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Hotel Portofino PBS Review: A Beautiful New Period Drama to Watch

Looking for an escapist period drama set in a gorgeous Italian setting? Find out everything you need to know about Hotel Portofino on PBS.

Hotel Portofino on PBS 

Hotel Portofino PBS Review With Natascha McElhone in photo

Hotel Portofino, a glamorous new period drama for fans of Downton Abbey or The Durrells in Corfu, takes place in the beautiful resort town of Portofino in 1920s Italy.

And while Hotel Portofino isn’t as good as either period drama, this entertaining PBS series still has merit as it whisks you away to an Italian getaway full of fashion, intrigue, and melodrama.

With compelling female characters, a picture-perfect Italian setting, and danger just around the corner during a time of global upheaval, what’s not to love?

Hotel Portofino PBS Trailer

What is Hotel Portofino About?

Official Hotel Portofino Series PBS Synopsis:

“Set in the breathtakingly beautiful resort town of Portofino, this series is one of personal awakening in the aftermath of World War I and of the liberating influence of Italy’s enchanting culture, climate and cuisine on elite British travelers. “Hotel Portofino” tells the story of the Ainsworth family that has relocated from Britain to open an upscale hotel on the Italian coastline.

As elite guests like the imperious Lady Latchmere check into the hotel, matriarch Bella Ainsworth tries to keep up with their constant demands. Mingling commences among guests in an exhilarating cocktail of drama, glamour and mystery at Hotel Portofino.”

Hotel Portofino PBS Cast and Characters

It’s 1926 Italy, and a dysfunctional British family runs the Hotel Portofino, welcoming the elite, wealthy, and guests from different member stations to their English-style hotel. 

With an ensemble cast, Hotel Portofino introduces a compelling group of characters. Bella (the always fantastic Natascha McElhone) is the matriarch of the Ainsworth family. 

Warm and welcoming, the hotel is Bella’s dream. She’s intelligent and entrepreneurial. Unfortunately, Bella’s husband is also an abusive gambler who’s only interested in making money for himself, with always a secret scheme up his sleeve. 

Indeed, many of the men in this show aren’t exactly dreamy, but Cecil (Mark Umbers), her husband, is by far the worst. 

Bella and Cecil have two adult children who also help run the hotel: their widowed daughter Alice (Olivia Morris) (who has a young daughter) and the troubled and handsome war-wounded son Lucian (Oliver Dench – Judi Dench is his Great Aunt), dealing with the traumatic aftermath of World War I.

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Meanwhile, British, American, and some Italian upper-class travelers arrive at the Hotel Portofino to settle there for the entire summer. 

Hotel Portofino Lady Latchmere
Photo: Lady Latchmere (ANNA CHANCELLOR) and Melissa (IMOGEN KING). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

The guests include Lady Latchmere (the fabulous Anna Chancellor from Pride and Prejudice), a dramatic Grande Dame with strong opinions and a good heart, Jack Turner (Adam James), an untrustworthy art dealer, a famous tennis player, and even the honorable Italian Count Albani (Daniele Pecci). 

Then there’s the horrid and scheming Julia Drummond-Ward (Lucy Akhurst), a friend of Cecil, who arrives to force her daughter to find a wealthy suitor. There’s even an interest in matching her shy daughter Rose (Claude Scott-Mitchell) with Lucian against both their wills. 

Hotel Portofino Nish and Lucian
Photo: Anish “Nish” Sengupta (ASSAD ZAMAN) and Lucian (OLIVER DENCH). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

Other fascinating guests include Claudine Pascal (Lily Frazer), a fashion icon who knows her beauty and flaunts it, and Anish Sengupta (Assad Zaman), a doctor friend of Lucian’s (with unrequited feelings for his friend) who served with him in the war.

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And as there is a Downton Abbey influence, the downstairs cast plays a vital role in this six-episode period piece. Betty Scanlon (Elizabeth Carling), a first-rate cook, runs the kitchen and has been with the Ainsworth family for years. 

Her son Billy (Louis Healy) dangerously gets caught up in politics. He’s rightfully worried about the rise of fascism in Italy. 

Then there’s Paola (Carolina Gonnelli), an Italian maid who feels for Lucian. Unfortunately, she also knows he’s not serious about her. 

Hotel Portofino Constance and Lucian
PHOTO: Constance (LOUISA BINDER) & Lucian (OLIVER DENCH). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

Finally, the beautiful and secretive Constance March (Louisa Binder) arrives as a new nanny for the Ainsworth family. She, too, falls for Lucian, but can he fall for someone of a different class with secrets of her own? Not to mention, he’s supposed to be wooing the submissive and abused Rose.

With a large cast of characters, there’s tons of family drama and romance to go around. Everyone plays their part well, including the villains and abusive men. 

However, something is wanting when it comes to the love stories. Whether there’s not enough chemistry between the leads romantically or most of the men are awful, season 2 will hopefully have more on the horizon for the Ainsworth family and their hotel guests.

Hotel Portofino PBS Review: Overall Thoughts

Hotel Portofino Bella and the Count
Photo: Bella Ainsworth (NATASCHA MCELHONE) and Count Carlo Albani (DANIELE PECCI). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

Blackmail, a stolen painting, a compromising letter, and a corrupt local official interfering with hotel business make for a good escapist time. Plus, the scenery and the Italian coastline are gorgeous! 

Stunning to look at with coastal cliffs and sunny Italian streets, Hotel Portofino is all about 1920s fashion, Italian culture, and glam.

However, with a vast ensemble cast, sometimes the show suffers from undeveloped characters. For instance, I wanted to learn more about the Italian Count and his son. 

Count Albani has Colonel Brandon potential with his interest in Alice (although I’m not sure why he likes her), but I don’t know much about his background, and that’s frustrating. 

Paola, the Italian maid, also deserves more than having feelings for Lucian, who apparently everyone falls in love with for some reason.

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Furthermore, a couple of episodes suffer from dullness and slow-moving plots that thankfully turns around with the intriguing mystery of the missing heirloom. 

And, by the end, I was hooked entirely thanks to the charming performance by Natascha McElhone as the independent and likable Bella Ainsworth. You’ll root for her and her hotel to succeed, even knowing that the looming dictatorship and rise of fascism in Italy will one day bring doom to her endeavor. 

You’ll also root for all the women staying at the hotel. Too many have been used by men (or abusive mothers), but they can find themselves again with friendships. Or, for Rose, have a personal awakening for the first time in her life. 

Overall, I look forward to returning to the second season of Hotel Portofino. The show can work the kinks out despite the flaws by season 2. I look forward to more intrigue, romance, and glitzy fashion at the British hotel!

Hotel Portofino PBS Release Date

Hotel Portofino premiered on all PBS platforms on Sunday, June 19, 2022. The good news is that the entire series has already aired and is now available to stream on the PBS app.

Where to Watch Hotel Portofino

Hotel Portofino Claudine
Photo: Claudine Pascal (LILY FRAZER). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

If you missed watching Hotel Portofino, you can stream the series on PBS.org, the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, and Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast, and VIZIO. 

Furthermore, Hotel Portofino is available to stream on PBS Passport and the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel. You can also buy Hotel Portofino on DVD.

Content Note: Hotel Portofino deals with mature themes and includes some violence, racism, nongraphic sensual content, and rear male nudity. There are occasional moments of brief strong language. 

Overall, the series feels like a TV-14 show.

Have you watched PBS’ Hotel Portofino? What did you think of the new period drama series? Do you agree with our review? Let me know in the comments.

Featured image: Bella Ainsworth (NATASCHA MCELHONE). Credit: Courtesy of © Eagle Eye Drama Limited 2021.

Three and a half corsets rating
Three Vintage Hearts Rating

Hotel Portofino PBS Review: A Beautiful New Period Drama to Watch; pinterest image


By on August 10th, 2022

About Autumn Topping

In second grade, Autumn wrote her first story, “The Spinach Monster,” and hasn't stopped writing since. Intrigued by the tales her grandmother told of vampires, witches, and ghosts as a girl, she's always been drawn to the fantastic. Later, Autumn studied English and Creative Writing (continuing her love for classic literature and everything old-fashioned) and graduated with an MA in Children’s Literature and an MS in Library & Information Science from Simmons College. Currently, she co-runs this lovely site and works as a YA Librarian.

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