Belgravia review: Like Downton Abbey with knobs on

Julian Fellowes’s gloriously convoluted story is everything fans loved about Downton, only with more of it

Belgravia: The fixtures are sumptuous, the costumes dazzling. Photograph: ITV

Belgravia: The fixtures are sumptuous, the costumes dazzling. Photograph: ITV

 

The greatest trick writer Julian Fellowes ever pulled was convincing the world Downton Abbey was high-class drama. What it actually was, of course, was a soap opera with frocks, chandeliers and aristocrats: Coronation Street paved with gold, essentially.

Soapy silliness is likewise in plentiful supply in Fellowes’s latest hyperventilating caper. Belgravia (UTV, 9pm) is set almost 100 years prior to Downtown but the formula is unchanged. It’s stuffed with toffs and dilettantes and, down below, decent yet implacably loyal serving folk who understand their place in the natural order. There are secret children, romantic betrayals, boors, barons and bounders. Once again Fellowes has chucked in whatever people used for kitchen sinks in the 1840s.

As per Downton, the story, adapted from Fellowes’s own 2016 novel, is gloriously convoluted. In Brussels on the eve of Napoleon’s fateful march on the Low Countries – incredibly he would meet his Waterloo AT Waterloo – we are introduced to commoners-made-good, Mr and Mrs James Trenchard (Philip Glenister and Tamsin Greig).

James is the Duke of Wellington’s “magician” – that is, he magics up supply lines for the British army. His daughter, Sophia (Emily Reid), meanwhile, has bewitched the dashing Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones).

They’re making big googly eyes at one another at an eve of the war ball thrown by the Duchess of Richmond. But, oh, what’s that – Napoleon is marching on Brussels? Now?Champagnes flutes are stoically set aside and it’s off to the frontline for the chaps.

Alas, not all make it back. Sophia’s beau is among the casualties. This is obviously tragic and also a bit awkward, as she is shortly afterwards forced to reveal to her mother her pregnancy.

Fast forward 26 years and we learn Sophia has died in childbirth. The offspring has been raised by the grandparents but we don’t see them yet (that’s for episode two presumably). What we do learn is that things have moved on from the Napoleonic era, especially for the Trenchards who have made a mint building houses in the swanky new London suburb from which Belgravia takes its name.

Among the hot new trends sweeping the city is one for “afternoon tea” (it will never catch on). It is at one such meeting that Mrs Trenchard blunders into the mother of the late Lord Bellasis. Will she drop the bombshell of a surprise grandchild? Probably, but not quite yet.

All of Fellowes’s signature touches are here. Mr Trenchard is minted but kind-hearted in that Earl Grantham way. The servants – including Bronagh Gallagher – are gossipy yet steadfast. The fixtures are sumptuous, the costumes dazzling.

Belgravia is, in other words, everything fans loved about Downton only with more of it: more top hats, more tittle-tattle, more huge drawing rooms shot as if glazed in sepia. It is impossible to envisage a scenario in which it is anything other than a thundering success.

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