- Deborah Chu
- 13 March 2020
Julian Fellowes' new drama is a clumsy collage of petticoats, privilege and plot
Despite efforts to put distance between Belgravia and Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes' latest period offering will find it difficult to shake off those comparisons, but only because the family resemblance is so strong in both its virtues and flaws. Opening on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, Fellowes focuses on the upstart, middle-class Trenchards, before skipping forward 25 years to when the clan have become comfortably ensconced in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Belgravia.
Unfortunately, their good fortune has placed them within a stone's throw from the Countess and Earl of Brockenhurst, whose dastardly son had seduced their daughter, Sophia, decades ago. Both children have since died, but they left behind a troubling legacy: a son, who was quickly shuttled off as a baby to deepest, darkest Surrey, and whose existence the Trenchards have kept secret for decades.
At its worst, Belgravia is an awkward assemblage of petticoats, plot and shoehorned historical anecdotes, but without the lurid yet wildly entertaining twists that made Downton such a sensation. Aside from this secret grandchild binding the families together, the series' main tension comes down to Fellowes' love of a good class conflict, and there's certainly some drama to mine as dusty aristocrats and gauche new money rub shoulders over the tea tray. However, unlike Downton, everyone here is solidly upstairs, and without this study of contrasts, the tension does not feel nearly so dynamic.
That isn't to say the show is without its charms. As you'd expect from a Fellowes creation, the historical scene-setting is impeccable and immersive. Jack Bardoe and Ella Purnell are suitably fresh-faced and dewy-eyed as lovers Charles Pope and Lady Maria Grey, while Alice Eve gives a somewhat wooden, but still promisingly conniving performance as the Trenchard's unhappy daughter-in-law, Susan. But it is Tamsin Greig's Anne Trenchard who acts as the show's emotional rudder, conveying deep fathoms of grief, embarrassment and simmering fury with the tiniest twitch of her mouth. When Belgravia looks beyond the gilding and into the story's heart it does very well indeed. Save room on your dance card for this one.
Episodes watched: 2 of 6
Belgravia starts on ITV, Sunday 15 March, 9pm.