I began watching this historical drama to improve my Spanish. I learned in Mexico that Mexicans without access to an education in languages regularly learn English by watching American movies and soaps. The problem was that the Spanish in Gran Hotel is the Spanish of Spain and therefore difficult to follow. However the story is not. And it is worth watching.
Alicia, a young woman from the upper class in early 20th century Spain, just as automobiles were being purchased and used by the very wealthy, and light bulbs are replacing lamps, finds the love of her life in the person of a young waiter who is employed at the Grand Hotel that her family has owned for generations. Julio Espinoza is a revelation: brave, kind, generous, thoughtful and on equal footing with women, he is a devoted brother and son to his sister and mother, and is, in short, everything the men around Alicia, scions of the “Nobility” are not.
I have been speaking to people about the idea of teaching history through the back door of such visual dramas. There has been resistance. But I found this story – as I found The Borgias* (also on Netflix and very violent and pornographic, so be prepared)- useful in understanding a number of important things. For instance, in the case of Gran Hotel, the extreme poverty and misery of the European working class during this period, the way they were treated as serfs/slaves. The obliviousness to their plight by the wealthy, who rarely deigned to consider them worthy of even condescending respect. And how this impacted us –Indigenous and African imports – in “the New World” where both members of the “Nobility” and the former serfs/slaves eventually and tragically landed.
While watching this story, riveting as it is, pay attention to how exactly the behavior between master and servant was later mirrored not only on the plantations of the American South and the mining towns of Latin America, etc., but wherever these off -spring of the nobility, conquistadors and immigrants set foot. It becomes easier to understand too why people of color served the 1% of that era better as a permanent underclass. They could not infiltrate, as white skinned servants, serfs, and slaves, did, the enclaves, and actual bloodlines, of the ruling class. And, if they did, they could be instantly identified. You begin to see, too, how racism, protected by law, became an effective way to control wealth in the form of inheritance.
There is more. But beyond the visual lessons in history, there is the inspired acting of everyone, but especially of the main characters:
Yon Gonzalez, as Julio (surely one of the best leading men in many a decade)
Amaia Salamanca, as Alicia (perfect as an awakening sleeping beauty)
Adriana Ozores, as Doña Teresa (the evil mother incarnate)
Pedro Alonso, as Diego (a great study in psychopathic behavior)
Concha Velasco, as Angela (the dignity and common sense that should be ruling Earth but only after she’s liberated from servitude)
Llorenc Gonzalez, as Andres (a sweet, loving, simple son, so blind to evil he must be loved as a treasure)
Pep Anton Munoz, as Detective Ayala (a dry, worldly detective who maintains his humanity)
This series stirs a longing for more exposure in film of the realities of the working class(es).
Under the direction of Carlos Sedes (Thank you!)
*A fascinating look at the workings of the Vatican during the Middle Ages.