Hotel Portofino start date confirmed for drama on ITV1

Hotel Portofino (ITV1, 9pm)
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It’s cold outside, the nights are still long and the mornings dark.

So here’s a little escapism for you – a chance to envelop yourself in the warmth of the Italian Riviera during the Roaring Twenties.

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Although Friday night on ITV1 might seem like an odd slot for such a drama, it’s provided a home for other cosy series in the past, including Grantchester and Midsomer Murders. And while Hotel Portofino is new to the channel, there are some viewers out there who may find the storyline familiar – that’s because it first appeared on the streaming service BritBox last year.

“I wrote Hotel Portofino in the autumn of 2020,” explains its creator, Matt Baker (no, not the former Blue Peter presenter). “With the prospect of a second national Covid lockdown looming in the UK, I wanted to write something unashamedly sunny and escapist.

“The story is intended to be a piece of entertainment, but there are also obvious and fascinating parallels between the 1920s and the present decade, if you choose to look; just like today, in the 1920s the established order was reeling from a catastrophe of its own making, and new hierarchies were beginning to emerge as individuals and groups who had traditionally been without power began to assert and emancipate themselves.

“The characters in Hotel Portofino divide loosely between progressives and conservatives, between those who are liberated by the foreign charms of Italy and those who reinforce their prejudices.”

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A second series has already been commissioned, which is good news – it’s a wonderful little show featuring a great cast, including Anna Chancellor, Oliver Dench (the great-nephew of Dame Judi), and Mark Umbers.

But it’s Natascha McElhone who leads the way as Bella Ainsworth, owner of the titular establishment. When we meet her and the rest of her family, the hotel has only been open for a few weeks, but its efforts to cater for the needs of its upper-class clientele have already hit a couple of snags – there’s a staff shortage, the guests are rather demanding and a local politician seems determined to drag Bella kicking and screaming into the cauldron of Mussolini’s Italy.

Her family life isn’t easy either. Her caddish, spendthrift husband wants their son Lucian to find a wealthy wife who will secure the future of the Ainsworth estate back in England, while Lucian himself and his widowed sister Alice continue to carry the mental scars inflicted during the First World War.

“The challenge with period drama is to find the right balance between authenticity and engagement – you want the audience to feel like they are stepping into a different but recognisable world, to be fascinated by the difference of past lives but also to recognise the ongoing universality of the human experience,” says Baker.

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“It was a challenge to see the world through the characters’ eyes and to capture their voices, but it was also rewarding and fun. I hope that sense of fun shines through in the dialogue and in the characterisation that our wonderful cast and crew have so subtly but believably brought to life.”

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