SNARK WEEK: Not Mad About Mad Love – Juana la Loca (2001)


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Where do I even begin with this film? It held such promise, but delivered so little — that’s why it ends up on Snark Week. So, let’s go over the basics: when the Mad Love / Juana la Loca (2001) opens, we see Juana of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, being shipped off (literally) to Flanders to marry the impossibly hunky Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy.

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

Philip the Handsome: Does what it says on the label.

Juana’s allegedly sheltered, but apparently is a massively repressed sex addict, triggered by the revelation that Philip is a love machine. Mind you, the only proof of which that we, the viewers, have is that they’re both lying naked on the bed, presumably after sexy times has occurred (maybe I’m just turning into a dirty old woman, but FFS, SHOW ME THE GOODS). Juana, perhaps foreshadowing the “mad” label she’s going to acquire very shortly, transforms from a sweet little Spanish princess into a sex-obsessed psycho-hose-beast whose super-fecundity leads her to give birth on the toilet at one point, and, in a scene that you cannot unsee, severs the umbilical cord with her teeth.

That’s all in the first 25 minutes, and the crazy doesn’t stop there.

mad love/juana la loca (2001)


I think I’m supposed to feel my heartstrings being yanked as Juana goes about screaming in the rain that she’s mad after she finds out her mother is dead, and then promptly finds her husband in the arms of another woman, but … Ugh. Philip is, at most, two-dimensional, and Juana is not so much driven mad by love for Philip as she is petty jealousy. She claims she’s mad with passion for Philip, but I just see a lot of screaming and throwing stuff, mutual spousal abuse, and frankly, she seems more like a two-year-old having a meltdown because she can’t have Philip at her beck and call constantly, than a woman who is so madly in love with her husband that she can’t deal with reality.

Also, yeah, the whole “he gets to sleep with whomever he pleases while she has to sit around waiting for him to come to her” sucks, but it’s not exactly a good reason to just flip the switch into full-on psycho abusive behavior, which is basically how this movie portrays her “madness.” Philip gets her pregnant, starts sleeping around, and then all of a sudden Juana is balls-to-the-wall violently abusive. The characters never actually develop any kind of relationship that would make me feel like there’s been a betrayal worthy of losing one’s shit.

juana la loca (2001)

Frankly, the longer the movie dragged on, the more I started sympathizing with Philip. Bitch is cray.

So, I asked myself, “Could it get any worse?”

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

Oh yes. Yes it can

Philip suddenly and inexplicably falls in love with a Moorish prostitute/practicing Satanist who puts a curse on him, for some reason that isn’t fully understood. I think we’re supposed to infer that Philip’s illness is the result of this curse, but to what point and purpose? Aixa, the prostitute, gets a position as one of Juana’s ladies-in-waiting, so cursing him to die is only going to completely undermine her prospects at court. The whole “putting Satan’s curse on Philip” plot line just seems like it was thrown in there to play for cheap xenophobic thrills. In reality, Philip slept with enough women to legitimately die of some horrible sexually transmitted infection, so why put the curse of Satan on him when nature is already going to take care of the philandering jerk for us?

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

Aixa does get a pretty dress for about 15 seconds, though.

Ferdinand, Juana’s father, is thrown in mid-way through the film without really any introduction. He informs Philip that he is absolutely 110% down with having Juana declared crazy and locked away forever, and even hints at the idea that Philip can have the marriage annulled, thereby freeing him to marry again (to the Satan-worshiping Moorish prostitute? I guess anyone is better than crazy-pants Juana).

This foreshadowing of the same ordeal that Juana’s little sister, Catherine of Aragon, would experience with her husband Henry VIII is a little far-fetched for my tastes. There is some truth to the notion that Philip may have eventually tried annulling his marriage on account of Juana’s madness had he lived, but there’s no real proof he ever intended to go that far. Juana had already given him three healthy heirs by that point, two of whom were male. So, annulment just doesn’t make sense, let alone it being proposed by Juana’s father. Ferdinand was only King of Castile by right of his wife, so his only claim to that kingdom would now be through his daughter. Severing that link by encouraging his son-in-law into an annulment is just plain stupid.

But what is most offensive is that as this conversation is taking place THEY ARE CHOWING DOWN ON TURKEY LEGS WITH THEIR HANDS. LIKE, WTF IS THIS EVEN?

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

This is what happens when you do your research at the ren faire.

Meh Costuming in Mad Love

Alright, scripting and acting aside, let’s talk a bit about the costuming. Over all, I’d say it’s an ok-to-decent costuming flick. There were a few WTF moments, but that’s where the bar is set these days so, meh. Also, this is a movie set in late 15th-century Spain — an era and locale particularly known for it’s bizarre sartorial trends.

The menswear was good, albeit so costume-y that it was obvious even on the shitty streaming copy on Amazon Prime Video (try to find an actual DVD copy of this film, because I’m pretty sure at least 25% of my irritation with it came from the downright crappy 15 year old VHS rip that Amazon is renting for $2.99). I did notice that Philip was cavorting around on horseback without any hose, which had to chafe.

The female costumes were a mixed bag of “Hey, that’s not half bad” and “The Tudors in Spain.”

In the good category, we have the ladies-in-waitings’ outfits. Quite appropriate for c.1500 Spain/Flanders.

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

In the “Shut up, it’s pretty” category, there’s Juana’s gold damask overgown:

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

Design sketch by costumer Javier Artiñano.

And in the “Oh honey, no” category, we have Juana’s truly unfortunate French Hood, which suffers from 1) being 50 years ahead of fashion for c. 1500; and 2) IS A FREAKING VISOR COVERED WITH GOLD BROCADE.


Mostly, Juana’s outfits are decent enough to make me sigh and shake my head, but not so bad as to make me want to throw things at the TV. I mean, at least the costumer gave us one of those Spanish gowns with the freakishly long undersleeves:

Juana la Loca (2001)

The costumes that we glimpse on Juana’s siblings as they see her off to Flanders are, again, 50 years in the future, with the exception of perhaps the gown on the far left. But they’re more of the generic variety of “renaissance” gown so, meh. I’m waving them on through.

Juana la Loca (2001)

Also, the little girl in the brown dress is apparently Catherine of Aragon, who, it should be noted, still isn’t blonde. Not even the Spanish get this right.

I will also give props to Artiñano for clearly attempting to reference portraits and statues of Juana in his costume designs.

Juana la Loca (2001)

Costume based on the bronze statue of Juana at Tordesillas.

mad love/juana la loca (2001)

Juana sporting a heraldic surcoat with the arms of Castile.

So, my recommendation is to give this movie a shot, only if you 1) have a proper DVD copy of it so you can at least appreciate the scenery; and 2) aren’t bothered by the spouse abuse.


Did you watch Juana la Loca? Did you like or want to snark it?


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8 Responses

  1. Cheryl

    Poor Juana! I haven’t seen this movie, but it sounds like they got the story all wrong. Juana was manipulated by just about everyone in her life, especially her Dad, husband and son (Charles V)… All of whom were after the power she inherited from her mother. She probably had some leanings (maybe postpartum depression), but it’s likely much of her “story” is a series of lies to keep the aforementioned men in control of her power. I’m on team Juana… The perfect example of why being born with money and power certainly isn’t always a blessing.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Juana’s actual story is so sad and tragic, and this movie was one of those times where I was practically yelling at the screen “HER ACTUAL LIFE STORY IS WAY MORE INTERESTING”.


      I’ll never understand why screenwriters feel that sticking to history makes for a boring/unsexy film. But that’s why they make a shit-ton of money and I just sit here writing irate blog entries about historical accuracy. :P

  2. Charity

    If you read the biography about Juana and Katharine of Aragon as siblings (Sister Queens? That might be the title) you will be forever pissed off at the raw deal Juana got. She was basically manipulated by all the men in her life to keep them in power, and her out of it. So sad.

    I saw this film ages ago. I don’t remember most of it, though the costumes were pretty.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Yep, Juana’s real story was way sadder and more fucked up than this movie made it seem. Thanks for the book rec… I’ll have to check it out!

  3. Clara

    The only thing I fondly remember of this were the costumes tbqh. (The director also got some spiffy costume designs for Tirant Lo Blanc, which I only recommend for that)

    If you can, check “La Conjura de El Escorial” aka “The Conspiracy”, one of the finest works by Javier Artiñano (and the best portrayal of Philip II of Spain) or “El rey pasmado” which IMHO suffers from a bit of aging but most of the costumes are splendid (and the story is really funny tbqh)

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll have to check those two films out.

      On the whole, the costumes were not bad. Not great, but not bad. All over the map historically speaking, but at least they stuck to the first half of the 16th century, which is better than most historical films of this period.

  4. Melissa

    Somewhere, somehow, I actually obtained a DVD copy of this film……really…..can’t remember where, but it’s upstairs on the shelf……..