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Lady Hamilton begins the series as a problem to solve: she turns up unexpectedly as her husband is otherwise (indiscreetly) engaged, and the staff must put hands to the deck to deal with her quickly. She and Lord Hamilton are in a marriage of understanding, but faced with his poisonous mistress Charity Lambert making scenes in the hotel, it’s clear that Lady H has to be far more understanding than her husband. His death brings immense sadness but, we feel throughout the series, also a kind of relief: Lady H, in middle age, must reckon with who she is: spiky, sharp, funny and bemused, heartbroken, a champion of both sons, a scourge of Richard Garland. And it’s not an easy journey: with her husband dead, her children at work or war, and with none of her own passions to speak of, Lady H looks as though she may be at a loss for what to do, bar antagonize Garland for the rest of his days. We’ll cheer as she rises from the ashes independent, triumphant and with a new life force behind her. Will anything stand in her way?
Hotel manager and widower, Garland is propriety itself: the smooth, silent engine of the hotel, unwavering in his sense of duty and responsibility. But don’t be fooled, behind this calm façade lies a man not afraid to get his hands dirty. Garland is fiercely intelligent and a masterful reader of people, a skill he employs time and time again to protect the Halcyon and to outsmart and outmaneuver the tricky characters who cross his path. Lady Hamilton is the exception, and their relationship is characterized by antagonism from the outset. Garland has a softer side, which we see though his love for, and devotion to his daughter Emma, and his affection for switchboard operator Peggy. As with so many people, Garland has a past – a secret he wants to forget. As our series progresses and the Blitz begins, he will have to reckon with it: and his fortitude as the rock of the hotel will be tested to its limits.
Sultry singer with the Halcyon’s Sonny Sullivan Band, Betsey is sassy, brassy, glamorous and tough. Best friend and confidante to Emma, Betsey’s straight talking charm assures she’s a hit with hotel guests and staff alike. Betsey’s on-stage chemistry with band-leader Sonny Sullivan is undeniable, but off-stage she is blind to Sonny’s total devotion to her. Betsey knows how to have a good time, but scratch the surface a bit and you will find an air of world-weariness about her: her looks and talent are the only things that she’s had to hustle with from a young age. And although she’s tried hard to escape her dysfunctional past, it’s never too far away.
Joe O’Hara is a thirsty broadcast journalist. He came to the UK on the advent of the war, looking to cut his teeth as a foreign correspondent. We open with him restless for stories, only to find one in the very hotel he’s staying: fascists and appeasers conducting secret meetings in the Halcyon. It doesn’t exactly ingratiate him with the staff, but Joe has his eyes on a big career. The only other thing he may have eyes for is Emma, who he’ll come to pursue, even when it means running up against Freddie Hamilton. Joe may have started out a young buck, but the war will be the making of him: and not in the way he expects. Where he began his correspondent stint looking for the big, scandalous stories, Joe starts to realize how powerful the personal can be: as he makes his way through the bombed city streets, it is the citizens of London that will feature in his broadcasts. Where he was once hungry to be close to the epicenter of power, Joe now understands the potency of the ordinary voice. He has fallen in love with London, and wants to tell her story. We will see Joe on a moral journey through the series, as he learns the value of his journalism: with strong views about his country joining the war, he’s a key voice to the American public, who could otherwise choose not to listen.
Receptionist and daughter of hotel manager Garland, Emma is a spirited and mischievous young woman on the cusp of spreading her wings just as the war hits. Emma’s mother died when she was a child, leaving her to grow up in the hotel her father managed. She is a child of the hotel and it is here that she forged a strong bond with Freddie Hamilton, son of the owner, one that looks set to blossom into something more than friendship. Emma is headstrong, with a burgeoning sense of justice, and a yearning for life to begin beyond the Halcyon Hotel. As the world around them changes, she will step up and assume a greater role in guiding the hotel through these troubled times.
Freddie is the heir to the Hamilton title: born four minutes before his twin brother, he has had a lucky start, privy to many advantages denied to Toby: his father’s fortune, love and approval. He looks set to continue his heroic streak as he signs up to be a fighter pilot and declare his interest in Emma Garland – when the political landscape changes and war looks certain. Freddie’s foundations, once firm, are shifting rapidly: now he is to risk his life, over and over again for his country. He’s little prepared for the turbulence that’s to come. For the first time Freddie, confident, lucky and entitled, starts to feel doubt. We’ll watch as he realizes his fallibility and comes to reckon with life’s knocks, and as he comes to act with the responsibility his new role demands of him, trying to care for his mother, his brother, and Emma. Freddie will be our eye out onto the war – the personal, alternative experience of the iconic fights of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz. We’ll watch how the war shapes him in unexpected ways, from his life changing experiences in the sky to his burgeoning friendships with his fellow men.
Toby has lived his life under the shadow of Freddie: his elder twin brother and the heir to the Hamilton title, by virtue of a couple of minutes. Toby is sharp and clever; gifted in mathematics and statistics – he’s more at home amongst his academic peers at Oxford than the aristocratic world he heralds from. For this reason he’s always been at odds with his father Lord Hamilton. But Toby’s shy disposition belies a fierce self-assurance and a strong moral code – which we see when his feelings towards his father bubble over into open hostility. We meet Toby during a time of great transition, as the clouds of war hang heavy over London he sets about forging his own path both professionally, as he proves himself invaluable to the war effort – and romantically, as he grapples with what he wants.
Sonny Sullivan is the leader of the house band. A jazz obsessive, he communicates best through music, and it’s here that his deep connection to Betsey lies. They’ve played together for three years, through thick and thin, with Sonny on the keys. And they make a good team: Sonny is calm, bemused, quietly passionate where Betsey is spontaneous, extrovert and brassy. And opposites attract – Sonny has been in love with Betsey since he first clapped eyes on her. It’s the hotel’s worst kept secret, and obvious to anyone who sees them together. Will the penny ever drop for Betsey – or will Sonny find the courage to tell her?