The departure of Downton Abbey has left a hole in the schedules. It was an interesting proposition for a show – a period drama that was indented to soap operas whilst providing a, albeit shallow, social commentary. It was easy to watch but damn good as well, the odd duff note buried beneath the warmth of the whole.

ITV are trying to repeat this trick with The Halcyon, a WW2 set drama in a fictional London hotel. Like Downton, social history is played with slightly to stop the audience feeling uncomfortable. For example, Asian and black characters mix into the rest of the cast with barely a slither of racial tension. There’s also the key ingredients of ‘will they/won’t they’ romances, baddies getting their comeuppance and the idea that family isn’t defined by blood.

But is it as good as Downton? Well, no. There are some excellent touches. For example, the gay relationship between Toby and Adil, which at first looked like a desperate attempt to be another diversity box ticked, has been given some life by introducing a blackmail plot, reminding us how vulnerable the love that dare not speak its name was. The horrors of the Blitz are also well drawn, the fear palpable, the sense of loss devastating.

Where the show falls down is that the different bits don’t come together as a whole. So many of the plotlines are dependent on relationships (Betsy/Sonny, Emma/Freddie/Joe, Garland/Peggy etc.) that anyone wanting the broader sweeps of life will be disappointed. Characters cluster round each other and don’t interact much beyond their circle. The joy of Downton was watching a world change but in a controlled way. At The Halcyon, time is frozen in terms of class.

Also, it wouldn’t kill the show, in spite of its setting, to have a bit of humour. The odd waspish comment here and there isn’t enough. It’s isn’t like they haven’t got the talent. Mark Benton is a great comic actor stuck in a secondary role.

Finally, the biggest love story is, sadly, dull. Freddie and Emma are supposed to be star-crossed lovers. What we have instead is two insipid people who have been given ‘depth’ purely based on their love for each other that can never be announced. I can’t help but feel Emma comes alive more around suave and abrasive American journalist Joe. It almost makes you want Freddie’s plane to be shot down somewhere so she can get over him and move on.

With some fine tuning, this show could really work. There are so many of the base elements there that a bit of tinkering is all that is needed – higher stakes, better romances, greater variety of plots. None of this is beyond the scope of a talented team. If there is a second series, I hope some of the changes are made. It would be a shame for us to check out feeling we hadn’t had the best of stays.

Advertisements