Come for the scenery. Stay for the scenery in a new UK period saga.
You have to admire the versatility of Natascha McElhone.
Best known as David Duchnovy’s wife in Californication, she heads the cast of Foxtel’s new period drama Hotel Portofino, screening just weeks before her role in Paramount+ sci-fi Halo.
Created by Matt Baker (Before We Die, Professor T) the series is set in 1920s Italy, shot in both Italy and Croatia.
McElhone stars as Bella Ainsworth, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and manager of the boutique hotel, referred to as “A very english hotel on the Italian Riviera.”
As the series opens with terribly Downton-esque music, you get the feeling this is hoping for a similar run. The family-run hotel sees wealthy Brits in the management ‘upstairs’ roles and more than a few locals in the ‘downstairs’ servants roles.
The guests are similarly wealthy, allowing for both class-driven storylines and the finest of frocks -more on that later.
It’s no wonder Bella is running the show. Husband Cecil (Mark Umbers) has debts and a wet personality. he’s hoping dashing son Lucien (Oliver Dench) will marry into money through guest Rose (Aussie Claude Scott-Mitchell), visiting with easily-shocked mother Julia Drummond-Ward (Lucy Akhurst).
Viewers need to stay alert as a parade of characters are introduced, including daughter Alice ( Olivia Morris), Dr. Anish (Assad Zaman) who was with Lucien when he was wounded in WWI, Italian aristocrats Count Carlo Albani (Daniele Pecci) and son Roberto (Lorenzo Richelmy), difficult guest Lady Latchmere (Anna Chancellor), visiting Americans Jack Turner (Adam James) and Claudine (Lily Frazer) plus staffers cook Betty (Elizabeth Carling), porter Billy (Louis Healy) and more.
Two other key roles include newly-arrived nanny Constance (Louisa Binder) and local councillor Signor Vincenzo (Pasquale Esposito) who quickly establishes himself as Bella’s local nemesis.
Rippling underneath the pleasantries and melodrama is the rising fascism movement under Mussolini’s Italy. This is one of the more interesting aspects, if only briefly touched upon in early episodes.
Much of the foreground drama is familiar stuff. Who has secrets? Who is getting intimate with whom? Backstories unfolding. It’s largely been done many times before whether by Julian Fellowes’ hit series, some smashing Merchant Ivory films or even a bit of Agatha Christie -I kept waiting for a dead body to show up, leaving everyone as a suspect.
Having said that, the backdrop is heavenly. There are alluring costal shots, pastel buildings, cool aquamarine waters, which will either make you want to book a Mediterranean holiday or resent it being denied to you for two years. The costumes are so pristine it’s like they’ve only been taken off the rack for Episode 1 (they’re not exactly ‘lived in’). If the experience is something from a storybook, so too is some of the dialogue.
Come for the scenery. Stay for the scenery…. and you’ll have a perfectly pleasant stay.
Hotel Portofino double episode Tuesday, February 8 at 8.30pm on FOX Showcase.