When you stay in a hotel – a proper, fancy establishment with fluffy robes and a complimentary bottle of champagne on arrival – there’s a certain feeling of potential in the air. Perhaps you’ll order a three-course meal from room service. Maybe you’ll spend the whole night exploring a foreign city before whispering in Scarlett Johansson’s ear. Either way, you can’t help but feel like a character in one of those movies available for a moderate fee on the in-room entertainment system. So what is it about extravagant hotels that make them the perfect setting for a gripping drama?
For starters, it’s the sense of location and dislocation. The Great Northern Hotel from Twin Peaks was a stately place that seemed filled with its own stories, and wouldn’t be as effective anywhere but that weird, icy town. Throw a host of scheming characters – human and supernatural – at unflappable outsider Dale Cooper, and watch him cope as his temporary home base becomes something less than a sanctuary.
Pretty Woman offers a different slice of drama than Twin Peaks, no matter what teen seductress Audrey Horne intended when she crawled into Agent Cooper’s bed. For Edward and Vivian, the hotel represents a break from reality – a fantasy world that only lasts as long as your booking. The decisions you make feel unmoored from the everyday, and it seems entirely possible within the walls of California’s Beverly Wilshire that a ruthless businessman could fall in love with a $300-a-night streetwalker.
Obviously, an extended stay in a luxury venue is best for encouraging sparks. Take The Shining, which sees the Overlook Hotel playing host to alcoholic writer Jack Torrance and his charming family during a particularly bad snowstorm. It isn’t long before things get out of hand in an axe-wielding, repetitive-typing way that simply doesn’t happen when a 10am check-out is strictly enforced.
In some cases, the drama emerges behind the scenes. Running a hotel seems like a glamorous undertaking – it was the premise behind short-lived Golden Girls spin-off The Golden Palace, after all – but there are so many moving pieces just waiting to enflame the passions. Between food, entertainment, poolside service and all those inviting beds, there are plenty of opportunities for drama to arise.
The echoes of lives lived within rented rooms forms the thematic backdrop to The Grand Budapest Hotel, as it unravels stories within stories from the once-proud, crumbling edifice. Here, the hotel itself is the most important character – a monumental Scheherazade that draws us in over 1001 Budapestian nights (well, 99 minutes anyway).
But never mind Budapest – Berlin’s Hotel Adlon is one of the world’s grandest places to stay. Built in 1907, mostly destroyed in 1945, fully reopened in 1997 and host to everyone from Adolf Hitler to Angelina Jolie, it sits across from the Brandenburg Gate like it owns the place. Now, new series Hotel Adlon threads history and family through a 90-year saga, bringing four generations of German drama to life with a blend of commerce, politics, money, glamour and sin.
Make sure your “Do Not Disturb” sign is hanging on the door before it starts.
Hotel Adlon is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: