TV Review: Hotel Portofino (Series 1)

A stunning setting can’t quite elevate Britbox period drama Hotel Portofino into must-see territory

“Nonsense my dear, it’s the 1920s”

Britbox’s original drama offering has quite the intriguing look to it, snagging some pretty impressive names to star in a range of projects. One of the glossiest looking is Hotel Portofino, set in the mid-1920s on the lush shores of the Italian riviera where well-to-do Englishwoman Bella Ainsworth has opened a luxury hotel designed to tempt the upper classes away from…Weymouth?

It’s a winning concept from Matt Baker. And with a historian’s eye, one rich in potential. Society is still reeling from the impact of the Great War and we’re in a country inexorably sliding under the thumb of fascism and both of these are touched on in the series. But they have to do serious battle with the Downton-esque shenanigans of love affairs, engagements, society tiffs and stolen paintings.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I have zero problems with a bit of lighthearted fluff. Heavens, I thrive on the stuff but the frustration comes when a show tries to have it all ways. Even with the shenanigans, we touch on racism, homophobia and domestic abuse but with so much else going on at the same time, very few of these are dealt with substantively.

Still, Natasha McElhone is great as the ever-resourcedul Bella, with Mark Umbers good as her feckless husband Cecil. And the show benefits from the bubble in which it was presumably filmed, meaning there isn’t too much of a turnover from episode to episode, allowing us get to know the guests a little more, particularly fun when it is Anna Chancellor’s Lady Latchmere, Lily Frazer;s Claudine or Dominic Tighe’s caddish tennis player.   

Hotel Portofino is always watchable, scratching that itch of easy familiarity. At times you wish that it pushed the envelope just a little bit more – lesbians instead of gays, domestic staff from somewhere other than the north of England, and a thematic boldness that would take the storytelling to more adventurous places. For the notion of exploring everyday life under the growing rise of fascism is really interesting but I suppose that is a different drama, maybe Britbox can make that one next.

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