Two weeks into Ramadan, 2016, I headed to Europe for a two-week trip. My fundamental angst to an otherwise anticipated and looked-forward-to trip was my having to miss out on the last two weeks of Grand Hotel, which had attracted my attention from day one. I drew a sigh of relief when someone told me that indeed there are sites where I can watch the episodes. However, sporadic Wifi access destroyed that hope, leaving me staring at a still screen half the time. Anyway returning home on Eid’s Eve, I binge watched for a night in anticipation of the grand finale on day 30th. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Once the series ended, I felt as though I was missing something. In fact, I did go back and watched the finale a second time. So, what made Grand Hotel such a special series?
Grand Hotel exemplifies the effort and dedication of an amazing group of players: a well-chosen cast, a zealous director, a producer willing to go the extra mile, and many more. I won’t list them by name so I don’t miss anyone, but it was a compilation that deserves our notice and recognition.
The series is adapted from a Spanish one, under the same name, Grand Hotel. Watching a few dubbed episodes, I can see why it created a frenzy in Spain and elsewhere, and was attractive enough for an Egyptian adaptation. The love affair between Julio and Alicia, the core of the series, is consummated. Hot passionate scenes where the heroes exchange burning feverish kisses punctuate the story line. The setting, a grand vintage hotel, and the enchanting extravagance and lush of the early 1900 are also enticing.
The basic storyline to the Egyptian Grand Hotel is very similar to the original story. A love affair, this time a Platonic one, grounds the many other sideline stories that revolve around inherent greed for wealth and power. The fact that Nazli and Fouad, aka Ali, remain in love but never succumb to their desires is rather appealing and very Egyptian since the hot scenes wouldn’t have converted well to an Egyptian setting and infringed on the pure romanticism bestowed upon us. In fact, once Nazli marries, they suppress their love and treat one another as brother and sister leaving their affair unblemished.
The Old Cataract was the perfect setting; the terrace opening on the Nile has a jaw-dropping view put to use in many scenes. It never failed to leave me struck by its beauty. Though the grounds around the hotel did not rise to the level of the Spanish grounds, which were green, lush, and tranquil, the Nile backdrop presented a different but similarly tranquil alternative.
The period was depicted carefully and beautifully: faithful-to-the-era costumes with white gloves, dainty hats, and cigarette holders; and grand furniture, emblemed menus, rotary phones, revolving doors, and old fashioned convertibles. I wish we had seen more Egyptian waiters, suffragi, with the Egyptian galabiya, the fez, and the bright cummerbund. The black suit uniform of all the waiters and staff left the story line more European akin to the original story, but I do understand that having Ali wear a galabiya may not have served him well in his romantic endeavours.
The hotel atmosphere is also another salient element. The hustle and bustle, the waiters in constant motion, the comings and goings of extras leave one immersed in the atmosphere.
The upstairs and downstairs ambience was closely intertwined. Regulatory functions of the downstairs, such as serving and cleaning, are juxtaposed against more sinful and criminal bearings: a taken-off but well-displayed uniform on a lavish armchair hints unfaithfulness, a wet nurse, aka mother, shuttles between feeding an upstairs twin and a downstairs one, and Mourad on a train ride to Cairo has Ward, a few seats behind, in absolute glee. And by the end of the series, many a downstairs member ends up upstairs satisfying the viewers love of equal footing and chances.
We must credit the Spanish origin with a great storyline. If you miss an episode, you miss much, for every episode has its swerves and twists. Characters develop as the story progresses. Nazli grows from a beautiful but uncomplicated person to one who effects change and can cause an upheaval. Amin, presented as rather naive and simple, carries his wife and assumed child on his shoulder and leaves them on the doorstep of the lover, then quickly becomes the rightful hotel owner ready to do his share of work. Amal, who was portrayed as an obnoxious and senseless drama queen, faces distress and sorrow only to become a loving wife and daughter in law. And as viewers we are flabbergasted once we realize that Ward was betraying Amin all along despite Amin’s sincere infatuation. The stories are weaved brilliantly together leaving the viewers mesmerized and captivated.
As for the ending, though I had my grim doubts, it did exactly what the Egyptian viewer wants by rewarding virtue and love and punishing vice and hatred.
All this makes Grand Hotel a very distinct series; no other series resembles it, and this is why Egyptians and Arabs remained glued to their tv sets all along Ramadan to watch it, and made the old Cataract, and Aswan, a destination for many seekers this fall and winter.
It also tells us that, yes, some production efforts elevate their viewers versus bring them down. Some productions can present a thriller similar to an Agatha Christie novel without focusing on snapped necks and blood-dripping knives. They can captivate an audience without high-pitched bellowing screams and over reactionary high-browed, scowling looks. That reality may be needed but often profoundly exaggerated, and that every now and then viewers want to see elegance, sophistication, and grace.
And this is what Grand Hotel gave them and that is why it succeeded. I recommend you watch it if you haven't just yet.