Swashbuckling Spanish hero Alatriste, as played by a Danish-American heartthrob, is ready to conquer the box office just as the best-selling novels where he first appeared have won the public's affection.
With a 24 million euro (16.15 million pounds) budget, Spain's most expensive film to date stars Spanish-speaking New York actor Viggo Mortensen, best known as Aragorn in the "Lord of the Rings" series.
Mortensen's performance so impressed novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, who created Alatriste, that he has incorporated his gestures into his latest novel. It tells the story of a dashing but down-to-earth captain who cuts, thrusts and sulks his way through three decades in the 17th century, when Spain was a world superpower.
As for the producers of the film - Hispano Foxfilm and Telecinco - they are hoping the draw of a big star will help their work find success beyond Spain and Latin America.
Alatriste opens this weekend with the kind of "everywhere" publicity campaign usually reserved for Hollywood. The novels already set a precedent, and have been translated into 34 different languages.But those involved in the project, including the author, are keen to stress that Alatriste is not just visual popcorn for the masses.
"I was afraid that (the character of Alatriste) would lose some of his toughness & but they've maintained his dark and human character (in the film)," Perez-Reverte told reporters.
Diego Alatriste is a soldier who is noble in his own unique style, brave and loyal to his friends - amongst whom he counts the poet Francisco de Quevedo - but who has a darker side, accepting work as a hired killer in times of peace.He loves one woman, actress Maria de Castro, who attracts the eye of King Felipe IV with tragic consequences.
The film aims to deliver a faithful vision of Spain at the time, graphically portraying the chasms in society and the barbarities of the many wars fought for the empire.
"It's a profound story, about people made of flesh and blood," Mortensen said.
DECLINE OF AN EMPIRE
Shot on location with sumptuous sets and costumes, the film showcases Spain's "Golden Age" - the paintings of Diego Velazquez, the plays of Lope de Vega and the poems of Quevedo.
The supporting cast is solid, featuring some of Spain's finest actors, with Juan Echanove (Quevedo) and Eduard Fernandez (Sebastian Copons) as standouts. Mortensen's portrayal of the brooding hero left its mark on the character, according to Perez-Reverte.
"Viggo has made Alatriste human," he said.
The actor, 47, has had a varied and long career but only recently achieved real fame playing Aragorn in "The Lord of the Rings" series. His roles include the lead in David Cronenberg's sinister 2005 feature, "A History of Violence".
Mortensen's Spanish is fluent and distinctly Argentine after living in that country as a child. The role saw him grappling with a Castilian accent, which sometimes flounders.The actor said the film taught him more about the Spanish character.
Alatriste has "Spanish pride, which pushes him to do many things, but he has difficulty taking a step backwards," Mortensen told reporters.
Director Agustin Diaz Yanes, whose previous films include the acclaimed 1995 thriller "Nadie Hablara de Nosotras Cuando Hayamos Muerto" (Nobody Will Speak of Us When We're Dead) crams all five books into 2 hours, 20 minutes. A former history teacher, he says he hopes the film will pave the way for more movies based on Spain's volatile past.
"There's a lack of historic Spanish films firstly because of a difficulty with budget ... but secondly because we Spaniards are very much at odds with our history in a way that is not the case (in other countries)," he said.
The success of the books has been such that Perez-Reverte says he increasingly receives requests from historians, asking if Alatriste really existed.
"It's delightful ... it's every author's dream," he said.
Producer Antonio Cardenal says the film is more European than American, but he was uncertain how it would be received outside of Spain.
As for the movie's relevance to modern life, Mortensen has spoken extensively in interviews about the parallels between elements of Alatriste, which depicts an empire on the verge of decline, and the role of his own country, the United States, as the last great superpower.
"There are similarities ... Those who are in power don't look after their citizens but they demand complete loyalty ... Alatriste today would be a sergeant in the Marines or in the Special Forces in Iraq," he told Spanish newspaper El Periodico.