In the previous article on Zorro’s Black Whip, I discussed why I consider her as the first Female Zorro adaptation on TV. The next female adaptation of Zorro on TV for me was “Queen of Swords”. A series confronted with its own battle for existence.
Queen of Swords is a Canada, Spain, and United Kingdom co-produced western drama action-adventure television series. The production companies involved in the project included Fireworks Entertainment Group, Morena Films, Amy International Productions, Telefonica, M6, and Mercury Entertainment.
The series was mostly filmed mostly in Spain and London, and premiered on October 7, 2000, on the Canadian Global Television Network. After filming had been completed on 22 episodes and the first eight episodes were broadcast, the series was canceled.
ABOUT THE CAST
The cast consisted of the by then newcomer Tessie Santiago as Doña María Teresa (Tessa) Alvarado and The Queen of Swords, Paulina Gálvez as Marta, Valentine Pelka as Colonel Luis Ramirez Montoya, Anthony Lemke as Captain Marcus Grisham, Peter Wingfield as Doctor Robert Helm, Elsa Pataky as Señora Vera Hidalgo, Tacho Gonzalez as Don Gaspar Hidalgo and Jose Sancho as Don Rafael Alvarado.
Guest stars included known names such as Bo Derek, Cristián de la Fuente, Cyrielle Clair, David Carradine, Daisy Fuentes, Elizabeth Gracen, Gael García Bernal, José Conde, Sung-Hi Lee, Simon MacCorkindale, and Ralf Moeller.
On a curious note, one of the executive producers of this series, David Abramowitz, was also one of the co-producers of the Highlander TV Series. Peter Wingfield, Elizabeth Gracen, and Valentine Pelka worked on that series as well.
THE STORY OF THE QUEEN
In 1817, a young Spanish aristocrat woman, Doña María Teresa (Tessa) Alvarado, returns to Spanish California after the death of her father and finds her home in ruins, her father’s manservant reduced to stealing. The town where she was born is run by a militaristic governor who abuses his power, bringing injustice and poor living conditions for the town residents.
The series starts in 1817 with Tessa showcasing her skills with the rapier and dagger in Spain. Right after the training session, Tessa learns about the tragic death of her father. She returns to California.
On her road home, she is attacked by a bandit, an old man, who she recognized as her father’s manservant. He tells her the sad state he and his family were left in after her father’s passing. Unfortunately, he is shot by captain Grisham. She arrives and finds her home in a sad state.
She becomes upset about the state of her birthplace, her people, and the murder of her father. Tessa’s path is revealed to her in a mysterious dream where her father comes to her and talks of his murder, his hidden gold, and of his “avenging angel”.
Marta is looking through the tarot when Tessa awakes and shows her the card of the Queen of Swords. Tessa connects the avenging angel with the Queen of Swords and decides to protect the people from the town’s governor and avenge her father’s death. Tessa will do this in disguise behind a mask, becoming that avenging angel, the Queen of Swords.
THE QUEEN OF SWORDS IS BORN
The Queen of Swords becomes a vision of hope for residents of the town. She is assisted by her longtime friend and servant, Marta. Marta is a gypsy employed by her father to look after her when she was sent to stay with her uncle and three cousins in Madrid when she was seven years old. Marta has great knowledge of the tarot. The name “Queen of Swords” comes from one of Marta’s tarot cards. Later on, Tessa will be using the card of the Queen of Swords leaving it as a token for her enemies to remember her.
The Queen of Swords is skilled in sword fighting and horse riding. Dona Maria Theresa is a very delicate feminine woman. Based on the personality traits no one would believe that they are the same person, but it is quite obvious that they look alike as the Queen’s mask does not do a great job at covering her face. It seems like they are going for the Clark Kent disguise trick.
Tessa’s biggest enemy in the town is Colonel Luis Montoya, the corrupt and tyrannical governor. Montoya is ruthless and cares little for human life other than his own. He believes in executions without fair trials, enslaves the poor people of the town, and blackmails the powerful Dons. We briefly see a less tyrannical side of him during the episode “Counterfeit Queen” with his interactions with Carlota.
“Some people are destined to owe nothing”- Colonel Montoya
Montoya is assisted by his right-hand man, Captain Marcus Grisham, an American deserter who escaped execution for killing his commanding officer during the War of 1812. His own self-interests test his loyalty to Montoya on several occasions and the mission of ridding Montoya of the troublesome Queen of Swords, which his soldiers have a hard time accomplishing due in part to the inaccurate single-shot weapons. Grisham is helped by Vera who is his spy and lover, the unfaithful trophy wife of Don Hidalgo. She later becomes the spy of the colonel as well.
Captain Grisham seems to have animosity towards the queen but despite everything, he seems to have a soft spot for the Queen that is shown during the episode “End of Days”.
THE QUEEN’S ALLIES
The Queen occasionally crosses paths with Dr. Robert Helm, an English doctor employed by Montoya who believes in saving lives rather than taking them after his experiences as an officer in the Napoleonic Wars.
He has little patience for Tessa, believing her to be a spoiled member of the nobility, and less for the Queen of Swords, despising her because of her use of violence. Helm’s relationship with The Queen intensifies throughout the series as events throw them together in life-threatening situations.
During her adventures as the queen, she gains the respect of many that will when needed assist her in completing her missions. Her tales will even be told in Spain as the “Tales of the Queen of Swords”.
THE QUEEN’S LOVE
Tessa is a beautiful woman and it’s obvious that she gets the interest of the men of the pueblo including the colonel. She doesn’t show interest in any particular men except for probably Dr. Helm. Dr. Helm on the other hand seems to be annoyed with Doña Teresa. The Queen of Swords however seems to be on his mind constantly.
We learn about Tessa’s past during the episode “Duel with a Stranger”. Her first crush and love interest, during her time in Spain, arrives at the pueblo. After seeing him she believes she is still in love with him. However, Marta advises her to be careful. He may accept Tessa but what would he think of the Queen of Swords?
“He is the same peacock he was when we last saw him” – Marta
CHALLENGES DURING PRODUCTION
The main character in Queen of Swords required great skill in horseback riding, swordsmanship, the bullwhip, and knife fighting.
The Queen of Swords was portrayed by Santiago, who was the face and voice of the character. Despite her training, she still had her limitations which is very normal. As a result, other women and men helped portray the Queen of Swords including Natalia Guijarro Brasseur, Roberta Brown, Gaëlle Cohen, Mary Gallien, and Mary Jose. Many of which were not initially planned. They had to come in to improve the work of the previous stunt person.
In the episode “Hanged Man”, male stuntman Curro doubled for the Queen to perform a dangerous stunt involving a moving wagon and horses. It is a challenge for editing these scenes to make them look good or have the viewer so immersed in the story that they can be ignored. They use many close-up takes during rides and fights which is another style of filming compared to traditional westerns. It is a popular technique used in Telenovelas.
There were issues with some of the completed material (filmed scenes) that were lost during production which required reshoots. For the reshoots, not everyone on the production was available so they had to hire other people that got the final credits. One last thing that stood out to me is the CGI used for the ships in the sea. Sometimes they look like paintings in the background.
CHALLENGES WITH THE MUSIC
The show’s theme song was “Behind the Mask” written and composed by Spencer Proffer and Steve Plunkett and performed by José Feliciano, a famous artist of the Latin American community. The intro starts with a rock melody followed by part of the theme song in English and Spanish. It doesn’t tell a story. Looks like a quick slide show of unrelated scenes until they start showing the main characters’ profiles.
In my opinion, I don’t think the rock element in the song suits the intro sequence. Don’t get me wrong I like it, but its combination with the guitar melody that every episode starts with sounds weird. However, it does fit well for the closing credits. The series soundtrack was mostly composed by Phillip Stanger, with music editor Kevin Banks, and additional music by John Herberman.
The full unpublished English version of the song is available on YouTube, and a promotional video of José Feliciano singing the song in Spanish, which was never officially released, can also be found on YouTube.
Zorro and Jose Feliciano are very popular in Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Then why was it not promoted in these regions? Not to forget there were also Latin American actors guest-starring in the series which would surely make it even more popular. There is no reason for not having a case for promotion in the Latin American market unless they knew beforehand that they would have issues so why make the effort. We will probably never know.
CHALLENGES WITH DISTRIBUTION
Despite being a part of U.K. production the series was not shown in the U.K. until 2008 on the Zone Thriller channel.
THE EPISODE CONFUSION
In December 2009 it moved to the Film24 channel as well as continuing Zone Thriller’s successor CBS Action. Zone Thriller and CBS Action broadcast in production order and Film24 in episode order. Why the distinction?
Apparently, there was no synchronization for the registration of the episodes which would later become an issue for the DVD releases. Back in 2000, the episodes were aired on episode order.
|Episode Order||Production Order||Episode Title|
|2||102||Death of the Queen|
|6||106||Duel with a Stranger|
|8||103||Honor thy father|
|19||120||Takes a Thief|
|21||121||End of Days|
The series also aired in syndication in the United States distributed by Paramount Domestic Television and was popular in France, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Finland, Estonia, Poland, Greece, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Slovakia. Europe basically. No wonder I didn’t know about this series. It never “officially” crossed the ocean to Latin America and the Caribbean.
THE DVD PROBLEM
A limited-edition VHS set was made in Canada with all 22 episodes being released at the end of 2001. The DVDs were released only for Japan (Queen of Swords) and France (Sous le signe de l’épée) with the dubbing of Japanese and French.
In the Japanese version, the episodes had no particular order. Further 2 episodes were missing, The Pretender and Takes a Thief. The French had the episodes in production order.
The series has not been officially released on DVD in the US or UK, but the Japanese and French versions had the original English spoken language. It looks like nothing on physical was officially released specifically for the Spanish-speaking audience.
CHALLENGES WITH THE LAW
The series dealt with legal issues as well which resulted in the halt and further cancellation of the series.
THE QUEEN VS LINDA LUKENS
In August 2000, writer Linda S. Lukens sought a preliminary injunction to block the premiere of Queen of Swords unless she was given a “created by” credit.
In October 2000, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered a halt to further broadcasts of the show unless Lukens received that credit. Linda Lukens is not credited on the official DVDs. As a result, the broadcast was halted and officially canceled.
THE QUEEN VS SONY PICTURES
On January 24, 2001, Sony Pictures Entertainment filed a lawsuit in United States District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, against Fireworks Entertainment Group. Sony alleged copyright infringement and other claims.
On April 5, 2001, U.S. District Judge Collins, denied Sony’s motion for a preliminary injunction, noting, among other points, “that since the copyrights in Johnson McCulley’s 1919 short story, The Curse of Capistrano and the 1920 film “The Mark of Zorro” lapsed in 1995 or before, the character Zorro has been in the public domain”.
As to specific elements of the 1998 Mask of Zorro, the judge found that any similarities between the film and the TV series’ secondary characters and plot elements were insufficient to warrant an injunction. So the “Queen of Swords” TV series was allowed to exist and they could proceed with another season if they wanted.
THE ZORRO TRADEMARK AND COPYRIGHTS
Zorro Productions controls the worldwide trademarks and copyrights in the name, visual likeness, and character of Zorro.
THE ZORRO BRAND
Even though there is Zorro material in the public domain there are certain aspects of the Zorro brand that still require licensing. Examples include but are not limited to film, TV, plays, musicals, etc. to purses, backpacks, clothing, shoes, household décor, sunglasses, watches, jewelry, perfumes, toys, commemorative swords and knives, games, puzzles, educational product lines, books, comic books, restaurants, ice cream parlors, advanced robotic machinery, alcoholic beverages, computer games, apps, food and drink products, and artwork.
So, when people generally say Zorro is public domain you can do what you want. That is partially true. You can use specific material that is in the public domain like the book The Curse of Capistrano and the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro. However, you still require licensing if you are going to make any changes to the material or create a new adaptation of a female zorro like the upcoming CW series.
The whole process is so complicated but it would explain why Disney never reissued its Zorro’s series on DVD and Blu-ray or any new promotional material. Anything available is vintage from the merchandising mania that happened during the golden age of Hollywood.
THE QUEEN’S EXISTENCE
As of date, the Queen of Swords has not been officially recognized by Zorro Productions as part of the Zorro history. I’m guessing they are still salty about losing the lawsuit. On the other hand, Zorros’ Black Whip is officially recognized by Zorro Productions as part of the history of the Zorro brand being one of the Zorro serials produced by Republic Productions.
The Queen of the Swords is an interesting adaptation of Zorro. The obsession with close-ups takes does help when the queen needs to disappear. Apparently, this series became a cult classic. However, that popularity never reached Latin America and the Caribbean properly. With the look of the series and the talented cast involved, it was a lost opportunity to establish a larger fanbase and continue with a more modern-looking female Zorro series that could have led to more seasons and even future films.
The copyright issues, loss of film material, and not casting the right stunt actors, are events that could have been prevented. If these series had an opportunity to continue, they would have most probably worked on their shortcomings. After knowing some of the stories of how this production allegedly went through there is a high possibility that there were players in the game that did not want this series finished and distributed properly. That status is maintained to this day.
Officially the series is not streaming anywhere which is unfortunate. I could barely find the episodes on YouTube. Last I checked the French DVD set is out of stock on Amazon. The Japanese DVDs seem to be available in 9 volumes available for sale separately there is no box set available. I watched episodes 1 through 5 in production order and the remaining in episode order except for the episode “The Witness”.
Objectively, it seems that there was no proper preparation and project management in place. Many lessons can be learned from this story including making sure to do the homework and research first, choosing the right people to work with, be prepared, set standards and goals to achieve.
My Rating: 6.5/10
Behind The Scenes And on The Set With Anthony De Longis. DeLongis Pages. Last accessed February 2, 2022.
Interview with Tessie Santiago. Fantasticon. Last accessed February 10, 2022.
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Gardner, E. March 14, 2013. Zorro’s Rights Challenged as Invalid and Fraudulent. The Hollywood Reporter. Last accessed February 11, 2022.
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