Lives of Spain's royals become a soap opera

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The Independent Online

The courtship of the Spanish Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia has always had all the makings of a blockbuster film: glamour, power, secrecy. All that was missing was Julia Roberts to play the rags-to-riches role of a commoner journalist who moves into the palace against the tongue-clucking opposition of the old-guard. It was a boon for the tabloids and the monarchy.

Now, six years after the royal wedding in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral, Spanish television station, Telecinco, is cashing in on the story with a fictionalised version of the events, from the couple's secret romance to the moment they walked down the aisle. Felipe and Letizia: A Love Story started showing this week, and the timing couldn't be better for the heir apparent.

Polls show that support for the monarchy among young Spaniards is waning just as Prince Felipe, once known as Spain's most eligible bachelor, is stepping up his duties to fill in for his ageing father, the widely respected King Juan Carlos. His eventual succession no longer seems too far off, after the King received hospital treatment in May for the removal of a benign tumour on his lung.

The first episode of the series, which aired on Monday, attracted 4.2 million viewers, according to Telecinco. A critic at El Pais newspaper said the princess comes across as a "know-it-all" and the queen, "a witch", but tonight's theme – the prince's "determination to fight his parents" to "share his life with the woman he loves" – promises to strike all the saccharine chords that made the couple popular.

Both supporters and detractors of the monarchy agree that Prince Felipe's marriage transformed his former playboy image, making him appear suitable for the throne. "Once he finished his military training, and his Master's degree at Georgetown University, there was concern about him being seen as frivolous and indolent," said historian Charles Powell, author of Juan Carlos of Spain: Self-made Monarch.

"He was always shown in the press exclusively with his paramours. This changed dramatically with the wedding. He affected a rapid transition from playboy prince to hard-working, convincing and respected heir, a family man, a father," he said.

The film is expected to cast this chapter of recent Spanish history in a flattering light, although a spokesman for the royal household said the lovebirds were not involved in the production.

The story begins with the Prince's announcement that he has broken off his relationship with Norwegian lingerie model Eva Sannum, of whom Spaniards largely disapproved. "Duty and love, mind and heart are not separate, they have always been united," he tells them. The film progresses to the couple's first meeting at a party and their surprise engagement.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited scene is when Letizia, wearing a white Armani trouser suit and a diamond ring, interrupts her groom during their first televised interview. "Let me finish," she snaps, to the delight of her critics, who considered the scolding indiscreet and a sign that she may try to upstage her husband.

The cast includes Marisa Paredes, an "Almodovar girl", as Queen Sofia, and comic actor Fernando Gil as the crown prince. Amaia Salamanca, the glamorous 24-year-old who starred in the television series Sin Senos no hay Paraíso (Without Breasts, There is no Paradise) tones down her blonde highlights to play the princess.

The Prince's choice of bride was a public relations triumph for a monarchy that was restored to the throne by a dictator and forced to earn its legitimacy day by day.

Letizia Ortiz Rocosolano, a television newscaster, was not the sort of consort traditionalists had in mind. She was a commoner – the granddaughter of a taxi diver – and a divorcee. The queen was reportedly miffed when she first learnt of the romance. But most Spaniards embraced her as an example of a modern woman, a middle-class professional. "She was a tremendous asset," said Mr Powell.