One of the most talked about drama series this Ramadan is Grand Hotel, a show based on a Spanish series bearing the same name. Taking place in the 1950s, the show follows the story of Ali and his quest to solve the mystery of his missing sister who worked at the notorious Grand Hotel in Aswan.
Although the plot is very similar to the Spanish series, there are some very different key elements in the story’s Egyptian version. Whether these changes fit the story into the Egyptian culture of the 1950s rather than the early 1900s in Spain, or to be able to shrink the lengthy story to the 30 episode style, the minds behind such translation successfully transformed the unique Spanish romantic drama into one full of Egyptian spirit.
Undeniably, there is a great amount of talent behind this successful transformation. To begin with, one can only imagine how hard it could be for a screenwriter to be able to re-imagine such a complicated, multi-layered source that has been recognised as a masterpiece since it first aired and has garnered millions of fans. It comes as no surprise that acclaimed writer Tamer Habib (Sahar El Layali, An El Eshk Wal Hawa, Taymour We Shafika) is the one at the helm of such a fantastic job. Habib is no stranger to creating strong, rich characters, which is exactly what he does with every major character in Grand Hotel. You will not find a single one-dimensional villain who shows only evilness or a motiveless hero with angelic traits. In fact, all major characters are so deeply detailed that one might find themselves cheering for a villain, a quality that only great stories share. Habib also never sacrifices the crime plotline for romance and vice versa, giving us a fair share of both emotional and thrilling scenes in every episode, which satisfies fans of both genres and keeps an overall balance to the series’ events.
Grand Hotel’s director on the other hand is not as much of a household name as Tamer Habib or some of the star-studded cast, but it sure will be one from now on. Director Mohamed Shaker Khodeir’s confidence in the material between his hands and his cast and crew crashes all the myths and beliefs that big productions must have big name directors in order to succeed. Shaker’s attention to detail in each scene and every location in Grand Hotel could transcend a haunting sense of time and an undisturbed feeling of the era where the events take place. His masterful pacing keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, yet allows them to enjoy a beautiful ride to simpler times.
One has to also commend Shaker for bringing out the best of each and every actor in such an ambitious cast. The cast is spearheaded by Amr Youssef, who gives a career-best performance as the series’ protagonist. His role as Ali, a character that develops tremendously throughout the series, allows him to display an array of emotions, which cements his status as a leading man in Egyptian cinema.
Grand Hotel features a plethora of great supporting performances. From relative newcomers like Mohamed Hatem (who gives a spontaneous and heartfelt performance with the role of Ehsan, the endlessly supportive, yet fair husband) to well known names like Anoushka (whose plays the character Esmat, one of the most complex characters of Grand Hotel, and is so strong that one might wonder why such a talented actress would be more recognised as a singer), Sawsan Badr (whose portrayal of the firm side of Sekina is as equally impressive as her romantic side), Mahmoud El Bezzawy (whose arrival to the scene saved the series from being too bleak, providing it with comedic relief and elevating the spirit of the whole episode whenever he appears on screen), to Dina El Sherbiny (whose stellar performance as Ward, the envious maid who would not stop at anything until she reaches her goals, is nothing new to the highly adept actress).
But even within a wholly successful ensemble, someone must stand out and give the best performance of the series. In this case, it is the tour de force Mohamed Mamdouh. His portrayal of Amin is undoubtedly a career-making performance. Mamdouh’s vision of the vulnerable character is so relatable, yet so original. His intricate body language and the look in his eyes could speak for ages without saying a word, and that’s the sign of a master performer. With such an extraordinary performance, not only does Mamdouh cement his place as a quality actor who brings depth to the characters he plays, but also as an actor who could play anyone.
A period drama with a scale as big as the Grand Hotel would have never worked well if it were not for its costume designs and set decorations. The efforts of costume designer Yasmine El Kady and art director Ahmed Shaker Khodeir are felt in each and every scene of the series. It is hard to imagine how much research they both had to go through in order to help create such a dynamic and believable world.
The technicalities of the series are all top-notch. Cinematography by Taymour Taymour captures the essence of the locations, creating fascinatingly memorable images, and intensifying the look and feel of the massively beautiful, yet alienating Grand Hotel. Award-winning Tunisian composer Amine Bouhafa’s (composer of the Oscar nominated picture Timbuktu) awe-inspiring score is a masterpiece on its own. A score that emphasises every emotion on screen and helps invest the audience even more into the scene.
All in all, there is an obvious winner between all what’s offered on screens this Ramadan. Even though Grand Hotel might not be the most viewed series of the month, it is definitely the series that raises the bar for every artistic and technical aspect there is, and consequently, the series that deserves your time. Two thumbs up to all who contributed in creating such an unexampled series within the Egyptian platform.
Ahmed El Goarany is an Egyptian film blogger, aspiring filmmaker, and a pharmacist.