Comfort Food for Downton Abbey Fans

PBS’s Downton Abbey is one of the most beloved series, but Hotel Portofino offers just enough to satisfy fans of British period dramas.

Downton Abbey: A New Era brought viewers back to Downton, but the film, while excellent, reminded viewers of the massive Crawley-sized hole the series left in their hearts. They might find some solace in PBS’s newest British period drama Hotel Portofino. While not perfect and a slight step down from Downton Abbey in terms of quality, Hotel Portofino manages to hit enough of the best beats of Downton Abbey and holds its own against its revered PBS predecessor.

Downton Abbey told the story of the Crawley family, their relations, and their servants. Through six seasons and two films, the trials and tribulations of the Downton Abbey residents provided soap opera drama with a touch of highbrow sophistication. Hotel Portofino looks to capture some of that magic by focusing on Bella Ainsworth, the proprietor of the titular hotel, and her family. While the Mediterranean setting is a change from quiet Downton, the hotel is quickly filled with guests who would feel right at home having dinner with Lord and Lady Grantham.

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Both Downton Abbey and Hotel Portofino have the unenviable task of making the upper class relatable. One way that both series do this is by quickly showing that upper-class finances are tenuous at best. Hotel Portofino takes a page straight out of the Downton playbook by having characters solve their problems in the easiest way they knew how to: arranging advantageous marriages. Bella has a lovely hotel on the coast of Italy, but like Downton, its upkeep is prohibitive. Cue up eligible son Lucian to dangle in front of wealthy young ladies. It is an old plot, but one that still works.

Financial intrigues are fine, but it is the love interests and entanglements that drove viewers to Downton Abbey. By the end of the series, pretty much every surviving character was redeemed in some way and found love. Even Mr. Molesley ultimately found happiness. Hotel Portofino has only aired one episode, but the hotel’s occupants already displayed complicated love lives. There does not appear to be a happily situated couple in the fairly large cast, so it follows that much of the season will involve the foibles and fits and starts of new relationships.

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Hotel Portofino takes place in 1920s Italy and like the recent Downton Abbey films makes a great deal of being on the precipice of World War II and the modern world in general. The later setting and the move to Italy allow for more relaxed interactions between staff, guests, and the hotel owners. The lines of social distinction are much more blurred on Hotel Portofino with one major exception. Italian servants are completely ignored and treated with a level of indifference not seen on Downton Abbey.

Hotel Portofino is unlikely to garner the praise or following that Downton Abbey enjoyed. Comparing a fledgling show to one that rose to the level of a cultural event is perhaps unfair. Even so, the show offers a lush setting, likable characters, and a similar era and atmosphere that makes checking into PBS’s Hotel Portofino appealing.

Downton Abbey: A New Era is available on Peacock and Hotel Portofino is airing Sundays at 8:00 on PBS.

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