New Year means new television, and as the harsh Winter nights continue to roll in, January audiences will be searching for a fulfilling and absorbing series in order to block out the surrounding cold. All broadcast platforms across the United Kingdom are offering an assortment of fresh-faced original content, but our first TV Pick of the Month in 2017 is ITV’s sumptuous period drama The Halcyon: a ravishing pairing of style and substance which transports spectators back to 1940s London, as a glamorous five-star hotel at the very centre of the High Society is amidst a world at war.
Produced by Left Bank Pictures – fresh off the back of rightful Golden Globe Award wins for Netflix’s exquisite The Crown – this new show airing on Monday evenings offers viewers what they’d come to expect from a televisual representation of the aristocratic, but perhaps not so typical narratively. The Halcyon has been rather lazily compared to Downton Abbey by a number of journalists since debuting on 2nd January, but this is a very different beast to Julian Fellowes’ traditional crowdpleaser.
For starters, this show has grit, and it isn’t afraid to expose it. Sharply penned, and often acidic dialogue is spat between characters, as tensions between the Hamilton family empire (the hotel being an integral part of their estate), and the managerial staff at the establishment begin to rise. Despite the glitz and glamour of the decedent setting, the hotel is very much a pawn in a long and ugly game of social, sexual, and political chess. Secondly, a sense of thematic perspective surrounding the war is altered, and pleasingly so, too. The implications of Churchill’s Blitz-torn Britain upon an expensive commodity such as the hotel – and indeed its guests – is fantastically explored through mutual characterisation of the Upstairs and the Downstairs. Regardless of class, the war effort is unpredictable and unflinching: no amount of wealth can stop an incoming bomb.
Aesthetically, The Halcyon is extremely similar to Netflix’s big-buck production. Meticulous levels of creative detail have been poured into the show’s luxurious sets; from the sprawling reception area, to the slick and frothy hotel bar – air thick with stale smoke and bourbon. The Halcyon Hotel as an entity is as characterised as those who dwell in its many halls, and lay in its many beds. There is possibility and purpose here, as there is deceit and danger. Each area has a sense of weight and validity, and much credit should be directed towards the writers for enabling such a forensic exploration of the titular location. Equally impressive is the lighting, costume design, and cinematography. Lensed with cinematic scale, establishing shots feel grand, whilst close-ups yearn with emotion and intimacy. The camera is well-exercised throughout the hotel and the surrounding suburbs of Central London; a feverish blend of bustlingly shopping streets, and dingy, steam-soaked alleyways.
The collective ensemble cast operate at an impeccable level, with the ever-watchable Steven Mackintosh lending perhaps his most assured and commading work since BBC’s Luther as Richard Garland, general manager of the hotel who is tangled in a bitter dispute with Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton; the recently bereaved wife to Lord Hamilton who enjoyed frequent sessions of adultery. Mackintosh renders himself as a hard-working everyman amongst the high-and-mighty, who is capable of dipping a toe into sin, but remains grounded by his levelheaded daughter Emma (immaculately played by Hermione Corfield; a star-making role). Kara Tointon is joyous as Betsey Day, the hotel’s vibrant performance artist who dazzles residents with her vocals and feisty humour, whilst Jamie Blackley gets a role with some much-required texture as the conflicted Hamilton heir, Freddie.
Other highlights include brittle and sarcastic laughs between the group, delicate make-up designs, and a startling title sequence which enchants with its classic James Bond 007 feel. Images of contrast are layered and paired with Samuel Sim’s woozy score, making for an entrance as impressive as the building’s huge doors. As more and more audiences expect filmic introductions to their small-screen entertainment, it is clear that the creative forces at Left Bank and ITV are keen to meet high demands, and do so with impressive intent.
The Halcyon is a fantastic addition to the terrestrial schedule, and by taking us all back to the past, it kick-starts what should hopefully be an excellent future of programming in 2017. Fans of shows such as The Crown, Mr Selfridge, and Maigret should most certainly be tuning in, but you don’t have to be a period drama aficionado to appreciate the quality and craft on offer here. This is vibrant, captivating, and compelling drama which is the perfect cure to the Monday Blues. Grab a brew and settle in.
The Halcyon airs on ITV HD at 9pm on Monday evenings. Catch up on the series now via the ITV Hub.