‘The Halcyon’ review: ITV’s new hotel drama fills the void left by ‘Downton’

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With Downton Abbey in the rear view mirror and the second season of The Crown in the distant future, we now have ITV’s The Halcyon to fill the void. And does it ever!

The Halcyon is a swanky hotel in London where aristocrats, political leaders, and the posh set come to stay and play. It’s May of 1940 and the war hasn’t yet settled its icy grip on England. Gin flows freely as couples in gowns and tuxedos dance check-to-check to the Sunny Sullivan band.

Underneath this thin veneer of civility lie the everyday trials and tribulations of the inhabitants of The Halcyon – both above and below stairs. In true Upstairs, Downstairs fashion, the real brains of the operation lie in those below.

We’re introduced to Lord Hamilton, the owner of the hotel. While his wife is away, M’Lord likes to entertain his tarty girlfriend, Charity Lambert, right in the marital bed. He owns the hotel—you’d think he’d at least take her to another room. Lady Hamilton arrives a day early and disaster is narrowly averted by the quick actions of manager Richard Garland. When Garland chastises Lord H for the close call, Lord H replies “You keep my secrets; I keep yours.” We wonder what possible indiscretions lie in prime and proper Mr. Garland’s past.

Lady H’s suspicions are confirmed the next morning when Lambert shows up in the dining room. Lady H corners Garland in his office, demanding the names of all the women her husband has fraternized with and the details of his indiscretions. Garland politely but firmly refuses her request. Lady H gives him a withering glance and says “I wish I could respect you, but I can’t.” Be careful, RG – you’ve made a formidable enemy out of her.

The twin sons of the Hamiltons come to The Halcyon for a party—eldest son Freddie has earned his wings. He runs into his childhood friend, the classically beautiful Emma Garland, as she’s working for her father at the front desk. Now that they’re both grown up, they see each other in a different light. Sparks fry and we fear Emma may get her heart broken. He’s the heir, after all, and she’s just the girl behind reception.

A handsome American reporter is one of the guests. He breaks a story on American radio about Lord H and other leaders meeting at The Halcyon to discuss making a deal with Hitler. Richard Garland demonstrates the depths of his cunning as he outmaneuvers the only English paper to pick up the story and shields the hotel’s reputation.

Lord H may have a change of heart. When Freddie demands that he stop humiliating his mother, Lord H advises him, “Don’t make the same mistake as I did. I took something beautiful and I destroyed it—just because I could.”

The housekeeping staff, led by a commanding head housekeeper, operates with the speed and precision of a race car pit crew. The concierge, door man, and kitchen crew are a charming lot. We’re looking forward to getting to know all of them.

The Halcyon – check me in. I’m unpacking and am here to stay.

Aired at 9pm on Monday 2 January 2017 on ITV.

Visit Barbara Hinske’s official website here.

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