Continuing with my recent Spanish theme, this post is about a Spanish TV drama series which is currently being shown on Sky Arts. Gran Hotel has been dubbed the Spanish Downtown Abbey, though both are in debt to an earlier British TV series – Upstairs, Downstairs. Gran Hotel does have much in common with both British series, in particular the contrast between the “upper crust” and the servants. In Gran Hotel it is the hotel’s owners and managers who rule the roost and there is less of an aristocratic flavour to the divide, though one of the daughters has married the son of a Marquis to add some lustre to the hotel. The staff of the hotel are as strictly governed and put upon as in any aristocratic household, even more so perhaps as the hotel’s income and survival depends on them.
The key difference with its British predecessors is that Gran Hotel is not just a social drama, but a murder mystery as well. The murder in question is that of Cristina Olmedo, who worked as a maid in the hotel. At the start of the series her brother, Julio, turns up to meet his sister, only to be told that she has left the hotel in what appear to be suspicious circumstances. He decides to stay on and fakes his way into a job as a waiter in the hotel. His attempts to find out what did happen to his sister and who was responsible provides the backbone to the series. In this endeavour he is assisted by the young and beautiful younger daughter of the owners – Alicia de Alarcón. The photo at the top shows Julio (Yon González) with Alicia (Amaia Salamanca). Their comings and goings is a very risky undertaking, breaking all the rules of social convention. Not to mention the fact that Alicia is now engaged to Diego the hotel manager. It soon emerges that there are many more secrets and secret liaisons in the hotel, some involving the staff and the management. All giving plenty of scope of intrigue and excitement.
Gran Hotel is set in 1905, which makes it more like Upstairs, Downstairs in this respect. The hotel is indeed very grand, perhaps the grandest in all of Spain at that time. It is set in a fictional place, somewhere on the northern coast. Near Santander in reality. The sets and costumes are lavish and there is a genuine period flavour to the series. The cast is excellent and there are the usual characters to be found from the good, the bad to the ugly. Most are believable, thought the young son, the dissolute Javier, is a bit too much of a stereotype and is the least convincing character. I can appreciate the need for a black sheep in the family, but his scenes and escapades just seem too unrealistic, especially for 1905 in Spain. However, the rest are very good and the added ingredient of a murder enquiry makes this a most enjoyable and suspenseful drama. The series consists of nine episodes and so far we have reached number six, and as yet I still have no idea who the murderer is, or how it will all end. There have been of course plenty of red herrings to keep one intrigued as to what will happen next.
It is very pleasing to see Spanish TV drama on our screens and Sky Arts are to be congratulated for showing this series. It has won various awards in Spain, where it was first shown in 2011. This success led to a second series which was shown earlier this year in Spain. Let us hope that Sky Arts shows us this second series and that other broadcasters have the courage to explore more TV from Spain and other Spanish language countries.