A veritable who’s who of European arthouse actors and actresses (plus the inimitable John Malkovich as a cantankerous, proud Viscount Wellington), Lines of Wellington was conceived by Ruiz and Sarmiento as a televisual partner piece to Lisbon, set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in the early 1800s. The cast is typically enormous, with soldiers (be they Portuguese, French, English or even Polish), generals, whores and widows all represented by an impressive multi-national ensemble, with the narrative focusing upon the southern retreat of the allied armies, with Marshal Masséna (Melvil Poupaud) and his men in hot pursuit of the unfortunate souls.
Thankfully, the film’s strongest performers more than make up for such discrepancies. The female cast are universally spell-binding, with old hand Marisa Paredes the stand-out as a kindly lady of class, whilst Soraia Chaves also impresses as lusty yet mothering prostitute Martírio. It would take an essay of gargantuan proportions to truly do justice to the scale and complex scope of Sarmiento’s lavish love letter. Niggling flaws littered throughout this unashamedly old-fashioned costume romp may alienate some, but such imperfections only serve to make Lines of Wellington all the more pleasurably aloof and elusive. Much like Malkovich’s Wellington – an ageing, vain veteran obsessed with how history will remember him – Sarmiento’s film flirts with archness, safe in the knowledge that it will ultimately find a home in the hearts of devoted, loyal admirers. Europudding has never tasted so good.