They’re calling it the Downton Effect – Julian Fellowes’s ITV drama is creating an entire upstairs/downstairs period drama industry. The show itself has been sold to over 200 countries, according to production company Carnival which, considering there are officially only 206 sovereign states, means it’s vying with the Olympics for global influence.
Such is the hunger for Downton that countries with little previous experience of period drama are hauling the lace out of their grandparents' chest. First over to these shores is Spain’s Grand Hotel – bought by Sky Arts, and described by Spanish newspaper El Mundo as “a homage to Downton Abbey”.
In the USA, they can’t get enough of what headline writers are unfortunately labelling ‘Drama. Period.’ BBC America’s Copper – a US-only period piece set in 1860s New York blends high and low society with the founding of the city’s police department. Not to be outdone, Australia’s Vale Valhalla, tracing the lives of three families from the early 1890s to the outbreak of the First World War, is described, inevitably, as “Australia’s answer to Downton Abbey”, while Germany’s Titanic: Blood and Steel plays with the same social collision of bankers and shipworkers.
The dutiful daughter
Like Lady Mary, Alicia carries the weight of the world on her shoulders in Spain’s Grand Hotel. Just as the Downton daughter narrowly avoided marrying a man she loathed to keep the estate in the family, Alicia must sacrifice happiness for the hotel’s future and wed its sinister manager.
The lowly lover
Whereas Lady Mary immediately despised middle-class lawyer Matthew Crawley for being boring and beneath her, heiress Alicia in Grand Hotel is initially charmed by hunky Julio. Then, horror of horrors, she discovers he belongs downstairs and so begins another rollercoaster romance.
Spain’s answer to Maggie Smith makes up in Machiavellian cunning what she lacks in wit. Servants and aristocrats alike quake in the presence of devious Dona Teresa, owner of the Grand Hotel. The difference between the Dowager Countess of Downton and Dona Teresa? The latter’s bite is even worse than her bark.
The boss downtstairs
Just as Mr Carson the butler and Mrs Hughes the housekeeper keep order below stairs, the Grand Hotel has a Maitre and Madame. But it’s Madame who wears the trousers here. Like Mr Carson, she’s a stickler for rules, a surrogate parent to the boss’s kids and has a nasty habit of appearing in doorways at the critical moment and catching her charges red-handed.
The real star
Everybody knows the real star of Downton Abbey is the setting: handsome Highclere Castle, the country house in the county of Hampshire with its rolling parkland and plush reception rooms. Similarly, the sumptuous Palacio de la Magdalena steals the show in Grand Hotel. Originally built as a seasonal residence for Spain’s royal family, its majestic turrets and immaculately manicured lawns overlook the bay of Santander. And in Grand Hotel, money worries mean the hotel’s future hangs in the balance just as Downton Abbey’s does throughout its three series.
The scheming servant
Like thin-lipped spinster Miss O’Brien, there’s more to the maid Bélan than meets the eye. She’s bitterly jealous of her roommate Cristina’s promotion to floor manager, and slips into her shoes when the latter mysteriously disappears. Does Bélan know more than she’s letting on? And whose room is she creeping off to in the dead of night?
The black sheep
Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil rebelled and ran off with a chauffeur but she’s an angel compared to Dona Teresa’s wayward son. Javier should be studying the books in preparation for the day he will rule over the bejewelled guests and scurrying servants of the Grand Hotel. Instead he’s a roaring, raving drunk with a penchant for buxom prostitutes and fist fights.
Grand Hotel starts tonight at 8:00pm on Sky Arts 2