DVD Review: Seaside Hotel – Season One (Badehotellet)

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A period drama starring The Killing‘s Bjarne Henriksen has become an unexpected hit, proving that Danish TV has more to offer than a continuous stream of crime shows.

Series creators Hanna Lundblad and Stig Thorsboe worked on Krøniken (Better Times), a mid-noughties programme that focused on two families alongside the development of Danish broadcasting up until the 1970s. Keen to work on another historical based show they drew inspiration from the UK drama Upstairs Downstairs. The pair decided to use the setting of a beach hotel after reading a newspaper article about coastal resorts during the interwar period.

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Planned to run for five seasons, Seaside Hotel is a Downtown Abbey style show that mixes romance, tragedy and comedy as it follows the lives of the affluent and serving classes from 1928 through to 1932. From the giddy heights of the Jazz Age to the depths of the Great Depression, the personal lives of staff and tourists are transformed by events far beyond Denmark’s borders.

During the Summer of 1928, Europe was still healing after the trauma of World War 1. Within a year the world would face a financial crisis that paved the way for a second global conflict. In the first season, a group of holidaymakers descend on a northern coastal resort seemingly intoxicated by misguided beliefs in a future free of conflict. Oblivious to the forces that would soon change their lives the wealthy patrons of this resort celebrate their holidays with reckless abandon.

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Deliberately paralleling the current economic crisis with events from eighty-nine years ago the screenwriters are discretely commentating on the profligacy and inequalities that brought misery to millions and allowed extremist beliefs to flourish.

Meticulous in attention to detail, costume and set designers have taken great care in recreating the golden age of seaside hotels. Unable to find an existing hotel which would be available for many months of filming the producers constructed a detailed exterior set in a field. With the addition of some sand dunes and computer generated imagery, a highly effective illusion was created convincing viewers that they had been transported to a real seaside hotel.

A significant gamble by its broadcast network, DR. Seaside Hotel represents an attempt to broaden the range of home grown series and demonstrate that Denmark has more to offer than Nordic Noir.

Seen by 57 percent of the Danish TV audience, at the time of writing work has begun on the fifth and final series. Subtitled versions of the first two seasons are available on DVD.

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Each series focuses on the characters’ lives in a specific year. Tonally very different from Matador, this version of Danish history mixes broad comedy with moments of intimate tragedy. Through the prism of the past, the writers provide a subtle commentary which suggests we have not learnt from the past mistakes of history.

Scrupulously researched, Seaside Hotel is a brilliantly sketched account of false optimism. This warm, witty, and moving series is worth tracking down.

Seaside Hotel – Season One is available to order from Amazon