Reviews of movies and TV focused on women

Review: Juana Inés

Arcelia Ramírez in Juana Ines

Juana Inés is a mini-series from Mexico. It tells the story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a brilliant writer, poet, scholar, and nun who lived in Mexico City in the late 1600s. Juana Inés is a beautiful retelling of her life and achievements.

Arantza Ruiz in Juana Ines
Arantza Ruiz plays Juana Ines as a young woman

Arcelia Ramírez plays the adult Juana Inés. Arantza Ruiz plays her at a younger age. Both do a wonderful job as the rebellious, free-thinking woman who could reason circles around any man.

At the age of 17, the Viceroy of New Spain, as Mexico was known then, subjected Juana Inés to a test of her knowledge. All the learned men he could find asked her questions. She answered them all and earned the right to be the tutor for the Viceroy’s daughter. For a while, Juana Inés was a lady in waiting in the royal court.

The Vicereine Leonor (Lisa Owen), the Viceroy’s wife, fell instantly in love with Juana. Juana didn’t return the affection, but having the protection of the Vicereine saved her from many situations as time went by.

Because Juana Inés was illegitimate, she was unable to find a husband. The lifelong bane of her existance, Padre Antonio Núñez de Miranda (Hernan Del Riego) decided to save her soul by forcing her to become a nun.

Hernan Del Riego in Juana Ines
Hernan Del Riego plays Father Núñez

Father Núñez was Juana’s confessor and moral guardian. He recognized her brilliance and was jealous of it. He was determined to bend her spirit to his version of godliness.

Núñez first sent her into a convent to become a Discalced Carmelite nun. She was in a bare stone cell. No books, no paper. It was unbearable. The Vicereine Leonor got her out of there safely. She wanted to keep Juana with her, wanted her in her bed. Juana didn’t want that, so she convinced Father Núñez to let her join the Hieronymite nuns. This was a better situation. Juana could study and write there. She stayed with this convent until her death in 1695.

As she was allowed to write, she became more and more famous and admired. The convent took advantage of her connections to the court. Admirers came to the convent to hear her read her verses and writings.

The rigid patriarchy of the Church was a constant impediment to Juana. She found ways around it and realized many of her ambitions, but it was a struggle each day.

After several years, the Viceroy and Vicereine Leonor went back to Spain. Eventually new rulers came.

Yolanda Corrales in Juana Ines
Yolanda Corrales plays the Vicereine Maria Luisa

The new Vicereine Maria Louisa (Yolanda Corrales) was attracted to the adult Juana Ines. Maria Louisa was smart, educated, and a brilliant conversationalist for Juana Ines. This time the affections of the Vicereine were returned by Sor Juana. They began a romance that was forbidden and dangerous.

Arcelia Ramírez in Juana Ines
Arcelia Ramírez plays the adult Juana

Juana Inés wrote many love poems to the Vicereine Maria Luisa, these writings are among her most well known. When Father Núñez and the church tried to take all of Sor Juana’s writing, Vicereine Maria Luisa took copies to Spain and had them printed. Because of this, many examples of her writing have survived. Vicereine Maria Luisa fought to protect Sor Juana after she wrote a letter daring to discuss theological topics and another defending a woman’s right to an education.

These two letters were private, but were published. It was quite a scandal. The church forced her to surrender her 4000 volume library and all her writings. She pretended to stop writing, but she never did.

History has a way of letting brilliant women disappear as unknown. Because Sor Juana had the attention and affection of two Spanish nobles in the form of Vicereines, her work was known and respected in Mexico and Spain. Her 400 year old words are still read and studied around the world. She has iconic status.

A fever swept through her convent in 1695. Many nuns died, including Sor Juana. As we travel through the 7 episodes of this mini-series, we frequently see Sor Juana’s final days as she lay stricken with fever and wild ranting. Then we go back into the story to learn about the topic of Juana Inés’ rant.

The series is available on Netflix as a Netflix Original. Juana Inés has both women writers and women directors. Patricia Arriaga Jordán created the series.

Juana Inés was lushly filmed. The costumes were marvelous and the settings in Mexico City where it was filmed looked authentic. The acting talent in the cast was outstanding, particularly from the two players who brought Sor Juana to life.

The mini-series was compelling. It was structured and organized to have a dramatic impact while telling a story based on fact. Juana Inés was a fascinating woman, with many obstacles to overcome in life. This is a brilliant series. I’m not sure it is completely historically accurate.

I first learned about Sor Juana decades ago, back in my college days. I remained interested in her story. This mini-series from Mexico is a terrific introduction to her story for those who are just hearing about her. It’s a lovely visual rendering of her life as a drama for those who already knew about her.

Read the Wikipedia page on Juana Inés de la Cruz to learn more about her.

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3 responses to “Review: Juana Inés”

  1. I learned re: Sor Juana back in undergrad also (advanced Spanish class). We saw a movie about it, too, that was V well-made (BUT made it seem like she had no romance, aside from one young nobleman that had a crush on her & kissed her once). She thanked him for showing her how love was, so then she could go on w/ her life of being a nun.

    • Juana was very enthusiastic about a young man in this mini-series. Not sure how accurate that was. If he had been willing to marry an illegitimate woman, how different her history might have been!

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