NEW YORK – Julian Fellowes’ latest addictive series on English social classes kicks off with a party. Notice, not just any bash-run, high society. “Belgravia” on Epix begins with one of the most famous festivals in history.
On June 15, 1815, the Duchess of Richmond launched a magnificent ball in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington. It happens to coincide on the same day that Napoleon’s troops burst into Belgium.
A few days later, British forces – including many of the very aristocratic soldiers present at the ball – died while fighting Napoleon at Waterloo. “I liked the idea of starting history with this incredibly glamorous and incredibly tragic event,” said Fellowes, the man behind “Downtown Abbey.”
The story then jumps 25 years to Belgravia, a planned enclave of white townhouses with black railings in a Tony district of London. It was a planned town within a town, built on a swamp. “It’s a part of London that has always fascinated me,” says Fellowes.
Two families, one aristocratic and the other from the middle class, discover that they are linked, for better or worse, by a baby conceived by the children of each family in these heady days before Waterloo.
The show stars Tamsin Greig and Harriet Walter as matriarchs of the two families, two grandmothers defending the memories of their dead children and claiming the grandchildren’s future in common.
“I wanted to have these two women who came from very different bases. It was not that one was powerful and the other was not. It was that they were both powerful, but they were powerful in different ways, “said Fellowes.
“I wanted them to have a common problem, a common interest, which would associate them against their will,” he adds. “And it seemed to me that they were sharing an illegitimate grandson, it’s a good way to do it.”
“Belgravia” is the latest drama from a writer who has created an award-winning career by focusing on key turning points in English history – the early 1930s of “Gosford Park”, the end of the Georgian era in ” Vanity Fair “, the early 1920s in” Downton Abbey “and, in a new series now available, the 1870s with” The English Game “.
“Julian has such a passion for certain sections of history. He is so involved in everyone’s details and is therefore such a good storyteller – creates such a compelling story – that you find yourself going through these slices of history, “says Greig, who plays the bourgeois matriarch.
“Belgravia” started life as a Fellowes book in 2016, and found it relatively easy to adapt his own 400-page novel into a six-part television series.
“At this point in my life, I tend to write quite visually because a lot of what I write is for television or a big screen or the stage or whatever,” he says. “And I kind of see these scenes in my head and so I write them that way. “
Was Fellowes the kind of screenwriter of Fellowes the author of the book? Not really, he admits. “I think you have to somehow forget that you actually wrote it. You have to watch it ruthlessly enough for characters that can be improved or scenes that could be a little more complicated. “
The series has many touches familiar to Fellowes fans, including duplicate chambermaids, aristocratic arrogance, forbidden novels and grunts downstairs. But unlike “Downton Abbey”, which was established from 1912 to 1926, the world of the 1840s “Belgravia” is not about aristocratic decadence.
“Downton”, in many ways, relates to the decline of the upper classes. When it wasn’t actually the decline of anything, “says Fellowes.
“This new and growing middle class had arrived and suddenly they were making and buying and weaving, negotiating and trading everything. And it seemed rather fun. “
Fellowes calls time “one of the first periods when shots were fired at the arches of the old aristocracy.” At the end of the century, the middle classes would direct the show.
Greig had never worked on a Fellowes project before and says that she was instantly hooked by the script, especially her immense kindness to all of her characters.
“Each one is very well mapped and he judges none. They all have a reason to do what they do, “she said. “He combines his passion for different moments in history with stories that remind us that we are human. ” CL /ra
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