It’s time again for a new installment of Foreign TV Watch, with another superb series from Spain.
(Yes, I know this series has been over-represented by Spain, but what can I tell you, they are making some amazing shows!)
Do you like historical fiction?
Do you like tales of mystery and suspense?
Do you enjoy stories that feature star-crossed lovers?
Do you like strong women characters, both heroic and antagonistic?
Do you want all this to be lightened up with a bit of humor, some even self-referential?
Have I got a show for you!
The Spanish TV series Gran Hotel (2011 – 2013) takes place at a luxury seaside hotel situated near Barcelona (the town, Cantaloa, is fictional) during the years 1906 – 1907. The story opens with the arrival home of Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca), whose family owns the hotel. On the same train is Julio Olmedo (Yon González) who has arrived at the hotel at the behest of his sister Cristina (Paula Prendes) who works as a maid. He finds out she has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Determined to find out her fate, he pretends to be the new waiter the hotel was expecting that day.
Alicia’s widowed mother Teresa (Adriana Ozores) is a dictatorial matriarch who is focused mainly on the hotel business. She insists Alicia marry the hotel’s director, Diego Murquía (Pedro Alonso). Alicia is attracted to Diego but is not sure she can love him. She meets Julio when he is pretending to be a guest at the hotel in order to gain information about his missing sister. When she finds out he is a waiter, she is still intrigued by both Julio and the mystery surrounding his sister’s disappearance. They begin to collaborate to find out what happened to her, and how it may be connected to Alicia’s family.
This is only the first of many intertwined mysteries that include betrayal, possible illegitimate heirs, illicit affairs, pregnancies (both real and faked), false identities, revenge plots, and murder.
Lots and lots of murder.
The town’s head police detective Ayala (Pep Antón Muñoz) is kept quite busy. He is obviously based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. (One of the delightful conceits of the show is when a young girl named Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller stays at the hotel at one point. This was Agatha Christie’s maiden name, and she did indeed travel through southern Europe when she was in her teens.)
Ayala has a much less competent sidekick Hernando (Antonio Reyes). They help provide some of the much-needed comic relief as Ayala is continually frustrated by his partner’s lack of detecting skill.
One thing that makes this show so good is how well it tempers the mystery plots with emotional stories. Julio becomes best friends with Andrés (Llorenç González) who is the son of the formidable head housekeeper Angela (Concha Velasco). Their friendship, along with the sexual tension between Alicia and Julio, drives the characters almost as much as the many mysteries.
Like Downton Abbey and one of my other favorite Spanish shows Velvet (which I reviewed here), Gran Hotel is clearly influenced by the classic British TV show Upstairs, Downstairs. The employees of the hotel live on site and many are critical to the story, including Angela and Andrés. Class is a wide gulf that separates the hero and heroine.
Alicia is a superlative heroine, a kind of Titanic-era Nancy Drew who can’t leave any mystery unsolved. Yes, she’s a bit weak when dealing with pressure from her family, but that would have been the case with many young women of her station in life during this era. Her mother is another excellently rendered character who turns out to be far more complex than she seems at first glance. Her contentious relationship with Angela goes back decades and is another reason why the story is so engrossing.
The production is absolutely beautiful, with stunning costumes, amazing cinematography, and a lovely seaside location.
The show has been so popular it has already resulted in remakes. The Mexican remake, with the more on-the-nose title Hotel de los Secretos (Hotel of Secrets) is also available on Netflix. An American version (updated to the present day and set in Miami) is slated as a mid-season replacement next year on ABC.
You can bet I’ll be giving both of those shows a try.