Darlings, we are happy to report that Belgravia is here – and just in time.
Julian Fellowes, who gave us all Downton Abbey, is back on television with an adaptation of his first novel. Since the first episode seems to have served as a series prologue (with several of the central characters left offscreen and unintroduced), and since it’s airing on a little-known cable network, and since we all may be just a little distracted at the moment because of … *broad gesture indicating everything*… we’re going to boil down this review to its essence. Here is what you absolutely need to know about Belgravia:
Balls, bonnets, and intrigue. Opera gloves and hair feathers. Beautiful British men in period military uniforms going off to war. A scandalous assignation. Class-consciousness. Waterloo. Teacups and saucers. Ladies of bearing saying things of import. Harriet Walters. London society. Snarky servants. Jewels, jewels, jewels. A secret baby.
In other words, it’s all the stuff Julian Fellowes loves most – and if you were a Downton fan, you may just clap in glee at all the familiar tropes. Even the theme song sounds the same. Truth be told, if this had come out a year after Downton Abbey ended, or if it had come out at a time when our collective need to be comforted wasn’t quite so dire, we may have found it all a bit too familiar. Sure, it opens nearly a century before the period in which Downton was set, but that only means Fellowes didn’t have to strain to capture the last gasps of the dying aristocratic way of life he loves so much. At the time of Belgravia, the rules are all firmly in place, giving him more time to focus on all the intrigue without having to stop every hour or so to have a character proclaim that it’s all fading away. No, we get to see the English class divide at its most emphatic, with the centerpiece of the premiere episode being not just a ball, but the most famous ball of all time (to hear some people tell it).
And if we’re being perfectly critical about it, the first episode is a bit of a slog in the first half. The Duchess of Richmond’s ball feels like a rushed affair, with so many character introductions and storylines launched that we actually had to watch the episode a second time to make a little sense of it. By the episode’s close, you can see why it was structured the way it was, with the ball being the impetus for everything that happens to the central characters afterward. Things only really seemed to coalesce when Harriet Walters’ Countess of Brockenhurst sat down for tea with Tamsin Greig’s Mrs. Trenchard. Watching these two exceedingly fine actresses navigate Fellowes’ witty script and obsession with English class consciousness was akin to that scene in the first episode of Downton, when the Dowager sat down with Cora to discuss the entail and the whole series suddenly felt like it was going to be delicious.
The episode ends on the reveal of a scandalous secret – which might have landed a bit more if it wasn’t so clear to the audience and if we had any real familiarity with any of the characters. This is why we’re not doing much in the way of a recap – or even a review – here. It’s so clearly the opening notes to the song that it wouldn’t be right of us to start critiquing the melody just yet. Instead, we invite you all to catch the first episode on VOD now. With everything else going on right now, it was surprisingly comforting to settle into a world that has absolutely nothing to do with our own; a world of refinement and class consciousness and servants and good china and ballgowns.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Epix]