JULIAN Fellowes, the writer of films and TV shows about the British upper class and their servants like “Gosford Park” (which won the Oscar best original screenplay award) and the acclaimed “Downton Abbey” is now back with “Belgravia”, a miniseries based on his own 2016 novel. It’s shown on Epix that earlier aired such stylish shows as “Perpetual Grace”, “Get Shorty” and “Pennyworth”.
“Belgravia” is a period-costume drama with six quickly paced episodes (perfect for binge viewing while we’re in the midst of this dreadful lockdown) that are all engaging and well-acted. It’s produced with class, just like “Downton Abbey”, and even the musical score will somehow remind you of “Downton”.
The story starts in June of 1815, just before the Battle of Waterloo that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte. There’s a ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond and the guests include James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) and his wife Mrs. Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig). James is a self-made noveau-riche businessman who hit it big selling food and supplies to the British army during the Napoleonic War.
Also in the ball is their daughter Sapphire (Emily Reid), who is in love with Edmund Bellasis (Jeremy Jones), the only son of the Countess of Brockenhurst (Harriet Walter) and the Earl of Brockenhurst (Tom Wilkinson), a very rich family. Edmund is a soldier and before he goes off to war, he has a secret marriage with Sapphire. Then he fights in the war and dies, leaving Sapphire pregnant and thinking that their marriage is fake because she later saw the priest who married them as just another soldier who also fought and died in the war.
Jump to 25 years later in the 1840s. The Trenchards now live in the newly developed district of Belgravia in London, meant for very affluent people. We learn that Sapphire died giving birth to a baby boy and her parents concealed it to protect her reputation for having a child out of wedlock. The boy is given up for adoption.
The Brockenhursts do not know that they have a grandson and are leaving all their property to John Bellasis (Adam James), son of the Earl’s only brother, Stephen (James Fleet), a pastor who is addicted to gambling and just keeps on borrowing money from his brother to pay his debts.
Mrs. Trenchard takes pity on Lady Brockenhurst who feels sad that they have no direct heir, so she reveals to her the secret that they have a grandson, Charles Pope (Jack Bardoe), now 25 years old. Lady Brockenhurst then hosts a dinner inviting the Trenchards and also, Charles Pope, who doesn’t have a clue as to who his real birth parents are. For the first time, Mrs. Trenchard and Lady Brockenhurst meet their only grandson in person and it’s one of the most unforgettable scenes in the show. We were tearing up while watching it.
Also invited to the dinner is Lady Maria Grey (Ella Purnell) who is engaged to be married to John Bellasis, and Oliver Trenchard (Richard Goulding), the son the Trenchards who’s been married to Susan (Alice Eve) for 11 years but remain childless. Charles and Lady Maria strike a conversation while they’re in the garden and quickly become fond of each other. Meantime, John flirts with Susan and soon, they are having a tryst that leaves Susan pregnant.
There will be many twists and turns in the story as John and Oliver both become so jealous of Charles, who is receiving a lot of what they think is unjustified attention from both the Trenchards and the Brockenhursts. The diabolical John ultimately discovers Charles’ real identity and tries to get rid of him. But this is basically a feel good story and we can guarantee you that all the bad elements in it ultimately get the comeuppance they so deserve, including the servants downstairs who connive with the bad guys.
The acting is superior, with Tamsin Greig standing out as Mrs. Trenchard, the crucial lynchpin in the story who starts as a reluctant character, wary of attending a lavish ball at the start of the show when their country is at the brink of war. But with all the secret she keeps, she becomes more and more involved and pivotal as she starts revealing what she knows. She’s superbly supported by Harriet Walter as Lady Brockenhurst who starts as snobbish and snooty to her but warms up when she gets to know Mrs. Trenchard better and they become two strong women who uphold the rights of their long neglected grandson. If you enjoyed the six seasons of “Downton Abbey” and all its intriguing characters, then you have no reason not to like “Belgravia”.