Secrets, sex, class warfare and corsets – Julian Fellowes’ new period drama Belgravia has all the trappings of his other ITV series about British high society, Downton Abbey. More importantly, however, it’s just as compelling to watch as Downton’s early seasons, with scandals as gripping as Lady Mary’s deadly tryst with Mr Pamuk.
Both shows explore the lavish world of the upper classes, and the challenges that face the aristocracy’s old guard – in the case of Belgravia, that challenge comes from the nouveau riche and the likes of James Trenchard (Philip Glenister), who has made his fortune from the Napoleonic Wars and has been catapulted into the most exclusive drawing rooms of the land. He’s now working with the famed architects the Cubitt brothers, who have built London’s creamy-white playground for the rich, Belgravia.
Like Downton, Belgravia is technically set in a man’s world – which makes it all the more interesting that Fellowes has put female characters at the heart of his show, namely James’ wife Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig) and Lady Brockenhurst (Harriet Walker). “I was really excited to investigate a world which the viewers are invited to inhabit through the kind of aorta of a woman… you go in through the story of this woman [Anne Trenchard],” Greig told RadioTimes.com.
The two women are very different – Anne is a discreet and well-bred daughter of a schoolmaster, while Lady Brockenhurst is all hauteur and entitlement (a younger, earlier iteration of Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, perhaps). But they are linked by an event that took place 26 years ago, when the Trenchards and their adult daughter Sophia (Emily Reid) miraculously received invitations to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. It’s here in the past that we first meet the Trenchards, alongside Lady Brockenhurst’s charming son Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones), whose flirtation with Sophia is a source of consternation for Anne. Unlike her husband, she is determined that society won’t have cause to laugh at her family.
Flash forward over two decades, and the Trenchards are still haunted by the battle and its aftermath, despite the many comforts that James’ rise in station has afforded them. They have a large house, servants, an adult son, Oliver (Richard Goulding) – life is good, despite the existence of their insufferable daughter-in-law, Susan (Alice Eve).
But when Anne is invited to afternoon tea (at that time a brand new invention, and not a social staple) and meets Lady Brockenhurst, memories of Brussels return to her and she is tempted to unearth an old secret that may just jeopardise her family’s happiness forever.
The six-part series Belgravia will begin on Sunday 15th March 2020 at 9pm on ITV, and will air weekly.