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Scenes shot in Malaga for the Disney+ mini-series We Were the Lucky Ones. Marilú Báez/Disney
Lights, camera, action!: How Malaga and the Costa del Sol became a second world war location for a Disney mini-series
Film and TV

Lights, camera, action!: How Malaga and the Costa del Sol became a second world war location for a Disney mini-series

Logan Lerman and Joey King star in the blockbuster We Were the Lucky Ones that debuts on Netflix and is set in four different countries, with scenes in Spain shot solely in the province

Francisco Griñán

Friday, 5 July 2024, 10:35

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There's a new golden age of filming thanks to the boom in television series that has brought original, exceptional titles to the screen and plenty of unexpected filming to Malaga too. The kind of series of pure fiction. So it is with We Were the Lucky Ones, a mega-production piece from the Hulu label - the Disney group's distributor of fiction content for grown-ups. It tells the story of the tragedy of the Polish Jews during the Second World War.

The mini-series was filmed in the provincial capital with an abundance of locations, extras and the presence of its leading man, Logan Lerman, the mythological, teenage hero of the Percy Jackson saga, this time a mere mortal as one of the brothers of a family struck by the barbarity of war and the holocaust.

Eight episodes were shot in Malaga and additional scenes filmed in Marbella and El Torcal Natural Park near Antequera, all of which allowed the story to be set up as though it took place in four different countries without even leaving the province.

Adapted from the best-seller of the same name by Georgia Hunter, this production comes to the streaming platform thanks to writer and executive producer Erika Lipez (Julia, Lone Star and Bates Motel) and director and executive producer Thomas Kail. Kail's direction is reminiscent of the legendary 1978 mini-series entitled Holocaust starring Meryl Streep, who then took another leading role in another heartbreaking story of Nazi extermination with the film Sophie's Choice (1982).

The uniqueness and appeal of We Were the Lucky Ones is that it tells the story of the entire Kurc family, a prosperous clan of merchants from Radom (Poland) and their five children - three boys and two girls - who go from a comfortable life to then be scattered to the four winds as a result of the German invasion and the war that caused their exodus and separation. But they all have one mission in mind: to find each other again.

Bird's eye view of the battle of Monte Cassino filmed in the Torcal de Antequera. Hulu/Disney

Joey King (Bullet Train and The Act) as Halina and Logan Lerman as Addy, she the little girl and he the idealist striving to hold this family clan together. These two are the leading characters of this adaptation of We Were the Lucky Ones, which becomes harder, more terrifying and blood-curdling as it progresses, portraying not only the horror and senselessness of war, but also the spirit of human resistance in the darkest time of the 20th century.

From street to street on location

The heart of Europe is the setting for this mini-series produced by Old 320 Sycamore and 20th Television studios, although part of the story plays out in Brazil, with scenes recreated from locations between Malaga, Marbella and Cadiz. The pontoon over Nagüeles beach made to look like a landing jetty, the Casa de Guardia de la Alameda converted into a Carioca (typical bar in Rio), a shop in Calle San Juan transformed into a book-binding workshop in a typical street in Rio de Janeiro and Plaza del Obispo, transformed with the technology of modern filming, into Brazil in the 1940s, all are camouflaged in numerous scenes that pepper the plot.

Extras in the scene shot in Plaza del Obispo for the series. Marilú Báez

For these Latin-American scenes, the promoters of the mini-series knocked on the door of the Malaga-based production services company Fresco Film, which not only found these natural settings in Andalucía, but also fine-tuned the work so they could film in Malaga province every scene set in Palestine, Uzbekistan and Italy. "The locations were milked to the maximum, as it was very hard work when it came to choosing the sites, but the result is brilliant," explains Tate Aráez, from the company A Film Location and responsible, together with his brother Kico, for the Spanish sets of We Were the Lucky Ones.

Thus, the Peñón del Cuervo can be spotted in the only scene set in Palestine, the old prison of Cruz del Humilladero becomes a military recruitment centre in Uzbekistan and the most spectacular sequences are those recreating the battle of Montecasino (Italy), with plenty of explosions and pyrotechnics filmed in the Torcal de Antequera Natural Park. This natural setting was also used for the escape scenes through the Alps.

With digital special effects to erase some of the more recognisable parts of Malaga or to fine-tune the scenes so they keep in period, viewers can follow the plot of the Kruc family's travels.

The book was written by the novelist and journalist Georgia Hunter, who had the idea after learning of her own family's odyssey during WWII. An extraordinary story that speaks of life in the face of death.

  1. Bishop's Square (Plaza del Obispo): Encounter in Rio de Janeiro

Marilú Báez

One of the most striking scenes in the series is the adaptation of Plaza del Obispo in the heart of Malaga city, transformed by the art department into a corner of Rio de Janeiro with Carioca bars from the 1940s to create a crucial scene starring the actor Logan Lerman.

  1. El Torcal de Antequera: the battle of Monte Cassino (Italy)

Hulu/Disney

El Torcal de Antequera Natural Park is the location for the most spectacular scene with the suicidal battle of Monte Cassino which was the key that led to the capture of Rome. An episode that ended in slaughter and in which the Polish army, of which one of the members of the Kurc family is a member, took part.

  1. El Torcal: Escape through the Alps

Hulu/Disney

The battle of Montecassino is not the only episode of the series that was filmed in El Torcal, as this scene of the protagonists' escape across the Alps to Italy was also filmed on the slope looking towards Villanueva de la Concepción.

  1. Calle San Juan: a book-binding workshop in Rio

Disney/Hulu

The art team transformed this San Juan street corner into a Rio de Janeiro book-binding workshop where the character played by actor Logan Lerman works.

  1. Casa de Guardia: getting drunk in a Carioca bar

Hulu/Disney

The scene features barrels of pajarete and other popular Malaga wines, but this sequence by actor Logan Lerman transports the viewer to a bar in Rio de Janeiro during a drunken binge in which his character cries out against the barbarity of the Nazis on European soil.

  1. Cruz del Humilladero Prison: Uzbekistan's army recruitment centre

Hulu/Disney

The former prison is transformed into a recruitment centre for the Polish army in Uzbekistan, where a member of the Kurc family, played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes, ends up.

  1. Peñón del Cuervo: Polish military camp in Tel Aviv

Hulu/Disney

This scene turns the Peñón del Cuervo into a Polish army camp in Palestine during World War II. With touches of digital technology, the tents multiply all over the hillside from the beach in Malaga.

  1. Pantalán de Marbella: Disembarcation on the Ilha das Flores (Brazil)

Josele

The famous pontoon of the Marbella Club Hotel on Nagüeles beach allows the protagonists to disembark in Brazil, via the Ilha das Flores (Island of Flowers), off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. In one of the images, the camera focuses on the famous Malaga resort in the background, which, thanks to digital technology, disappears to make way for a typically Rio landscape.

Fresco Film: the Malaga company behind the House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones

Peter Welter

Streaming platforms have started summer with a bang: Disney+ holocaust mini-series We Were the Lucky Ones, Filmin’s biopic of Hollywood star Cary Grant Archie, and HBO banking on Season 2 of House of the Dragon, a worthy heir to Game of Thrones. Not only were all filmed in Spain, but they also have Malaga-based production services company Fresco Film behind them.

“We are delighted because these three recently released productions are an excellent showcase for us,” explains Peter Welter, CEO of Fresco Film. Welter returns to this Malaga company after two years during which he focused on more personal projects, Welter’s new direction for Fresco means not only assisting the big international studios with filming in Spain, but also getting involved in development and co-production. Arachnid, a horror film by Thunder Road (John Wick saga) will see the Malaga company assume these new roles, says the CEO himself from Lisbon while hunting locations.

Fresco Film’s diary already includes a German film to be shot in Galicia and a Netflix mini-series to be filmed in Barcelona in autumn. He has high hopes for a third season of House of the Dragon: “if filming returns to Spain.”

This year marks a decade since Fresco Film’s first HBO project, putting it on the world stage. “In 2014 we filmed our first Game of Thrones and seven seasons later we continue with its sequel, the best sign of good work,” says Welter, recognising that the dragon franchise “opened the doors of Hollywood to us”.

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