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Why ‘Downton Abbey’ fans will love new melodrama ‘Belgravia’

Why ‘Downton Abbey’ fans will love new melodrama ‘Belgravia’

The glittering chandeliers in the ballrooms of London’s one-percenters are given a good throttle by sordid and tragic revelations in the new Julian Fellowes’ melodrama “Belgravia.”

The British series premiered in four installments in March across the pond; in the US, it will play in six episodes on Epix. “Downton Abbey” it can never be, but housebound Anglophiles craving clipped phrasing, characters named Peregrine and the painstaking execution of genteel aristocratic customs may find welcome distraction.

Like much of Lord Fellowes’ work, the story concerns a clash of people from different classes. Remember Lady Sybil and Tom Branson from “Downton”? Echoes of that relationship can be found in the doomed encounter between Lord Edmund Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones) and Sophia Trenchard (Emily Reid), the commoner daughter of Anne (Tamsin Greig) and James (Richard Lennister), a “vittler,” or food supplier, to the British military.

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A rather momentous ball in Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 — nearly a century before the “Downton” chronology — sets the story in motion. The ramifications of that fateful night make themselves known some 25 years later. The Trenchards have done quite well for themselves, well enough to live in the new, upscale neighborhood of Belgravia, where Edmund’s parents, Lady and Lord Brockenhurst (Harriet Walter and Tom Wilkinson), are also their neighbors. Anne has a hard time fitting in with the hoity-toity ladies of the hood, but when she accepts an invitation to something called afternoon tea — invented by the Duchess of Bedford — she makes an effort to mingle and runs into Caroline Brockenhurst.

Walter had a recurring role on “Downton Abbey” and here, her keen intelligence gives viewers a sense of how formidable she is about to become in the course of the story. Despite the difference in their positions, the women share one profound bond — each has lost a child, though in Lady B’s case, it is her only son, Edmund. What Anne has to tell her, that Sophia died after giving birth to his baby, is taken as a personal affront. Using her class advantage, she goes on the attack and Anne fears that any further revelations will ruin her dead daughter’s reputation.

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A secondary storyline brings the unsavory character of the Brockenhurst’s ne’er-do-well nephew John (Adam James) to the fore. He is looking forward to being the future head of the family, but unforeseen complications connected to Sophia’s secret love child, now a grown man who goes by the name of  Charles Pope (Jack Bardoe), send the aristocracy into a teacup-trembling tizzy.

It’s surprising that after having written so often of the decline of the British aristocracy, Fellowes, who based this show on his own 2016 novel of the same name, still finds so many levels to explore inside its confines. “Belgravia” doesn’t necessarily need the humor that made “Downton Abbey” so widely appealing, but the social suffocation on view here isn’t exactly a new subject and the characters are too buttoned-up to do anything terribly dramatic.  With secret marriages, hidden babies and untimely deaths as his narrative catalysts, it seems that Fellowes should have been able to put aside his calling cards and sealing wax and come up with something more provocative.

Although it has its moments,  “Belgravia” has a musty feel, like a a yellowed doily taken out of drawer.


Source : Robert Rorke Link