Last Updated on July 18, 2022
This June, a new British period drama comes to PBS! The series “Hotel Portofino” has charming characters from different walks of life mingling in a tasty cocktail of romance, glamour and mystery.
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The six-episode period piece starring Natascha McElhone follows an elite yet dysfunctional British family who open a hotel for upper-class travelers on the magical Italian Riviera during the Roaring 20s, amidst the rise of Mussolini’s fascism.
Our friends on the other side of the pond watched “Hotel Portofino” on BritBox UK at the start of 2022, and now it’s our turn.
Read on for premiere date, plot details, cast, photos, episode descriptions and times, and to watch the trailer. Our review is here.
“Hotel Portofino” tells the story of the Ainsworth family that has relocated from Britain to open an upscale hotel on the Italian coastline. Natascha McElhone (Ladies in Lavender) and Mark Umbers (Home Fires) star as the British expat hoteliers Bella and Cecil Ainsworth.
Set in the breathtakingly beautiful resort town of Portofino, this new period drama is about personal awakening at a time of global upheaval in the traumatic aftermath of World War I and the liberating influence of Italy’s enchanting culture, climate and cuisine on posh and privileged British travelers.
As distinguished guests like the imperious Lady Latchmere (Anna Chancellor, The Cazalets) check into the perfectly appointed hotel that was once a gracious country home, matriarch Bella Ainsworth (McElhone) tries to keep up with their constant demands.
JP O’Connell’s historical novel Hotel Portofino provides the basis for the new show. Series writer Matt Baker told Drama Quarterly that the adaption of “Hotel Portofino” “started out very much as a relationship drama, and because I’ve been writing crime stuff, there is an Agatha Christie-style crime element that threads through the plot. The core story is a family saga with an emerging love triangle in the middle of it, but running through that is a light-touch ‘crime’ that emerges and then resolves itself.” Baker, who enjoyed the British period drama “The Duchess of Duke Street,” was inspired to create the series because of his affinity with both Italy and the 1920s.
There are flashbacks to the First World War, and fascism brings violence to the hotel’s doorstep. Still, Andrea Downing, President of PBS Distribution, promises viewers will be “swept away into an opulent summer vacation on the Italian Riviera.” Baker happily agrees: he says that “Hotel Portofino” is “unashamedly a piece of entertainment. It’s sunny, escapist entertainment.” For sure, it’s not that everything at the hotel is a paradise, but the money and marriage issues (for a start) are theirs, not ours.
In “Hotel Portofino,” breezy innocence, budding romance, forbidden romps, cozy mystery, oppression, and upstairs / downstairs drama intertwine with personal and social liberation themes. Despite being filmed largely in Croatia, the carefully crafted circa 1926 Italian setting with its soothing color palette is enough to recommend the show, as is the hotel styling with its “Downton Abbey” worthy English kitchen.
For its British (and English-speaking) guests, the hotel is a home away from home; for its owners and staff, it’s a chance at a fresh start. If you’ve enjoyed other period series about Brits abroad, like “The Durrells in Corfu” and “Indian Summers,” or can’t get enough of the Danish series “Seaside Hotel,” this new period drama could be for you.
“Hotel Portofino” has already been commissioned for Season 2.
The ensemble cast includes Pasquale Esposito (Gomorrah), Lorenzo Richelmy (Marco Polo), Lucy Akhurst (Monarch of the Glen), Oliver Dench (Pandora), Assad Zaman (Apple Tree Yard), Adam James (Belgravia), Imogen King (The Bay), Elizabeth Carling (Goodnight Sweetheart), Lily Frazer (Saint Maud), Olivia Morris (The Turtles), and newcomer Louisa Binder, among others.
The series is an Eagle Eye Production; Eagle Eye Drama was formed by the same three founders and creative team behind Walter Presents, and produces English-language dramas inspired by original ideas as well as hit non-English-language series from around the world.
When Does Hotel Portofino Air on PBS?
“Hotel Portofino” premieres in the US on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings) The period drama will stream on all station-branded PBS platforms. Episodes will become available simultaneously on PBS Passport and the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel.
Episode Descriptions & Airtimes
Episode One: First Impressions – Premieres June 19, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
Hotel Portofino opens its doors to guests around the world, including the imperious Lady Latchmere (Chancellor) who is hard to please. Bella Ainsworth (McElhone), co-proprietor with her husband Cecil (Umbers) and the moving spirit behind the hotel, uses resources, energy and focus to meet hotel demands, while tending to her war-wounded son Lucian (Dench) and her widowed daughter Alice (Morris). Bella quickly finds herself targeted by a scheming local politician, Signor Danioni (Esposito), who threatens her with extortion.
Episode Two: Lessons – Premieres June 26, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
Guests settle in and enjoy the hotel property, including the vivacious American, Claudine Pascal (Frazer), and Anish Sengupta (Zaman), a close friend of Lucian’s who is taking a break from his medical studies. Under the pressure of an arranged marriage to Rose by his father Cecil, Lucian asks for permission from her mother Julia to take her for a painting lesson on the beach. Meanwhile, Danioni worms his way into the Ainsworth’s affairs by helping Cecil arrange for a family heirloom to be sent from England.
Episode Three: Invitations – Premieres July 3, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
Bella and Lady Latchmere bond over a family tragedy and Constance, a young woman helping around the hotel, is encouraged to make more of her appearance by the hotel’s most worldly guest, Claudine. Bella invites Italian locals to the first English afternoon tea in the hotel’s garden, and the Ainsworth heirloom, a painting by the artist Rubens, arrives during the festivities. When several guests head off for a supper party, Lucian and other younger guests stay behind. Rose lets her hair down with Lucian but disgraces herself in Julia’s eyes.
Episode Four: Uncoverings – Premieres July 10, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
The younger guests venture out on a boat trip, where Constance wears the daring swimsuit Claudine has given her. Catching Lucian’s eye, he and Constance swim together to explore a nearby cave. Bella finally stands up to Signor Danioni when she visits him to make another payment and insists it will be her last, but Danioni doesn’t take the news lightly. He hands over compromising correspondence to Cecil, but before he can confront Bella about the letter, the Rubens goes missing and there is uproar at the hotel.
Episode Five: Discoveries – Premieres July 17, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
Bella and Cecil, the hotel’s guests and employees are in a tumult over the stolen painting. As the police, led by Danioni, search for the missing heirloom, everyone is a suspect. Danioni accuses Billy Scanlon, the only surviving son of the hotel’s cook, Betty, of being the thief. An Italian guest, Count Albani, steps in to try and help Bella resolve her difficulties with Signor Danioni. Cecil finally confronts Bella over the compromising letter.
Episode Six: Denouements – Premieres July 24, 2022, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET
The day after Bella’s confrontation with Cecil, her daughter, Alice, finds a locket that reveals a secret Constance has been hiding. When Lucian finally acknowledges his true feelings, Alice takes him aside to disclose the secret from Constance’s past. Lucian must now decide on his prospective engagement to Rose. Claudine and Bella build a bond as her empathetic manner gives Bella strength. The mystery of the missing heirloom is resolved, and the police investigation is closed. Cecil makes a surprising discovery about Danioni, and he pays him off with a bribe not to reveal his indiscretion.
If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List for suggestions of other British period dramas to watch.You’ll especially like the Best Period Dramas: Interwar Era list.