Ovation's period drama, 'The Halcyon,' exquisitely mixes British aristocracy, staff and eclectic guests in a 5-star hotel at the cusp of WWII

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27 September 2017

OVATION, Oct. 2, 10:00 PM ET

By Kellie Freeze

Ovation’s period drama The Halcyon, which premieres Monday, is a stunning import set in London’s most stylish five-star hotel on the cusp of World War II. The eight-episode event series is a dazzling look at the sex, secrets and scandals occurring within the hotel’s walls.

A hotel makes for the perfect backdrop of a series, muses star Olivia Williams (Manhattan, The Sixth Sense). “You have a combination of people you can grow attached to and whose stories you can follow, mixed with a helpful smattering of people who are just passing through. So you can have glamorous or sinister or evil or beloved guest stars coming in, which also makes a good drama.”

Inhabiting the world of the Halcyon Hotel are its wealthy and often revolving clientele, its aristocratic owners — including the formidable Lady Priscilla Hamilton (Williams) — and the hotel’s support staff, featuring an enormous menagerie of porters, housekeepers, cooks, musicians and management staff. These colorful below-stairs folks are reminiscent of beloved characters from other Anglophile series, and it’s no wonder — producers from Downton Abbey and The Crown are also involved in The Halcyon. And while the show examines the time-tested struggle between Britain’s classes, storylines about refugees, homophobia and anti-Semitism feel remarkably current.

At the series’ onset, Williams describes Lady Hamilton as being in a “boring” time in her life. “She is married to a man who doesn’t seem to love her very much — nor she him — and has two sons [played by Jamie Blackley and Edward Bluemel] of whom she’s very proud, but in that traditional British way, nobody seems to show it much.” But a twist of fate changes Lady Hamilton’s circumstances, and she’s almost a physical embodiment of the hotel: Behind her stoic and refined facade roils inner turmoil. “She is extremely good at keeping a grand front,” agrees Williams. “Her frontage is intact, while inside she is in chaos.”

Lady Hamilton has contentious relationships with nearly everyone she encounters, but she saves the majority of her most venomous vitriol for the hotel’s manager, Richard Garland (Steven Mackintosh). “She starts off with a serious set of grievances against Mr. Garland,” says Williams, explaining that not only is Garland a commoner, and thus below her character’s aristocratic station, but his unwavering allegiance to her husband also makes him an accomplice in Lord Hamilton’s infidelity. And one of the Hamilton sons has a lifelong affection for Garland’s daughter (an effervescent Hermione Corfield), which is inappropriate in Lady Hamilton’s eyes, though fans will be cheering for the young romance to have a happy ending.

If Lady Hamilton is going to be successful in her new endeavor, she’d better learn to play nice with Mr. Garland. “He’s a threat in every way, but what she is about to find out is that she needs his help, and so she’d better learn some manners and start being a bit nicer to him,” says Williams. “Otherwise she is going to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.”

Hotels were exempt from Britain’s stringent World War II rationing and thus became meccas for fun and frivolity. “London was a very, very drab and depressing place in the war time, and then you go through the doors of these hotels, and they’d be bright and sparkling and people were dancing and drinking,” shares Williams. “My husband’s grandmother, who died at the age of 101 last year, she described going to this dance hall called the Hammersmith Palais and dancing away. And when an air raid siren would go [off], they’d either get under the tables or keep dancing. It really was people dancing to defy falling bombs.” And like history, The Halcyon is glamour wrapped within a blackout-shaded exterior. It is a gorgeous escape that dances in insolent rebellion of whatever personal war wages around your day.
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