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Belgravia

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What it’s about:

When a chance meeting brings together Anne Trenchard, the wife of a common merchant, and Caroline, the Countess of Brockenhurst, a long-buried secret threatens to resurface. As the two women battle to keep the truth hidden, tempers flare and passions rise in posh Belgravia, the newly built playground for London’s wealthiest socialites.

Names you might know:

Writer Julian Fellowes reunites with the production team that brought you Downton Abbey, including Gareth Neame, Nigel Marchant, Liz Trubridge, and Vrushank Velhankar. Belgravia stars Olivier Award winner Tamsin Greig (Episodes, Black Books), Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility, Downton Abbey), Emmy winner Tom Wilkinson (John Adams, The Kennedys), and Philip Glenister (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes).

Why it’s worth your time:

It is perhaps inevitable that the latest offering from Julian Fellowes will be compared to Downton Abbey. In many ways, that is an apt comparison. Far from the stylized glitz of many modern period dramas, Belgravia looks and feels a lot more like a traditional period drama. With an eye for historical accuracy and a penchant for picking up on the subtleties and absurdities of high society, Fellowes is as true to history as any modern production will allow.

Belgravia is made all the better for it. While the makeup is more 21st than 19th century, the silhouettes of the gowns and the ringlets in the hair are decidedly 1830s, making this show a breath of fresh air for any fan of more traditional costume dramas. Whether dancing under candlelight at the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo or walking down the tony streets past the opulent townhouses of the titular Belgravia, the attention to detail will make you feel like you have traveled back in time.

That might be fun for us in the 21st century, but one of the most interesting aspects of Belgravia is its exploration of the restraints and burdens of those living in the early Victorian period. Fellowes never shies away from acknowledging the restrictions of sex and class. Indeed, the drama which propels the series from its first scenes is, in fact, the utter rigidity and innate unfairness of society—especially high society—in Victorian England.

This is somewhat ironic, considering the opening scenes take place in Belgium during the Regency period. We first meet the socially ambitious James Trenchard (Glenister), victualler to the Duke of Wellington, his wife Anne (Greig), and their daughter Sophia (Emily Reid) as they have obtained tickets to the famous ball given by the Duchess of Richmond (Diana Kent) on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Sophia is in love with Edmund (Jeremy Neumark Jones), the Viscount Bellasis, a match her father is keen to make but which her more sensible mother understands can never happen because of the lovers’ difference in rank and class.

It is Anne’s understanding of the limits of social mobility for Sophia, both as a woman and someone of working-class origin, which propels the series’ main drama. Most of the story takes place in London 25 years after the Battle of Waterloo, and while the setting may have changed, the characters’ circumstances largely have not. It is here we see Anne and Edmund’s mother, Caroline, the Countess of Brockenhurst (Walter), try to minimize the damage seemingly created by the liaison of their two naively romantic children.

Fellowes is an expert at creating dynamic, fascinating female characters. The dynamic between Anne and Caroline is fascinating evolving from acquaintances to rivals to allies to friends as they struggle to keep secret a scandal that could ruin them both. The winsome and precocious Lady Maria Grey has the headstrong nature and curiosity of Downton Abbey’s Sybil Crawley, yet is wholly original thanks to Fellowes and actress Ella Purnell, who steals every scene with charming wit.

“Charming wit” might be the perfect description for Belgravia itself. It is a quiet, sophisticated, thoughtful drama, yet no less compelling than its noisier, more colorful counterparts. Of course, one expects no less from Julian Fellowes, the undisputed king of costume dramas.

The takeaway:

Belgravia is a riveting show which will delight any fan of Downton Abbey. With compelling characters, lush sets, beautiful costumes, and a gripping story, Julian Fellowes again proves why, when it comes to costume dramas, he is simply the best.

Watch it with:

Belgravia is perfect for history buffs and Downton Abbey fans. There is some mild sex and violence—hence the TV-14—rating, but it is suitable for most of the family.

Worth noting:

In the first episode of the second season of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil mentions that a Tom Bellasis has been killed in the First World War. Whether he is a descendant of Belgravia’s Bellasis family is never said, but it is an Easter egg for any fans of both series.

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