Carlos I was a major figure in Spain's transition to democracy after the Franco years.

French state television has broadcast a documentary about Spain’s former monarch that Spanish public network TVE has so far refused to air.

Yo, Juan Carlos I, rey de España (or, I, Juan Carlos I, King of Spain) was broadcast during primetime on Monday night on France 3.

Directed by Miguel Courtois, who also co-wrote the script with Laurence Debray, author of a biography of the Spanish ruler, the film reviews the last 40 years of Spain’s history through the eyes of Juan Carlos.

“This is absurd. In the end, Spaniards will have to travel to France to watch it, just like in Franco’s time”

Although TVE co-produced the documentary, it has so far declined to show it in Spain.

In the film, Juan Carlos sits inside his office and reviews key moments of his life and reign (1975-2014), including his first meeting with Franco, the tragic death of his brother in a gun-related accident, his own father’s influence, his own proclamation as king, and the legalization of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE).

The monarch, who abdicated in June 2014 in favor of his son Felipe VI, provides some little-known details about his reign (1975-2014) in a documentary that seeks to enlighten French viewers about recent Spanish history.

These are some of the highlights of the 90-minute film:

Juan Carlos arrives in Spain at the age of 10.

His arrival in Spain as a 10-year-old child, after being born in exile in Rome: “I think that nobody was as scared as I was,” recalls Juan Carlos. “I spoke Spanish with a French accent... and a 10-year-old child knows nothing about politics.”

Juan Carlos recalls living under Franco's wing.

– The years spent under Franco’s wing: “He called me to his office, and I was still a kid then,” he explains. “He was talking about who knows what, but the truth is I wasn’t paying attention, because there was a little mouse running around on the floor, and I kept staring at it. He realized and asked me what was going on, and I told him that I was focusing on the mouse.”

The former monarch, who has retained the honorary title of king, recalls that the dictator was a secretive man, and explains why he agreed to spend so many years with Franco and accept the title of head of state from him.

“If I hadn’t put up with what I put up with, then events wouldn’t have unfolded in Spain the way they did: the return of democracy and of parliamentary monarchy.”

The legalization of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). Juan Carlos unveils little-known details about his decision to legalize the Spanish Communist Party before the first democratic elections following Franco’s death. “I was very clear about the fact that there could be no democracy without the PCE,” he says on screen.

“I had the message conveyed to [PCE] leader Santiago Carrillo months in advance, warning him that I would give the order whenever and in whatever way I saw fit; he accepted the deal and supported the monarchy and the Spanish flag. Later, when we met, he apologized for having called me Juan Carlos the Brief.”

Juan Carlos has tears in his eyes as he remembers terrorism victims.

– Terrorism in Spain. “The worst moments of my reign were the terrorist attacks suffered by Spaniards for so many years; over 800 people dead,” says Juan Carlos with tears in his eyes. There are 829 deaths attributed to the Basque terrorist organization ETA, which announced a permanent end to armed violence in October 2011.

The TVE veto

Ana Teruel / Rosario G. Gómez

The French press has described the documentary, filmed over several months in 2014, as “an intimate and moving portrait of a personality with an exceptional destiny” and as a “brilliant” piece of work.

Yet the Spanish broadcaster feels that the production is of little interest to anyone, that it is taken out of context, and that it is no longer relevant.

“It’s about a king who is no longer king,” said a station spokesperson. “It is anchored in the past.” The source added that despite its French premiere, there are no plans to air the piece in Spain.

The deal between the French production company Cinétévé and TVE – which contributed archive footage – was brokered under RTVE chief Leopoldo González-Echenique. But he was replaced in September 2014 by a new president, José Antonio Sánchez, and relations cooled off.

Cinétévé handed over the finished production to TVE months ago, but there are no indications that a Spanish voiceover has even been added.

“We have a treasure, which is this interview with the king just a few months before his abdication, and that we want to share with Spanish audiences,” said filmmaker Miguel Courtois at a recent press screening of the film. “This is absurd. In the end, Spaniards will have to travel to France to watch it, just like in Franco’s time.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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