There used to be an unwritten law of British television that said when times are tough viewers head to Sir David Attenborough documentaries to escape the grim realities of everyday life.

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But with the rising awareness of the climate crisis, even the natural world isn’t the safe haven it used to be. Time, then, to explore that other traditional bolthole when the real world becomes worrying: the period drama.

This Friday, ITV1 provides your passport to another age when it opens the doors to Hotel Portofino. Set on the Italian Riviera during the roaring '20s, Natascha McElhone plays Bella, the English owner of a new hotel, keen to cater to her upper-class guests’ every whim as they indulge themselves on a picturesque stretch of Mediterranean coastline.

Everyone is of course beautiful and well dressed, although some are recovering from the trauma of the First World War. But all are looking ahead to a new era of peace and opportunity, even while the faint outline of dark clouds gather on the horizon.

There are parallels with Downton Abbey – it’s the 1920s, it’s upper-class types enjoying a life of privilege, it’s on ITV1 – but also with other familiar period dramas we have loved over the course of the last half century.

Why are we so drawn to this period? In the latest issue of Radio Times magazine, McElhone reveals her own theory: the 1920s was an age before modern communications had taken over our lives and the art of conversation was key. Or as she puts it: “When we didn’t have half our brain in our mobile phone.”

It’s ironic to talk of living in the present while discussing period dramas, but we know what she means. The technological change that has revolutionised our lives has its upsides but it can also be pretty disconcerting. If that rings true with you, then why not slow down and lose yourself in the past? In which case, you could do worse than to check into Hotel Portofino.

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Hotel Portofino Radio Times cover

Also in this week’s Radio Times:

  • Emily Atack discusses the devastating impact constant explicit online messages have on her mental health, confronting the trolls, the “terrifying” following of Andrew Tate and being blamed for attracting unwanted attention.
  • Antonio Banderas on how his heart attack changed his life for the better, the death of cinema, and how playing Puss in Boots destroyed his vocal cords.
  • Iain Stirling reveals why he was selected as the voice of Love Island, why it’s his dream job, and what gives him “the ick”.
  • Speaking to Radio TimesView From My Sofa podcast: YouTuber and rapper KSI chats about making millions as a teenager, finding community online, infuriating his parents and learning from his mistakes.

Hotel Portofino is available now on ITVX Premium and begins on ITV1 at 9pm on Friday 3rd February.

If you're looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Drama hub for more news and features.

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Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.

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