In Depth

Is Belgravia the new Downton Abbey?

Julian Fellowes has adapted his epic 19th-century novel for Sunday night television

New from the creator of international hit period drama Downton Abbey comes Belgravia – another TV feast of costumes, nobility and British class mores.

The series will screen in the Sunday night slot once occupied by Julian Fellowes’ previous TV show. But how will it compare?

The time period is a little different: Belgravia begins in 1815 at a colourful high society ball held by Britons living in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Over the course of the series, two women from far apart on the social spectrum are brought together, united in grief.

Lady Brockenhurst is played by Harriet Walter and Mrs Trenchard by Tamsin Greig. They are supported by a starry cast including Tom Wilkinson, Philip Glenister, Alice Eve, James Fleet and Saskia Reeves. 

“Squint and it could be Downton Abbey”, with its “grand dames, even grander frocks, surly-but-decent butlers” and obsession with class, says Chris Bennion in The Telegraph. But he thinks that Belgravia ultimately lacks Downton’s “heart”. 

It is still “fun, frothy and fabulous looking”, full of “real-life nuggets” of historical interest and features a “strong cast”, he says, praising Greig and Walter for their top-drawer “eyebrow acting and lip pursing”.

Matthew Moore at The Times sees plenty of similarities between the two TV behemoths. Downton fans tuning in to Belgravia can expect “lavish costumes, soap opera-style storylines, and characters drawn from the grandest social circles”, he says.

Moore sees the new show as less mournful than its predecessor, which commemorated the slow collapse of a very particular way of life and class structure, and was set against the end of the British Empire.

Instead, says Moore, Belgravia “puts a rosier gloss on British history” and celebrates the “great Victorian boom” of the early 19th century.

The new show’s executive producer, Gareth Neame, says the new series is “not as soapy as Downton” because there is a single, over-arching plot running through the series, says Metro.

The show has been adapted by Fellowes from his own book, published in 2016, and Neame says: “This is a novel. It’s a closed story, it’s a limited series, it’s a beginning middle and end.”

He adds: “There’s much more of a mystery to it. It’s not as soapy as Downton is, there’s a very emotional through-line.”

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Speaking at the press screening of the show, Fellowes admitted it was “perfectly reasonable” to compare the two programmes but insisted that the similarities were limited, adds Metro. He said: “They’re both period dramas, obviously and they’re both quite a lot about love.”

But he emphasised the difference in structure: “This is a contained and completed story, which is driven in a single narrative line. Every subplot and co-plot is essentially serving the central story, so it’s a different structure.”

Belgravia starts on Sunday 15 March at 9pm on ITV.

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