Soapy and sumptuous, Belgravia is the spiritual successor to Downton Abbey
Review by Jennifer AJ
Romance, tragedy, and a shocking revelation decades in the making unfold between high-society families residing in Belgravia, an affluent neighbourhood in London. From the mind behind Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, here comes another lavish period drama about the English upper crust.
Belgravia is a 6-part series released in 2020 on ITV. The 19th-century set drama follows the travails of multiple families as they grapple with the consequence of a past mishap. In 1815, Sophia Trenchard, the young daughter of a merchant family, falls in love with Viscount Edmund Bellasis, the son of Earl and Countess of Brockenhurst, one of the most powerful families in England. Against her mother’s warning, Sophia agrees to elope with Edmund, which she belatedly realizes is a farce. Soon after, Edmund is killed on the battlefield and Sophia discovers she’s pregnant. She dies during childbirth and to spare her reputation, the Trenchards give her baby away to the care of an acquaintance. 26 years later, the Trenchards and the Brockhursts cross paths again in Belgravia. Their unwitting reunion unveils the long-hidden secret that transpires after tragedies befell their children.
Soapy and sumptuous, Belgravia is the spiritual successor to Downton Abbey in many ways. Despite being set in different time periods in English history, the two shows bear the trademarks of a Fellowes production. There is an inheritance matter involved, for one. The upstairs-downstairs dynamic is also present; though Belgravia seems to treat the servants as afterthoughts almost, perhaps just to give viewers enough reminder of Downton Abbey. The depiction of high society is also central to both series, as with their American counterpart The Gilded Age. After witnessing the grandeurs of the Edwardian era and the Gilded Age through Fellowes’ lens, we are now treated to the drama surrounding the Victorian era’s most affluent families. Expect to see the same attention to detail that brings to life the time period’s archaic lifestyle.
Based on Fellowes’ 2016 novel of the same name, Belgravia’s main conceit - a secret love child who stands to inherit a massive fortune he never knew he has - definitely calls to mind those old-fashioned melodramas from the 1980s-1990s. It’s been a while since such plotlines receive a high-end production like this. Some may see it as too contrite or old-fashioned, but Fellowes has stuffed in intriguing characters and fresh angles to keep audiences engaged. At the centre of the series are the matriarchs, Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig - Friday Night Dinner) and Caroline, Countess of Brockhurst (Harriet Walter - Killing Eve) who both lost their children and are now in the twilight of their years. Older mothers are typically positioned as supporting characters in dramas like these, either offering unwavering support or becoming an obstacle to their children’s happiness. It’s nice to see them as the drivers of the story for a change, navigating a repressive world for women of their age and station with grace and dignity. Anchored by strong performances, the two lead the charge against stuffy restrictions placed on them by society, in so doing giving the next generation a better fate.
Belgravia offers a sincere soap opera that comes with all the juicy drama you can expect from the genre, glazed in old-world glamour. Beautiful to look at and briskly plotted, it’s a great selection if you miss Downton Abbey-esque antics.
Published on August 1st, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.