Belgravia, the new period series from creator Julian Fellows, begins with the tragic loss of a young man that transforms life for two families. The scenario is tantalizingly familiar: Nearly ten years ago, it was the Titanic death of the assumed heirs to a grand estate that set into motion the central conflicts, both financial and romantic, of Downton Abbey. And for fans of the show who’ve spent years waiting for a new series to fill the void, a worthy successor has finally appeared.
Based on Fellows’ 2016 book, Epix’s Belgravia tracks two families over decades, focusing on the tony London neighborhood that newly built in the early Victorian years. Concentrated a bit less on humor and heart than its predecessor, Belgravia offers more in the way of suspense and scandal. Yet hear the uncannily similar tones of the theme music and you’ll feel like you’re right back at Highclere Castle.
Opening on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Belgravia focuses on the Trenchards, a middle-class British family living in Belgium, as they prepare to attend a ball held at the home of a duchess. Daughter Sophia (Emily Reid) has fallen in love with the hostess’s nephew Edmund (Jeremy Neumark Jones), a relationship her mother (Tamsin Greig) believes will only end in sadness due to the differences in their status. The party is cut short abruptly when fighting breaks out. Edmund never comes home and Sophia dies shortly after. When the series picks up twenty-five years later, Mr. Trenchard (Philip Glenister) has become a financial success as the developer of London’s elite Belgravia neighborhood and Mrs. Trenchard locks horns with Edmund’s mother, the Countess of Brockenhurst (Harriet Walter), over a secret that could ruin both.
Downton reunited audiences with veteran talents like Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith while also bequeathing a heavy roster of new talents who quickly became stars, most notably Michelle Dockery. While it centered on the three young Crowley sisters, Belgravia gives the spotlight to mid-career talents Greig and Walter, the latter herself a Downton alum. The biggest contender for a Dockery-esque rise off Belgravia is Ella Purnell (late of Sweetbitter and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), who, as the well-bred Maria, gets more than her fair share of the show’s major fashion moments.
Downton had a flair for heartbreaking deaths. Belgravia does too; a loss early in the series has striking similarities to one of the Crawley’s most devastating deaths. And while Downton was hit by World War I, Belgravia grapples with the fallout from the Napoleonic Wars. (If luck holds for Belgravia, the show will end before the Spanish Flu or automobiles can take any more lives.)
Countess Brockenhurst’s money-hungry nephew John Bellasis (Adam James) is intending on marriage to young Maria (Purnell) but both have let their eyes wander elsewhere. (If Downton taught us anything, it’s that an engagement is never a sure thing.) He’s caught sight of the Trenchard’s daughter-in-law Susan (Alice Eve) who’s bored in her marriage and not uninterested in his likely claim to a large fortune. On a more wholesome note, Maria’s drawn to Charles Pope (Jack Bardoe), a sweetly earnest young man whose sudden entry into both the Brockenhurst and Trenchard social circles has many asking questions. Obstacles remain, but they have real Mary and Matthew potential.
The unfolding of the central mystery, which revolves around the true identity of Mr. Pope, happens quickly but incites a series of scandals. John Bellasis believes he will inherit his uncle’s fortune (but will he??) in the kind of estate planning plot line that was Downton‘s bread and butter. When John believes his position might be threatened, he blackmails house staff to gather intel on the Trenchards. For Fellowes loyalists, the treachery is on par with that of Mrs. O’Brien. But while Downton was never short on shocking moments (think Mr. Pamuk or the bar of soap), Belgravia is built on them. Adultery, gambling and back-stabbing, oh my!
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