- The Grandfather (1998) movie review: José Luis Garci’s great-looking and shamelessly sentimental period family drama succeeds in delivering an effective message of tolerance chiefly thanks to Spanish cinema veteran Fernando Fernán Gómez’s grandiose central performance.
- The Grandfather movie synopsis: Having returned from Peru to his native Asturian village, the impoverished Don Rodrigo (Fernando Fernán Gómez) discovers that one of his granddaughters is the offspring of an adulterous liaison between his now widowed daughter-in-law and a Parisian painter. But which girl should be cast off from his life?
- The Grandfather received one Academy Award nomination: Best Foreign Language Film.
The Grandfather (1998) movie review: Fernando Fernán Gómez’s imposing performance turns José Luis Garci’s soapy family melo into compelling drama
Director/co-screenwriter José Luis Garci’s 1998 period family drama The Grandfather / El abuelo boasts an impressive pedigree:
- It’s based on a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós (1843–1920), considered by some one of the greatest Spanish writers of the last couple of centuries.
- Filmmaker Garci directed and co-wrote Volver a empezar, the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award winner of 1982. Additionally, he’s a Best Director Goya (Spanish Academy) Award winner for Course Completed (1987).
- Co-screenwriter Horacio Valcárcel was then a two-time Goya Award nominee (Espérame en el cielo, 1988; Garci’s Canción de cuna, 1994).
- Star Fernando Fernán Gómez, whose career dates back to the early 1940s, is the winner of multiple awards, including four Goyas (in various capacities) and two Berlin Film Festival Best Actor prizes.
- Two of Spain’s most respected actors, Rafael Alonso and Fernando Guillén, are featured in supporting roles. The former was about to receive an Honorary Goya (at the 1999 ceremony); the latter – whose daughter, Cayetana Guillén Cuervo, is The Grandfather’s female lead – is a Best Actor Goya winner (Don Juan in Hell, 1991).
- Cinematographer Raúl Pérez Cubero is a three-decade film veteran while composer Manuel Balboa is a Goya nominee (Canción de cuna, 1994).
Add up all that talent, prestige, and experience and the result must be a cinematic masterpiece.
Well, not quite.
José Luis Garci had perhaps been watching too many Mexican soap operas, for that is the sort of mood he imparts to this morality tale about the dangers posed by traditions whenever they become obstacles to feelings of empathy and compassion.
Yet, despite its tonal missteps The Grandfather proves itself an effective message movie largely thanks to Fernando Fernán Gómez’s commanding star turn, together with the first-rate contributions of Raúl Pérez Cubero and Manuel Balboa.
The Grandfather plot: The return of the pater familias
Set in Asturias near the turn of the 20th century, The Grandfather begins as the elderly and now-impoverished aristocrat Don Rodrigo (Fernando Fernán Gómez), El Conde de Albrit, returns from the Americas to his northwestern Spanish village following the death of his only son.
Once back home, Don Rodrigo discovers that his son had left a letter revealing a dark secret: One of his two daughters – Dolly (Cristina Cruz) and Nelly (Alicia Rozas) – was actually the product of an adulterous affair between his English-born wife, Doña Lucrecia Richmond (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo), and a (now also deceased) Parisian painter.
Intent on uncovering the identity of his “real” granddaughter – the one who shall perpetuate the family bloodline – Don Rodrigo clashes with his daughter-in-law, a willful foreigner he had never liked. Escalating the intra-family war, not only does Lucrecia refuse to out her “illegitimate” child but she also tries to commit her pain-in-the-ass father-in-law to a monastery.
Living like a mendicant, Don Rodrigo still manages to teach a lesson or two in dignity and virtue to the bourgeois and religious leaders who have taken control of the area. But what about his own issues?
Sooner rather than later, the elderly patriarch will have to come to terms with his own intransigence. What’s more important, his love for both of Doña Lucrecia’s young daughters or his views on “family honor”?
Low-key soap opera
In all fairness, José Luis Garci’s soapish touch isn’t manifested by way of crass melodrama; in the sedate The Grandfather, no one throws him/herself on the floor in screaming agony. There’s no hair-pulling or teary-eyed explosions either.
Instead, Garci’s touch is felt in the film’s conventional sentimentality – e.g., the mushy portrayal of the two granddaughters – which is made even more artificial by some botched post-sync dubbing.
That said, The Grandfather works the way some Mexican soaps – and some old (and a few new) Hollywood movies – work.
In other words, those who, despite their loftier judgment, have enjoyed watching Ruth Chatterton in Frisco Jenny, Bette Davis and Mary Astor in The Great Lie, or Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows, should also enjoy the goings-on in The Grandfather.
Cinematic time machine
And really, how could one resist Fernando Fernán Gómez’s Goya Award-winning performance as the irascible grandpa, betrayed by those he had helped in the past, and torn between ancient, narrow-minded traditions and his affection for his granddaughters, regardless of their progeny?
Besides, as mentioned further up The Grandfather is immensely helped by Raúl Pérez Cubero’s magical lens and by Manuel Balboa’s evocative score, both of which conjure the feel of northwestern Spain’s rugged coast. With their assistance, José Luis Garci’s drama transports us to a time and a way of life that, for the most part, have long since disappeared.
In all, The Grandfather is as much a must-see – and as deserving of its multiple award wins and nominations – as any other imperfect but well-crafted and captivating message movies of past and present.
The Grandfather / El abuelo (1998) cast & crew
Director: José Luis Garci.
Screenplay: José Luis Garci & Horacio Valcárcel.
From Benito Pérez Galdós’ 1904 novel.
Fernando Fernán Gómez … Don Rodrigo de Arista Potestad
Rafael Alonso … Don Pío Coronado
Cayetana Guillén Cuervo … Doña Lucrecia Richmond
Agustín González … Senén Corchado
Cristina Cruz … Dolly
Alicia Rozas … Nelly
Fernando Guillén … Mayor of Jerusa
Francisco Piquer … Prior of Zaratay
María Massip … Gregoria
José Caride … Venancio
Francisco Algora … Don Carmelo
Emma Cohen … Vicenta
Juan Calot … Dr. Don Salvador
Concha Gómez Conde … Doña Consuelito
Nuria Rodríguez … Maid
José Luis Merino … Camarero casino
Antonio Valero … Don Jaime
Cinematography: Raúl Pérez Cubero.
Film Editing: Miguel González Sinde.
Music: Manuel Balboa.
Producer: José Luis Garci.
Production Design: Julián Mateos.
Costume Design: Gumersindo Andrés.
Production Company: Nickel Odeón Dos | Radio Televisión Española (RTVE).
Distributors: Columbia TriStar Films de España (Spain) | Miramax (United States, 1999).
Running Time: 151 min.
“The Grandfather (1998): Fernando Fernán Gómez” notes
Additional Goya Award nods
Multitasking multi-award winner Fernando Fernán Gómez
At the 1987 Goya ceremony, he took home three statuettes: Best Actor for Mambrú se fue a la guerra (“Mambrú Went to War”), which he also directed; and Best Director and Best Screenplay for Voyage to Nowhere / El viaje a ninguna parte.
Additionally, Fernán Gómez won the 1992 Best Supporting Actor Goya for Fernando Trueba’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Belle Epoque.
Two years after his Best Actor Goya win for The Grandfather, Fernán Gómez would take home his sixth Goya – in the Best Adapted Screenplay category – for Lázaro de Tormes (2000), which he co-directed with José Luis García Sánchez.
Fernán Gómez’s two Berlin Film Festival Best Actor wins were for Juan Estelrich’s The Anchorite / El anacoreta (1976) and Jaime de Armiñán’s Stico (1985). He would also be presented with an Honorary Golden Bear at the 2005 festival.
13 Goya nominations
 The Grandfather would be shortlisted for 13 Goya Awards – including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo), and Best Adapted Screenplay. It would ultimately top one single category: Best Actor for Fernando Fernán Gómez.
Moreover, The Grandfather won four Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Fernando Fernán Gómez & Rafael Alonso), and Best Actress (Cayetana Guillén Cuervo).
For the record, the 1998 Goya Awards’ Best Film was Fernando Trueba’s The Girl of Your Dreams / La niña de tus ojos. The Best Director was Fernando León de Aranoa for Barrio.
The Grandfather movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.
Rafael Alonso and Fernando Fernán Gómez The Grandfather movie images: Miramax | The Walt Disney Corporation.
“The Grandfather (1998): Fernando Fernán Gómez” last updated in August 2023.