Claude Scott-Mitchell explores the weight of expectation in ‘Hotel Portofino’

Claude Scott-Mitchell in 'Hotel Portofino'.

After a bleak COVID lockdown in wintery London, who wouldn’t be tempted by the chance to shoot a series set on the Italian Riviera?

But for UK-based Australian actor Claude Scott-Mitchell, starring in Hotel Portofino was not only a welcome escape. It was also a chance to turn her hand to an interesting character – one contending with the social expectations placed on women early last century.

Produced by Eagle Eye Drama and airing on locally Foxtel/Binge, the six-part UK series follows a quintessentially British family, headed by Bella Ainsworth (Natascha McElhone, Californication) and husband Cecil (Mark Umbers, Home Fires), who establish a hotel in Portofino in 1926 for upper class travellers, amid the backdrop of the rise of fascism.

Scott-Mitchell plays a guest of the hotel, Rose Drummond-Ward, who is struggling to forge a personality in the shadow of her domineering mother, Julia – who has organised their visit to the hotel in order to evaluate a marriage between Rose and Bella and Cecil’s son, Charlie (Oliver Dench).

The pressures facing Rose were engaging to Scott-Mitchell, who was keen to explore the differences between what she was thinking and what she was presenting to the world.

She has to fit into the profile of a young woman having to marry off. You’re getting to watch someone sort of at the very end of their tether in that sense, of what is expected of them,” she says.

Hotel Portofino was a new experience for the actor in many respects – her first time on a period drama and working in an ensemble cast.

The family atmosphere was a joy. While set in Italy, most of the series filmed along the Lungomare in Croatia’s Opatija, and she says they would often come out of unit and go for a dip – “which you needed to do after being in those costumes, because they’re so hot and they’re all vintage.”

“It was a really beautiful thing for us to film; it’s a beautiful escape piece.

“You can just be absorbed by what you’re looking at.”

Hailing from Sydney, Scott-Mitchell comes from a family of artists and grew up around the stage – production designer Michael Scott-Mitchell is her father – and so a creative career always felt on the cards.

She did some theatre as a child and studied at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. After graduating school she set about auditioning for film and TV, with credits including Playmaker Media’s Reckoning, Sky UK series Brassic, BBC’s Baptiste and Robert Connolly’s The Dry.

For Scott-Mitchell, her childhood has given her an appreciation of what it takes to bring a project to light. Similarly, Hotel Portofino, being both a period drama and an ensemble piece, also had a theatrical sensibility that helped her feel at ease.

“When I go onto set now, I feel very comfortable around the creative team. It’s that thing where you learn that it’s a machine and every single person is working to make it a functional thing.”

The actor moved to London five years ago in part due to its theatre scene, as well as a love for the city. Despite having now worked more in the UK than she has in Australia, she is always keen to return home.

“I love the Australian crew. Every crew I’ve worked with in Australia is just very special. There is something about going home and being able to be a part of the storytelling there. That’s very special to me and I hope I can continue doing that.”

Hotel Portofino airs on Fox Showcase and on demand Tuesdays at 8.30pm.