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TIFF ’19 – Preliminary Picks

The first slate of Gala Presentations and Special Presentations for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival were announced yesterday. I’m thrilled to be going back to TIFF this year as press. I’ll be covering the festival on this site as well as with DVD Netflix, Cine Suffragette, on my social media and beyond. 

I learned so much from the last TIFF and I know better how to navigate this next festival. My focus this year will be on female directed and female focused films, Spanish-language films (and foreign cinema in general), LGBTQ themed films and a few big releases thrown in for good measure. The Gala Presentations will be in high demand and thus the most difficult to get access to. I’ll be very selective when it comes to those. The full list of TIFF films will be announced on August 20th and from there I’ll curate my final list.

In the meantime, here are my top 10 picks from the first slate of announced films. It was difficult to narrow it down to 10 so I can’t even imagine what it will be like to come up with some semblance of a schedule when all the films are announced. This is an impressive line-up!

Gala Presentations

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Courtesy of TIFF

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – World Premiere

dir. Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers.

I was perfectly content with Morgan Neville’s doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and didn’t necessarily think I needed a Mister Rogers biopic. But Hollywood loves a good biopic! Mister Rogers was and still remains a very powerful figure in my life and I’m incredibly curious what story it has to tell and how he’ll be portrayed. I think his story is in very capable hands with director Marielle Heller whose film Can You Ever Forgive Me? was one of my favorites from last year’s TIFF.

Joker – Courtesy of TIFF

Joker – North American Premiere

dir. Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix

I wasn’t even remotely interested in a new Joker movie UNTIL I saw that trailer. Damn. I love that the film takes a deep dive into the character’s origin story and the psychology behind why he became the Joker. I enjoy Todd Phillips’ work and Joaquin Phoenix is an excellent actor and I’ll watch anything he’s in. I predict this film will be a hot ticket at TIFF. I’ll have to be realistic about my chances of getting in.

Other Gala Presentations

  • Abominable – dir. Jill Culton – World Premiere
  • American Woman – dir Semi Chellas – Canadian Premiere
  • Blackbird – dir. Roger Michelle – World Premiere
  • Clemency – dir. Chinonye Chukwu – International Premiere
  • Ford v. Ferrari – dir. James Mangold – Canadian Premiere
  • The Goldfinch – dir. John Crowley – World Premiere
  • Harriet  – dir. Kasi Lemmons – World Premiere
  • Hustlers – dir. Lorene Scafaria – World Premiere
  • Just Mercy – dir. Destin Daniel Cretton – World Premiere
  • Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band – dir. Daniel Roher – World Premiere (Opening Night)
  • Ordinary Love – dir. Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn – World Premiere
  • Radioactive – dir. Marjane Satrapi – World Premiere (Closing Night)
  • The Sky is Pink – dir. Shonali Bose – World Premiere
  • The Song of Names  – dir. Francois Girard – World Premiere
  • True History of the Kelly Gang  – dir. Justin Kurzel – World Premiere
  • Western Stars – dir. Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen – World Premiere

Special Presentations

Ema – Courtesy of TIFF

Ema – North American Premiere

dir Pablo Larrain and starring Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal

There’s very little information about this film besides a basic description of the plot. However, I’m already excited about the potential for this film. This Chilean film follows Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) as she “sets out on a risky quest to reset her life” after a terrible accident.

Greed – Courtesy of TIFF

Greed  – World Premiere

dir. Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher

I adore Michael Winterbottom and had such a fun time attending the premiere of The Wedding Guest at last year’s TIFF. Greed stars Steve Coogan as a fast-fashion mogul who throws a lavish party that is overthrown by nearby refugees. There’s a lot of potential here for both absurdity and serious social commentary.

A Herdade – Courtesy of TIFF

A HerdadeNorth American Premiere

dir. Tiago Guedes 

You may be surprised to discover that this is my #1 pick for TIFF. I’ll clear my schedule just to get into a screening. Portuguese films are rare and getting access to them is very difficult. I’m half Portuguese, fluent in the language and fascinated by Portugal’s cultural history. This film follows a wealthy family in mid-20th century Portugal and according to the description offers a look at the political, economic and social history of the country. SOLD!

Judy – Courtesy of TIFF

Judy – Canadian Premiere

dir. Rupert Goold and starring Renee Zellweger

I’ll be covering Judy for my classic film blog Out of the Past. I’m not as big a Judy Garland fan as some of my fellow classic film buffs are and not as precious about how she’s portrayed. There’s been some backlash from the community about this film but I’d like to see it before jumping to conclusions. I’m just hoping Judy offers an honest portrayal of a complicated woman rather than just another salacious biopic.

Knives Out – Courtesy of TIFF

Knives Out World Premiere

dir. Rian Johnson and starring Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, etc.

You really can’t go wrong with a star-studded murder mystery. It pretty much sells itself. Craig plays the lead detective and Plummer is the murder victim. I’m expecting a whip smart mystery with an eccentric cast of characters. Just watch the trailer and tell me you’re not immediately hooked.

The Personal History of David Copperfield World Premiere

dir. Armando Iannucci and starring Dev Patel, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, etc.

A new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel has Dev Patel playing David Copperfield and I am here for this. I love period pieces and classic novel adaptations and while I have a love-hate relationship with Dickens I’m eager to see what this new spin with a POC protagonist has to offer.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Canadian Premiere

dir. Celine Sciamma and starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami

Set in 18th century Brittany, this French film tells the story of an artist who is hired to paint a portrait of a would-be-bride and the two women develop a romantic relationship. This ticks off a lot of boxes for me. Female-focused, female-directed, foreign and LGBTQ! I just hope it doesn’t break my heart.

While at War  – World Premiere

dir. Alejandro Amenabar and starring Karra Elejalde, Eduard Fernández, Santi Prego

This Argentine-Spanish film is set in the early days of the Spanish Civil War as dictator Francisco Franco comes into power. The story focuses on writer Miguel de Unamuno and his rebellion against El Generalisimo. I was impressed with the trailer I’m particularly interested in stories about political persecution, rebellion and repression so this is right up my alley.

Other Special Presentations

  • Bad Education – dir Cory Finley – World Premiere
  • Coming Home – dir. Wayne Wang – World Premiere
  • Dolemite Is My Name – dir Craig Brewer – World Premiere
  • Endings, Beginnings – dir. Drake Doremus – World Premiere
  • Frankie – dir. Ira Sachs – North American Premiere
  • The Friend – dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite – World Premiere
  • Guest of Honor – dir. Atom Egoyan – North American Premiere
  • Heroic Losers– dir. Sebastien Borensztein – International Premiere
  • Honey Boy – dir. Alma Har’el – International Premiere
  • Hope Gap – dir. William Nicholson – World Premiere
  • How to Build a Girl  – dir. Coky Giedroyc – World Premiere
  • I Am Woman – dir. Unjoo Moon – World Premiere
  • Jojo Rabbit – dir. Taika Waititi – World Premiere
  • La Belle Epoque – dir. Nicolas Bedos – North American Premiere
  • The Laundromat – dir. Steven Soderbergh – North American Premiere
  • The Lighthouse  – dir. Robert Eggers – North American Premiere
  • Marriage – dir. Noah Baumbach – Canadian Premiere
  • Military Wives – dir. Peter Cattaneo – World Premiere
  • Motherless Brooklyn – dir. Edward Norton – International Premiere
  • No. 7 Cherry Lane – dir. Yonfan – North American Premiere
  • The Other Lamb – dir. Malgorzata Szumowska – World Premiere
  • Pain and Glory – dir. Pedro Almodovar – Canadian Premiere
  • The Painted Bird  – dir. Vaclav Marhoul – North American Premiere
  • Parasite – dir. Bong Joon-ho – Canadian Premiere
  • Pelican Blood – dir. Katrin Gebbe – North American Premiere
  • The Report – dir. Scott Z. Burns – International Premiere
  • Saturday Fiction – dir. Lou Ye – North American Premiere
  • The Two Popes – dir. Fernando Meirelles – Canadian Premiere
  • Uncut Gems – dir. Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie – International Premiere
  • Weathering With You  – dir. Makoto Shinkai – North American Premiere

Check out the full list of offerings on the TIFF website.

My Final TIFF ’18 Picks

by Raquel Stecher

Working on my itinerary for TIFF ’18 was a monumental task. This year’s slate consists of 343 total films: 255 feature length films, 88 shorts. The shortest film is 43 seconds (The Invisible Cinema) and the longest 14 hours (La Flor). 83 countries are represented and 34% of the films are directed by women (and 136 films have a female lead).

Going through the complete list of films was overwhelming. There are so many films I wanted to see. How was I going to chose? I broke it down to the basics. I concentrated on the films screening on the days I would be attending: Thursday-Monday. Then I broke it down by day. The maximum number of films I could watch in one day is 4-5 so I aimed for 4. Then I created a list of what in particular I was looking for:

  • Strong female protagonists, women directors
  • Foreign films, especially those from Central and South America
  • Indie films with a good hook
  • LGBT stories, especially ones with female leads
  • Period pieces
  • A few big movies for good measure and a press conference or two

And here is what I came up with. These are the films that are on my final schedule. I added a few of my back-ups for good measure.

What do you think? Which of these films are you excited about?



dir. Wash Westmoreland
Keira Knightley, Dominic West

This is my number one pick for the festival. This biopic on Colette, author of the Claudine stories and Gigi, offers a look at gender dynamics and female empowerment through the lens of literary history. I’m also particularly interested in the period costuming and detail.



Tell it to the Bees
dir. Annabel Jankel
stars Anna Paquin, Holliday Grainger

An adaptation of Fiona Shaw’s novel, this post-WWII drama set in Britain tells the story of a doctor/beekeeper who falls in love with a struggling single mom. I’m always on the look out for a good LGBT story and this one is already getting some decent buzz. On Instagram, star Anna Paquin referred to this movie as her “passion project.”



dir. Daniel Syrkin

On the cusp of winning the Nobel Prize, a world renowned economist is found dead. Four of his closest friends, determined to get him the prize he deserved, work tirelessly to conceal the death until the laureates are announced. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this film. I need to know what happens!



Assassination Nation
dir. Sam Levinson
stars Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra

I usually shy away from horror films but this one sounds so good that I can’t pass it up. Levinson’s new film takes the Salem Witch Trials and gives it a modern twist. Set in present day Salem, MA, the story follows four high school teens as their community turns against itself after a series of social media hacks. I’ve watched the trailer more times than I care to admit.



Vita & Virginia
dir. Chanya Button
stars Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki

Based on a true story, this film explores the relationship between Vita Sackville-West and legendary author Virginia Woolf. I’d love to compare this one with Colette, another literary biopic with an LGBT angle. Especially considering that Vita & Virginia has a female director and Colette does not.



A Star is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga

I’m curious to see how this iteration of A Star is Born compares with the previous films from 1937, 1954 and 1976. I hope to write and possibly create a video comparing and contrasting all four versions. Stay tuned!


Red Joan
dir. Trevor Nunn
stars Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson

As I said in my original look at the TIFF selections, the biggest draw for me for this movie is Dame Judi Dench.  Red Joan is Trevor Nunn’s return to film directing. His last work was Twelfth Night: Or What You Will (1996). The story follows the semi-true, semi-fictionalized story of a British physicist turned KGB spy.



Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
dir. Barry Avrich
featuring Ben Ferencz

Avrich’s new documentary follows the story of 98 year old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg Trial prosecutor. Ferencz has made it his life’s work to fight against racism and Neo-Nazi sentiment. This looks fascinating! I enjoyed Avrich’s documentary on price gouging in the art world entitled Blurred Lines.



The Quietude
dir. Pablo Trapero
stars Martina Gusman, Berenice Bejo, Edgar Ramirez

Trapero’s new film, set in Argentina against the backdrop of a military dictatorship, follows the story of two sisters who reunite after their father’s stroke. Secrets and long-held grievances threaten chaos where there was calm.


The Wedding Guest
dir. Michael Winterbottom
stars Dev Patel

Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure, Jude (1996), was a big influence on me in my teen years.  The Wedding Guest follows the story of a British man with a secret agenda who travels through Pakistan and India. The plot description is as mysterious as the movie promises to be.



dir. Federico Veiroj
stars Gonzalo Delgado

This Uruguayan drama follows the story of an artist who tries to reconcile his work with being a single father to his young daughter. Based on the trailer this looks like a sweet and possibly melancholy father-daughter story. I’m also curious to see how it explores work-life balance.



The Good Girls
dir. Alejandra Marquez Abella
stars Isle Salas, Flavio Medina

Set in 1982 Mexico during the country’s debt crisis, Abella’s film explores the story of a rich socialite whose perfect world starts to fall apart. I made it a point to add some Spanish-language films and I love that this film is a period piece directed by a woman and with a female lead protagonist. It checks off of a lot of criteria on my wishlist.



Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
stars Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin

I have an extensive background in book publishing and this story of Lee Israel, bestselling author turned literary forger, is right up my alley. It hits a bit close to home so while I’m sure the story will make me uncomfortable, I think it has a lot of potential to enlighten and entertain.




dir. Steve McQueen
stars Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez

I’m not 100% sold on this one. It’s co-written by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn so you know it’ll be ruthlessly violent. I’m quite sensitive to the content but am thoroughly intrigued by the idea of widows taking over a heist for their criminal husbands. The all-star cast doesn’t hurt either. McQueen’s film is a remake of the 1983 British mini-series by the same name. Maybe I should watch that instead?



The Man Who Feels No Pain
dir. Vasan Bala
stars Abhimanyu Dassani

This Bollywood action flick looks like it can deliver big on entertainment value. Abhimanyu Dassani stars in his debut as literally a man who feels no pain. This gives him an advantage as a street fighter. The story follows him from childhood to his adult years as he vows to defeat 100 foes. The trailer is quirky and fun. I definitely need to see this movie!


dir. Gaspar Noe
stars Sofia Boutella

Inspired by a true story, Climax follows a dance troupe’s party spirals out of control after they drink sangria spiked with LSD. Because it’s directed by Gaspar Noe you know it’ll be weird and shocking. The story is set in 1996 and features mostly non-actors Noe on YouTube or in a Paris nightclub. This is part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness line-up.



dir. Polo Sorrentino
stars Toni Servillo

I’m always drawn to strange and twisted foreign films. The Italian film Loro looks like it fits that category to a T. Sorrentino’s movie tells the story of controversial tycoon/politician and his over-the-top world. This looks bonkers in the best way possible. Just watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.



dir. Wanuri Kahiu
stars Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva

The newest offering from Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, this film explores the romantic relationship between two young women in a culture that rejects and a country that bans homosexuality.



Sew the Winter to my Skin
dir. Jahmil X.T. Qubeka

Based on the true story of outlaw John Kepe, Qubeka’s film is Robin Hood meets 1950s South Africa. The protagonist steals from rich white colonists to give to the indigenous poor. I have to make the difficult decision of whether to watch this film at TIFF or attend the Share Her Journey rally. I won’t be able to do both!



The Old Man & The Gun
dir. David Lowery
stars Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Casey Affleck, Elisabeth Boss

Robert Redford recently announced that The Old Man & The Gun will be his final film. The film legend is retiring and I can’t pass up an opportunity to watch his grand finale.


I’d like to offer a special thank to you to TIFF for their Media Inclusion Initiative for 2018. They made 200 additional press spots available for under-represented journalists including people of all genders, sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds and abilities. I am honored to have been selected as one of those journalists. And an extended thank you to the initiative’s sponsors which include Netflix, 20th Century Fox, Rotten Tomatoes and others.

See you in Toronto!

2018 Toronto International Film Festival

by Raquel Stecher

I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival as a member of the press! This will be my very first time attending TIFF and I can’t wait to bring you coverage here on Quelle Movies. I’ll also be writing and posting about TIFF on my Twitter, Instagram, on the Cine Suffragette blog, and over on DVD Netflix’s Inside the Envelope blog and on their Instagram. I hope to secure some more outlets in the coming weeks. While TIFF is a 10 day festival, I’ll only be able to attend the first five days. But I’m confident I’ll see lots great films in that time frame!

In light of the tragedy that occurred on Sunday in Toronto, TIFF decided to forego their annual Festival Press Conference. Today announced their big films in a press release instead. These movies will receive gala screenings, special presentations, press conferences and red carpet premieres. Here is the list of today’s announced films.



Beautiful Boy (world premiere)
dir. Felix van Groeningen
Steve Carrell, Timothée Chalamet

Everybody Knows
dir. Asghar Farhadi
Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem

First Man
dir. Damien Chazelle
Ryan Goslin, Claire Foy

dir. Mélanie Laurent
Elle Fanning, Ben Foster, Beau Bridges


The Hate U Give (world premiere)
dir. George Tillman, Jr.
Amandla Stenberg, K.J. Apa, Regina Hall

Hidden Man
dir. Jiang We
Eddie Peng

High Life (world premiere)
dir. Claire Denis
Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, Andre Benjamin

Husband Material (world premiere)
dir. Anurag Kashyap
Vicky Kaushal, Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu


The Kindergarten Teacher
dir. Sara Colangelo
Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Land of Steady Habits (world premiere)
dir. Nicole Holofcener
Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Connie Britton

Life Itself (world premiere)
dir. Dan Fogelman
Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Benning, Antonio Banderas

The Public (world premiere)
dir. Emilio Estevez
Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union, Christian Slater

Red Joan (world premiere)
dir. Sir Trevor Nunn
Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson

dir. Zhang Yimou


A Star is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

What They Had
dir. Elizabeth Chomko
Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Michael Shannon

Widows (world premiere)
dir. Steve McQueen
Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez


Ben is Back (world premiere)
dir. Peter Hedges
Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

Burning Lee
dir. Chang-dong

Can You Ever Forgive Me?
dir. Marielle Heller
Melissa McCarthy

dir. Nadine Labaki

Cold War
dir. Paweł Pawlikowski


dir. Wash Westmoreland
Keira Knightley

dir. Matteo Garrone

The Front Runner
dir. Jason Reitman
Hugh Jackman, Vera Fermiga, J.K. Simmons

Giant Little Ones
dir. Keith Behrman
Kyle MacLachlan, Maria Bello

Girls of the Sun
dir. Eva Husson

Hotel Mumbai (world premiere)
dir. Anthony Maras
Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher

The Hummingbird Project (world premiere)
dir. Kim Nguyen
Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek


If Beale Street Could Talk (world premiere)
dir. Barry Jenkins
Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Dave Franco, Pedro Pascal

dir. Nandita Das

Maya (world premiere)
dir. Mia Hansen-Løve


Monsters and Men (opening film)
dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green

MOUTHPIECE (world premiere)
dir. Patricia Rozema

dir. Olivier Assayas
Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet


The Old Man & The Gun
dir. David Lowery
Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Elizabeth Moss, Casey Affleck

Papi Chulo (world premiere)
dir. John Butler

dir. Alfonso Cuarón (closing film)

dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cannes Palme d’Or winner


The Sisters Brothers
dir. Jacques Audiard
Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

dir. László Nemes

Through Black Spruce (world premiere)
dir. Don McKellar
Tantoo Cardinal, Brandon Oakes, Graham Greene, Tanaya Beatty


The Wedding Guest (world premiere)
dir. Michael Winterbottom
Dev Patel

The Weekend (world premiere)
dir. Stella Meghie
Sasheer Zamata, Tone Bell, DeWanda Wise, Y’Lan Noel

Where Hands Touch (world premiere)
dir. Amma Asante
Amandla Stenberg

White Boy Rick
dir. Yann Demange
Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Eddie Marsan

dir. Paul Dano
Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal

See you in Toronto!


The Young Karl Marx

Coming soon: Director Raoul Peck’s new biopic about Karl Marx


Stations: Historical Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1840s Paris
Conductor: Raoul Peck

The Young Karl Marx
Timed to commemorate the publication of

Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in February 1848, comes a new film from celebrated director Raoul Peck. His previous film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, was a powerful look at the life of James Baldwin, the Civil Rights Movement and black representation in media (read my review here).  Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and is coming to theaters soon.


The Young Karl Marx


“At the age of 26, Karl Marx (August Diehl) embarks with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.”

The Young Karl Marx premieres on February 23rd at the Metograph in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. National release to follow.

To release on Digital and VOD on March 3rd.

Grand Hotel premieres on KCET and LinkTV

Eloy Azorín, Yon González, Amaia Salamanca and Pedro Alonso in Grand Hotel

Stations: Upstairs Downstairs TV Drama, Foreign Period Piece
Time Travel Destination: Edwardian Era Spain, 1900s
Conductor: Carlos Sedes

Grand Hotel

For fans of Downton Abbey, there is another upstairs-downstairs period drama with just as much intrigue and grandeur. Grand Hotel, or Gran Hotel in Spanish, is a television show from Spain that ran three seasons from 2011 and 2013. Set in 1905 in the Spanish countryside, the story follows the inner workings of a hotel that serves the wealthy elite. Run by the Alarcón family, Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) manages hotel with an iron fist. Running the hotel is a family affair along with her daughters Adriana (Amaia Salamanca) and Sofia (Luz Valdenebro) at the helm. The black sheep of the family, son Javier (Eloy Azorin), often disrupts his mother’s Doña Teresa’s tight control over her business. Much like in Downton Abbey, the upstairs family is closely connected with their team of downstairs servants. There is a mutual respect along with a strict code of conduct and high expectations for everyone involved at the establishment. The dynamic is slightly different here because both the Alarcón family and the servants work together to cater to a clientele. I always felt that in Downton Abbey, the Crawley family lacked purpose so it’s nice to see a working family instead.

You could easily call Grand Hotel Spain’s answer to Downton Abbey. This show offers viewers intrigue, murder, mystery, sex, deception all in the beautiful glory of Edwardian era Europe.

A scene from the first episode of Grand Hotel

Episode 1: The Maiden in the Pond (La Doncella en la Estanque): On the night of the hotel’s party celebrating the installation of new electric lights, chambermaid Cristina (Paula Prendes), whose been accused by hotel boss Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) of stealing jewelry, has gone missing. A month later her brother Julio (Yon González) travels to the hotel to find her. Pretending to be the new waiter, Julio infiltrates the Alarcón hotel. Julio is brash and determined to find the truth. He tricks Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca) into thinking he’s a hotel guest so he can get some information out of her. Alicia has her own problems. Her strict mother Doña Teresa insists that she marry hotel manager Diego (Pedro Alonso) a man she doesn’t love. The news of their engagement upsets Alicia’s sister Sofia who, with a baby on the way, was hoping that her husband would be the next in line. As the first episode progresses we see a rapidly changing dynamics of Alarcón family and we get closer to the truth of what happened to Julio’s sister.

The downstairs crew at the Grand Hotel.

Yon González and Amaia Salamanca

The series is based on an original idea by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira and is directed by Carlos Seda. All three have extensive background in producing original television programming in Spain. Like Downton Abbey, Grand Hotel is very much borderline soap opera especially with the various twists and turns the lives of the characters take. While Grand Hotel has its over-the-top moments, don’t expect a telenovela version of Downton because this not that at all. While the first episode lags a bit setting up the concept for the entire show, it quickly picks up in the second half. This is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama that will keep you wanting more.

I enjoyed the attention to period detail and how the hotel ushers in a new era with the reveal of their new electric lights. My husband spotted one anachronism which was Julio’s clip-on bow-tie. Otherwise, the costuming was very Edwardian specific.

Grand Hotel is premiering on the Southern California TV station KCET on Sunday January 28th 10 PM PST and on Link TV (available on DirectTV and Dish) on Monday January 29th 9PM EST. If you don’t have access to either of these channels, you can watch each new episode after it airs streaming on KCET’s website and LinkTV’s website for up to one week. Both channels will be airing all 39 episodes of the show’s original three seasons.

This show has been available on Netflix but in 45 minute increments rather than the 70 minute format that it was originally intended to be. Actress Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives writer Brian Tanen are currently in the process of developing an English-language version for ABC.

Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with lead actress Amaia Salamanca posting on this site very soon.


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