Sunday, April 1, 2018

Classics: A Review of The Halcyon By Lauren Ennis


Dark days and bright nights beckon at London’s exclusive Halcyon hotel circa 1940. With the blitz raging outside while personal and political passions threaten to erupt inside the scene in ITV’s The Halcyon is set for drama. A Casablanca-esque atmosphere combined with a modern sensibility makes the series an enticing cocktail of the best of classic and contemporary. One visit with the series’ colorful cast of staff and guests is guaranteed to leave viewers wanting a return trip to the intrigue, opulence, danger, and romance that await in The Halcyon.

Downton, prepare to eat your heart out
The story begins as the threat of war ominously hangs over London even as life in the Halcyon’s hallways carries on. The problems of the outside world enter the hotel, however, with the arrival of the hotel’s owner Lord Hamilton and his fascist leaning mistress. While the potential for political and sexual scandal threatens the hotel’s reputation, the entirety of the establishment is thrown into upheaval when Lord Hamilton is found dead of a sudden heart attack. The hotel is then left in the hands of his scheming wife, Lady Hamilton, and two well-meaning but untrained sons, setting the stage for a power struggle between Lady Hamilton and the hotel’s general manager, Richard Garland. Meanwhile the guests and staff alike find themselves embroiled in both personal and professional crises as the Nazi bombs draw ever closer.

Although the series may tell a familiar war-time tale of love and glory it does so with just enough of a modern twist to keep audiences on the edge of their seats while still remaining true to the period in which it is set. One way that the script achieves this balance is by including elements that, while historically accurate, would have been censored by the media of the era. For example, the series approaches such adult topics as sexual assault, infidelity, and pre-marital sex with a frankness that, while true to life, would never have passed the restrictions of the Hollywood Hays Code. Similarly the taboo relationships between both interracial couple Betsy and Sonny and homosexual couple Toby and Adil are portrayed with a modern sensitivity, even as both couples confront the prejudice and intolerance of the period. The script also aptly portrays the class and gender struggles of the era and the ways in which World War II ushered in many changes to class and gender norms. Even in the midst of its most modern elements, however, the series never loses sight of such timeless themes as love, family, sacrifice, and patriotism. It is through its focus upon such universal themes that the series connects viewers to its characters and the distant world that they inhabit. Through its nuanced characterizations and multifaceted plot The Halycon is a series that is vintage but never old fashioned, with a modern sensibility that doesn’t sacrifice historical accuracy.

Let's party like its 1939
The stellar work of the series’ ensemble cast brings 1940’s London to vibrant life. Kara Tointon possesses all the sensual charm of Rita Hayworth as sassy nightclub singer Betsy Day. Sope Dirisu conveys equal parts debonair charm and quiet strength in his role as bandleader Sonny Sullivan. Olivia Williams portrays the by turns ruthlessly cold and achingly vulnerable Lady Hamilton with expert skill. Edward Bluemel aptly portrays the insecurity and frustration of the Hamilton’s neglected son, Toby. Akshay Kumar is endlessly endearing in his performance as conflicted bartender Adil. Matt Ryan possesses a world weariness and cynical charm worthy of Humphrey Bogart as reporter Joe O’Hara. Jamie Blackley makes for an admirable hero as the Hamilton’s favored son, ace flyer Freddie. Hermione Corfield expertly captures the warmth, wit, and resilience of receptionist Emma Garland. Steven Mackintosh nearly steals the series in his charismatic turn as the hotel’s enigmatic manager, Richard Garland.

With all the smooth charm of a black and white classic and the grit of a modern drama The Halcyon is far more than just another period piece. Through its array of colorful and fascinating characters and layered plot the series treats viewers to a swinging time that will leave hem begging for more. After checking into one episode of The Halcyon you won’t want to check out.

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