Call me stupid, but I had kind of a hard time following the plot of Mad Love, which concerns the stormy relationship between Joan of Castile and her husband, Philip the Handsome. It’s not my fault, though. Watching it requires more than a cursory knowledge of the sort of Spanish/Germanic history and geography that my public education in the Midwest seemed to barely even touch upon. Consequently, I found it difficult to keep track of the Flemish and the Moors and the Catholics and the devil-worshipers. Even so, it somehow all came together for me in the end.
I do know this: Joan of Castile was the daughter of Queen Isabella (of Christopher Columbus fame). For political reasons, Joan was shipped off to marry Philip, the prince of the Brussels court. When Joan’s mother (and brother and sister) died, Joan became Queen of Castile and heir to the crown of Aragon. I’m not exactly sure where Aragon is, but Philip definitely wanted to rule over it, so he conspired with the Spanish nobility to overthrow Joan by having her declared insane.
In the film, Joan and Philip are played by Pilar Lopez de Ayala, a ringer for Penelope Cruz (with just a smidge of Phoebe Cates thrown in for good measure) and Daniele Liotti, an eerie cross between Enrique Iglesias and Fabio. With matching long brown locks tumbling over their shoulders and blowing incessantly in the breeze, the two could easily be the stars of their very own shampoo commercial.
Instead of the subservient wench Philip expected, Joan is a horny vixen whose pathologically obsessive love threatens to consume both of them. Always ready for a roll in the hay (even eight months pregnant she’s hiking up her skirt for a quickie), Joan lives and breathes only for her husband. But Philip’s frequent dalliances with Joan’s ladies in waiting only fuel her intense jealousy, which, in turn, pumps up the wattage on her erratic, psychotic behavior.
Although well acted by all involved and quite beautiful to look at, Mad Love fails to stir in the way Elizabeth or The Madness of King George did. I get the feeling director Vicente Aranda wanted to demonstrate in Mad Love that Joan wasn’t, in fact, mentally ill. That may be the case, but with her hysterical outbursts and violent mood swings, she sure seems a few jewels short of a full crown to me.