What links The White Lotus to Tom Wolfe and the Sicilian good life?

The second series of the scathing social satire ignites a chain of terrible rich people swanning about in Italy

Holidays in hell

Three of the cast of The White Lotus sitting on sun loungers on a beach
The wealthy wrong ’uns of The White Lotus went to Sicily … Photograph: HBO

Really rich people are terrible. That’s the quasi comforting lesson of many TV shows. So it is with The White Lotus, last year’s hit comedy-drama about wealthy wrong ’uns at a plush resort in Hawaii. Jennifer Coolidge’s zonked Tanya survives into the second round of the anthology series (Sky Atlantic/Now), with new guests including Tom Hollander, Michael Imperioli and Meghann Fahy holidaying at a resort in Sicily. Which brings our second lesson …

Things to do in Italy when you’re dead rich

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in Chiantishire
… the rich of Succession also went to Italy, where filming is not new … Photograph: HBO

… namely, that American TV and films seem to be set in Italy because, well, it’s nice for everyone to go to Italy: Succession (the finest of rich-people-are-terrible TV) had a jaunt, as did Master of None. See also: Netflix romcom Love Wedding Repeat, and forthcoming Spin Me Round. More prosaically, it might be the generous tax breaks for productions, and also, it’s Italy – what’s not to like? Periodic bouts of fascism, perhaps, but we are where we are. Granted, filming in Italy isn’t new – who could forget The Godfather?

Contempt content

Jean-Luc Godard
… Jean-Luc Godard made Le Mépris in Capri at Casa Malaparte … Photograph: Getty Images

And maybe a holiday wasn’t top of Jean-Luc Godard’s agenda when he made Le Mépris, but he did avail himself of sumptuous Capri locations. Specifically: Casa Malaparte, a dramatic structure built into a cliff, “transformed into a masterpiece” by controversial writer Curzio Malaparte, with the help of a local stonemason.

A home from home

Tom Wolfe
… a book on which featured a contribution from Tom Wolfe who wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities … Photograph: Getty Images

Casa Malaparte has inspired many, not just the departed French-Swiss maestro. Karl Lagerfeld published a book of photographs after visiting the site, while Malaparte: A House Like Me featured contributions from fashion designer Carla Fendi and author Tom Wolfe. The latter’s 1987 blockbuster novel The Bonfire of the Vanities has more terrible rich people – less memorable is Brian De Palma’s flop film adaptation. (Hollywood history podcast The Plot Thickens recently revisited the production from the POV of a journalist who had been granted unlikely access to the unfolding disaster. Look out for their upcoming new season about Pam Grier.)

Last resort

Sam Esmail
… scripted by Michael Cristofer, who was in Mr Robot by Sam Esmail, who helped bring The Resort to fruition … Photograph: Getty Images

The Bonfire script came from playwright/actor Michael Cristofer – more recently seen in Mr Robot, a series by Sam Esmail. This summer Esmail helped bring to fruition The Resort, a mystery set in a luxury hotel, which the Guardian said was “like The White Lotus with added menace”. If it returns for a second run, perhaps they might sojourn in Italy too. In the meantime, we can make do with the real thing, with more terrible rich people, enjoying – or more likely, not enjoying – the good life in Sicily.

Cristobal Tapia De Veer - Smile soundtrack - album cover

Pairing notes

Listen The White Lotus’s creepily infectious music is by Cristobal Tapia De Veer. The composer’s work is also in recent horror Smile.

Drink For a Sicilian taste, try the island’s Nero D’Avola grape. A bottle of organic Nero di Lupo red will cost you about £20.


Larry Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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