Fans of costume drama looking for a way out of the coronavirus news could do worse than logging on Belgravia, The new Epix series by Julian Fellowes. This lavish six-part show about a pair of mothers reluctantly united by a well-kept secret will certainly entertain those who love tales of romance and class conflict in classy British living rooms, though it is not quite the same spirit or charm as a Fellowes mega-hit Downton Abbey.
Class conflict in the Victorian era
Belgravia opened in 1815 in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The imminent confrontation with Napoleon has exhausted the British aristocrats who have taken up residence in the city. But they are not about to let a war stand in the way of a good celebration. Everyone who has someone has finalized an invitation to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball (a real historic event). This includes James Trenchard (Philip Glenister), his wife Anne (Tamsin Greig) and their daughter Sophia (Emily Reid), although they do not strongly match the aristocratic whole. Trenchard is just the army tanker – a working class student with an entrepreneur who made a fortune by supplying the troops. He is extremely out of place with these lords and ladies, as shown by his embarrassing failure to grasp certain social rules, such as the correct way to address a duke.
Trenchard is fully aware of the family’s position, but that doesn’t prevent her husband and daughter from aiming higher. Emily fell hard for Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones), the son of an earl. It is a romance that his father encourages but his mother considers with dismay, because she knows that her family will never approve of the match. The love of the young couple is fully expressed at the Duchess’ ball. But the party – and the relationship – was suddenly interrupted by the news of Napoleon’s progress. Unfortunately, Bellasis is killed in action and Sophia is heartbroken.
Twenty-six years later, the Trenchards are back in London, living in the trendy district of Belgravia, which Mr. Trenchard has helped to develop, increasing his wealth, if not his social position. Emily is deceased and their son Oliver (Richard Goulding) is in a loveless and childless marriage to Susan (Alice Eve), an ambitious and tactless rich new. (Greig expertly transmits Anne’s opinion on her daughter-in-law with a few well-placed faces.) Then, a chance meeting with the mother of Lord Bellasis, the Countess of Brockenhurst (a wonderfully haughty Harriet Walter) brings her back to her time in Belgium – and dredging a long-buried family secret.
Two mothers united by sorrow
Greig and Walter are at the heart of this Dickensian melodrama, which manages to tighten a secret marriage, multiple hidden pregnancies, numerous clandestine meetings, a multitude of intriguing servants, a case of adultery and an attempted murder in less than six hours screen time. . The two mothers are united by the grief of the death of their children decades earlier, in particular the countess, who lost her only child. The rules of Victorian society mean that they cannot speak too openly about their feelings. But the sad tone of their conversation when they first met speaks volumes. However, this temporary connection begins to crumble as each mother struggles to preserve the memory and reputation of her dead child.
Less convincing is the romance in figures between Lady Maria Gray (Ella Purnell) and the protégé of Mr. Trenchard Charles Pope (Jack Bardoe), a potential cotton tycoon whose vague origins prevent him from being fully accepted by polite society . Adam James as John Bellais – Maria’s fiancé and nephew and heir to the Earl of Brockenhurst – fulfills the role of intriguing villain. He is a cadet with no predictable excuse who will stop at nothing to get his fortune and the title of his uncle.
This being Fellowes (who wrote the script based on his novel of the same name), we also spend some time with the servants at the bottom of the stairs. Here Belgravia wobbles badly. In Downton abbey, the house staff members were fleshed out characters with their own hopes and dreams. But in this story, they are simply intriguing and resentful, always hidden in the shadows and snatches of private conversations, and quickly turn to their employers in exchange for a few shillings.
“Belgravia” is not “Downton Abbey”
With its predictable twists and cardboard support characters, Belgravia fails to offer the same pleasures as the beloved Downton. But there is still something to dazzle, with sumptuous costumes and attractive interiors. Walter and Greig offer great performances. Each one excels as a woman navigating emotional minefields in a world bound by strict rules of conduct and deep divisions between people of different social classes. And the desire to center the story on two older women than on young lovers is refreshing. Viewers hoping to be transported to another era for a few hours will not regret spending a little time in Belgravia.
Belgravia premieres on Sunday April 12 at 9 p.m. on Epix.
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