SARAH VINE's My TV Week: Glamour, intrigue, aristocrats

SARAH VINE’s My TV Week: Glamour, intrigue, aristocrats… it’s perfect escapism!




If you were a fan of Downton Abbey and you enjoyed The White Lotus, trust me: you’re in for a treat with this. First broadcast on Britbox and now on ITV1, it’s pure escapism, liberally doused in glamour and served with a generous side order of intrigue. 

All the elements of a good period drama are here: the casual arrogance and cruelty of the British aristocracy, unrequited love, marital strife – only instead of being set in a gloomy stately home on some rain-lashed moor, the action takes place on the Italian Riviera. 

Natascha McElhone (pictured) is Bella Ainsworth, owner of the hotel in new ITV drama Hotel Portofino 

It’s all dappled sunlight and ochre-tinged palazzos, cool marble floors and leafy terrazzas. Everyone is absurdly beautiful, the men fabulous in pale linen, the women elegant in flowing 1920s cocktail frocks. 

Italy looks like a dream (one wonders whether this, together with season two of The White Lotus, might have been secretly sponsored by the Italian tourist board). But there’s trouble in paradise. 

Natascha McElhone is Bella Ainsworth, owner of the hotel. She’s a woman of gentle sensibilities, which is unfortunate as her husband, Cecil (Mark Umbers), is a thorough cad. 

We see her in one scene with blood on her face and a gash on her cheek, with flashbacks to him beating her. He’s also conducting some nefarious business involving a stolen Rubens and a corrupt local politician. 

Their son, the exquisitely handsome Lucian (Oliver Dench, Dame Judi’s great-nephew), is the antithesis of his father, a sensitive dreamer (he paints) scarred by his wartime experiences, in love with one of the staff, Constance. He spends quite a lot of time sketching her adoringly while his best friend, young Dr Anish (Assad Zaman), stares adoringly at him. 

Meanwhile his sister Alice, a frightful snob, does her best to make Constance’s life unbearable. Not that it matters, since poor Lucian is obliged to propose to Rose (Claude ScottMitchell), the daughter of his father’s friend (and lover), for financial reasons. 

Sarah Vine (pictured) has said it is worth watching the ITV series if you are a fan of Downton Abbey and White Lotus

They don’t really care for each other, but Cecil is having none of it. ‘Most young men with a drop of blood in their veins would be chomping at the bit, not mooning around worrying about emotions,’ he tells his son. 

Anna Chancellor does a fabulous turn as the equivalent of Downton’s Dowager Countess, all old-fashioned corsets and antediluvian attitude, and there’s a great cast of Italian actors, including Daniele Pecci as charming Count Carlo Albani, who has designs on Alice. 

And yes, it is derivative, but there’s enough good writing, rich characterisation and talent among the excellent cast to keep the viewer engaged. Perfect escapism.

  • I was looking forward to a bit of harmless window-shopping on the world of luxury travel, but was so bored by World’s Most Secret Hotels (Sunday, Channel 4) that I barely managed ten minutes. I have no idea why someone at Channel 4 sanctioned this show, but they need their head examining. It was about as interesting and insightful as one of those advertorials you used to be forced to watch in hotels, the TV equivalent of an in-flight magazine. Sure, the hotels were unique – a five-star tent in the jungle, a cave in Italy – but it was little more than an extended brochure for the owners and developers. 

A zom-com with bite!

Drew Barrymore in Santa Clarita Diet as a Californian mother and estate-agent who wakes up one day to discover she’s become a zombie

Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix, Cert 15) is a show that passed me by when it first came out – but for some reason it’s hugely popular among daughter’s age group, and it was she who introduced me to it. It’s a bonkers premise: Sheila, played with endless charm by Drew Barrymore, is a Californian mother and estate agent who wakes up one day to discover she’s become a zombie. 

Not your usual zombie, mind. In the way that Breaking Bad was about a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who just happened to end up cooking up crystal meth, this is about an ordinary wife and mother who just happens to need human flesh to survive. 

It’s bizarre and there are plenty of moments of black comedy – plus, of course, the undead thing is a great metaphor for a mid-life crisis. Well it feels that way to me, at any rate. 

An irresistible underdog tale 




Starring Rory Kinnear (pictured) Phoebe Dynevor, Joel Fry, Cathy Tyson and Hugh Bonneville, Bank of Dave tells the true story of Dave Fishwick 

This is one of those quintessential underdog stories that’s hard to resist, all the more so since it’s set in salt-of-the-earth Burnley and stars a solid British cast as well as featuring a cameo from Def Leppard, no less. 

Starring Rory Kinnear, Phoebe Dynevor, Joel Fry, Cathy Tyson and Hugh Bonneville, it tells the true story of Dave Fishwick, local businessman and self-made millionaire, who decides he wants to set up a bank to serve the needs of his local community. 

To help him, he hires hotshot London lawyer Hugh (Fry), who initially treats Dave and his idea with illdisguised contempt. Gradually, however, and thanks in no small part to the charms of Dynevor’s character Alexandra, Hugh falls in love with Burnley and its people, and he helps Dave take on the vested interests – spearheaded by Bonneville as a superbly evil banker – to lead them all to triumph. 

Along the way there are lots of heartwarming moments (including Dave singing live on stage with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott) and a classic love-triumphs-overadversity ending. It’s the televisual equivalent of a nice warm cup of cocoa. 

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