Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Ministry of Time’ and ‘Three Identical Strangers’

“The Ministry of Time” (Netflix)

This unassuming, slightly clunky, but entirely affable and often surprising Spanish science fiction show sits in an unnoticed corner of Netflix, away from most people’s sights, much like the central location of the series itself. But much like the secret headquarters of “The Ministry of Time,” bumbling upon it yields delights that deliver the expected in unexpected ways.

The show’s premise is there is a winding staircase moving into the earth with ancient doorways deposited along the way down. Each doorway opens to a moment in time, and the Ministry, which was established in 491 by Isabella I of Castille, is charged with protecting and maintaining those doorways, and also using them to stop any meddling with the time stream.

In this way, the show is old-fashioned and worlds away from the outer space adventures in shows like “Doctor Who.” These are straightforward historical adventures, but the twist is that they all revolve around Spanish history, and that’s one of the show’s biggest charms. How many of you are up on the history of Spain? This is a pretty fun way to dive in.

The plots revolve around time agents recruited from different eras, notably Amelia Folch (Aura Garrido), a fictionalized version of several real women in 19th century Barcelona who were the first to attend college, and Alonso de Entrerr os (Nacho Fresneda), a fictional soldier from the 16th century, as well as Jesus “Pacino” Menendez (Hugo Silva), a cop from the early ‘80s.

But real historical figures pepper the episodes — well-known figures like Torquemada, Bunuel and Picasso make appearances, but also some more obscure outside the country, like 17th-century printer Juan de la Cuesta and writer Lope de Vega, as well as historical events like the Siege of Baler in 1898. One of the best is legendary painter Diego Velasquez (Julian Villagran), a recurring agent used to good humorous effect as part of the inter-agency drama.

“Three Identical Strangers” (Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube)

The circumstance of separated identical triplets finding each other depicted in “Three Identical Strangers” was the type of news story that typically became a sensation in the pre-internet era, and Tim Wardle’s film documenting it isn’t oblivious to the lessons inherent in that media sweep. Reality-based celebrities didn’t need an entire genre of television or YouTube and Instagram to exist back then, and the damage of the attention could be just as devastating to people who had no idea what they were stepping into.

But that’s just one portion of the story and message of “Three Identical Strangers,” which I have heard described as a roller-coaster ride, and which certainly deserves that designation. Wardle presents the joyful miracle of the triplets’ reunion, but also the aftermath of not only having their accepted biographies ripped apart, but their family dynamics, and the expectations of their newfound siblinghood, play with their minds and emotions.

It’s a film of near-constant revelations, each sadder and more angering than the previous, and one that raises questions about lives lived, about who we are versus who we become, about the human compulsion to focus on connections to elevate the fantastic and about the cold intervention of knowledge in a way that supersedes personal lives. The film is skilled at portraying the bombastic excitement of the triplets’ reunion and early celebrity but brilliant at re-framing all those pieces as clues to how everything would unfold, revealing a limitless sadness that was probably inescapable for these guys.

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