Lucy Savage (Juno Temple) is a young heiress eager to experience all that life has to offer, beginning with love and passion. Hence, she embarks on the transatlantic trip that will take her from New York to Tangier in 1955 to marry her fiancé. Before disembarking, the viewer already knows that Hugo (Hugh Skinner) is having an affair with a man, the Egyptian prince Adham Abaza (Raphael Acloque), and at the same moment our damsel first steps on African soil, it’s clearer than an Alaskan morning in spring that her gallant husband is attracted to other exploits. As such, Lucy will have to face her journey towards freedom and sexual discovery alone in a setting tinged with exoticism, both due to the particular political situation and an atypical cast of characters.
This Sunday, February 14th coinciding with Saint Valentine’s Day, Starzplay in Spain releases ‘Little Birds’, a miniseries inspired by the erotic tales of Anaïs Nin where the story is narrated from a female perspective. Not surprisingly, the series is written by Qatari artist Sophia Al–Maria, author of works including ‘The Girl Who Fell to Earth’; and directed by Stacie Passon, whose credits include series such as ‘Dickinson’, ‘House of Cards’ and ‘The Affair’.
As would be expected, the weight of the narrative falls on the female characters. Lucy herself as the innocent and experience-hungry young woman who finds in her new neighbors an opportunity to break away free from an overly authoritarian and dysfunctional home, complete with provocative dominatrix Cherifa Lamor (Yumna Marwan), actress and globetrotter extraordinaire, Lili von X (Nina Sosanya) and the uninhibited Countess Mantrax (Rossy de Palma), together with her lustful daughters (Bárbara Fernández Sabaté and Lara Véliz). All of these women are the antithesis of her mother, a woman as elegant as she is fond of the booze, who couldn’t be more unrelenting in her insistence that Lucy maintain and care for her physique as her sole value. So much so that in her last conversations, she confesses that having children would only spoil her figure, reminding her not to forget her twice-a-day facial exercises to keep those wrinkles away.
Besides all this, the first three episodes of ‘Little Birds’ contains only the distant promise of eroticism. Perhaps because sex is used to talk about other issues such as power, the unknown or the forbidden. In this sense, the Tangier of 1955, a refuge for European and North American wealthy socialites to enjoy luxury and sexual freedom, has a truly significant role to play, since the multicultural and cosmopolitan area is portrayed as a fantasy-like land where all your wishes can come true, while underneath it’s a powder keg primed for the outbreak of revolution. In short: the growing Moroccan opposition has become a threat in the French protectorate, which fears an insurrection in the face of the imminent return of Sultan Mohammed V, forced to flee Morocco into exile two years earlier.
Both a plus and a minus for the series in fact are the weight of the characters, issues and positions it addresses. The impact of colonialism, the lucrative arms industry business, widespread racism in a society where the locals are there to service and entertain wealthy foreigners, sexuality in all its forms and the consequences of repressing or hiding it. Of course, ‘Little Birds’ never set out to narrate the political crisis, but in its eagerness to furnish the story with greater depth, they sometimes lose their way and forget their true purpose, which is, as mentioned at the outset, to narrate Lucy’s sexual awakening. In fact, one of the drama’s main claims to fame is its source of inspiration: the acclaimed Little Birds Nin wrote in the 1940s on commission from a millionaire collector of erotic stories who apparently paid the writer a dollar per page. In short, if you do manage to get seduced by the breathtaking locations shot in Tarifa, and get embroiled by these women’s tales, then you’re in for one heck of a pleasant cruise.