TV’s gone to Townton: Toffs, social climbers, snarky servants and lashings of lust, JAN MOIR’S upper-crust guide to ITV’s new drama Belgravia, the new Downton Abbey
Prepare yourself for the finest of bonnets, a cavalcade of corsetry and a hairy parade of the shaggiest mutton chop whiskers seen on TV since the final of Crufts.
Welcome to Belgravia, the new six-part ITV drama set in high society London in the 19th century.
Many are calling it the new Downton Abbey, but not author Julian Fellowes, who wrote them both.
Yes, Fellowes has adapted this series from his own novel of the same name and drafted in the same producers and directors who turned Downton into an international smash hit.
Sophie Trenchard (Emily Reid) and Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones) pledge undying love to each other in episode one. She is the daughter of the Trenchards, he is the son and heir of the Brockenhursts
But the similarities between the two dramas are rather scarce. However, praise be — both do feature a patriarch who roars around in a complicated dressing gown, tassels a-flying as he shouts at everyone.
In Downton it was bumbling Lord Grantham, who also liked to wear his robe when snogging maids in the sherry pantry.
Here it is victualler James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) who is angry with his wife Anne (Tamsin Greig) for betraying a confidence.
Julian Fellowes has adapted this series from his own novel of the same name and drafted in the same producers and directors who turned Downton into an international smash hit
‘We’ve hidden it for more than a quarter of a century,’ he bellows in the first episode, and I am not spoiling anything by telling you he is not talking about a repeat game of hunt-the-thimble.
There is the same urgent Downton-ish music to keep events moving along at a lickety-split pace, but there is no feather duster tinkling the chandelier to signify the spruce and unrelenting attentions of the below stairs mob.
In fact, they are a rather weaselly lot, forever plotting and spying on their masters and betters.
Carson, that Minotaur-shouldered master of propriety, would be appalled at their everyday treachery.
Nor is there anything as magnificent as Dowager Duchess Violet Grantham (Maggie Smith) dropping her delicious aphorisms like grenades.
Like Downton, Belgravia starts with a tragedy — only this one develops into a secret that threatens to engulf two families in scandal and could start or end a dynasty.
The focus is on the fortunes of the two kinfolks connected by this secret; the rich and titled Brockenhursts and the merchant class Trenchards.
They all live as near neighbours in the newly built Belgravia at a time of great social change.
‘This spangled city for the rich, where we all live now,’ explains Lady Brockenhurst (Harriet Walker), somehow managing to keep abreast of plot points while under attack from a quivering plume of purple feathers on her head.
The old order is changing as the aristocracy is now forced to live cheek by jowl with self-made men such as Trenchard.
He and his family embody one of Belgravia’s central themes — the arrival of the nouveaux riches and the emergence of the middle classes.
Sometimes evolution has a lot to answer for, don’t you think? In this Belgravia, the embryonic middle classes are worried about getting invites to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball and where they should sit in m’lady’s carriage.
Today, some 180 years later they are wearing Boden and double-parking outside Waitrose to panic buy taramasalata.
They don’t give a damn about anything or anyone, and this is supposed to be progress?
While in Downton the social tension was between the upstairs and downstairs, here the conflict is between new money and old.
Snobbery is rife. Just as well, for it is Julian Fellowes’ specialist subject. Snobbery is the steam in Fellowes’ engine, the rich gravy that sluices unchecked through his beloved England — and his fascination is ours, too.
For the next six Sundays, a crack cast don’t hold back on the icy condescension, as the men fight for an inheritance and women battle to stake their own place in this new world.
At this drama’s heart are two matriarchs separated by a class divide, but united by terrible loss. Now read on…
The London set in Scotland
Resplendent with beautiful stucco terraces and garden squares, the exclusive area of Belgravia — to the west of Buckingham Palace — was developed by the Cubitt Brothers in 1820.
Originally it was a place where residents took supper in eating chambers, where ladies cooled their complexions with Duvelleroy fans and walked the elegant streets holding tiny parasols.
However, given the number of high-security embassies that have colonised Belgravia today, the television series could not actually be filmed there.
The New Town squares and streets of Edinburgh were substituted instead, their sandstone exteriors turned into stucco by post- production CGI techniques.
The star crossed lovers
Sophie Trenchard (Emily Reid) and Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones) pledge undying love to each other in episode one.
She is the daughter of the Trenchards, he is the son and heir of the Brockenhursts.
Their tragic path will shadow the fortunes of their respective families for years to come.
‘He is the eldest son of an earl, he cannot choose his wife to suit his heart,’ Anne Trenchard tells her daughter.
‘It must end before there is damaging talk.’
The keeper of the secret
Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig), the daughter of a schoolmaster, is probably better educated than most of the grand women who look down their long, thin noses at her.
She may be bright but her husband is in trade — shudder. Anne is the moral centre of Belgravia, upstanding and kind.
A grower of quinces and peaches, she is not socially ambitious, unlike her husband. It is she who unburdens herself of The Secret that ignites the drama.
Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig), the daughter of a schoolmaster, is probably better educated than most of the grand women who look down their long, thin noses at her
Caroline, Countess of Brockenhurst (Harriet Walker) is a monster, with a taste for magnificence and a glare that could stop a galloping horse.
She is conscious of her place in society but a tragedy has made her vulnerable — yet not so weak that she resists tormenting Mrs Trenchard.
Her husband Peregrine (Tom Wilkinson) is swathed in whiskers and sadness.
Caroline, Countess of Brockenhurst (Harriet Walker) is a monster, with a taste for magnificence and a glare that could stop a galloping horse
The determined mother…and her disobedient daughter
Lady Templemore (Tara Fitzgerald) is rich, bossy and in possession of a beautiful daughter called Maria (Ella Purnell).
Lady Templemore is determined that Maria will make a good match — but, it emerges, she has other Pope-shaped plans . . .
Lady Templemore (Tara Fitzgerald) is rich, bossy and in possession of a beautiful daughter
Man of mystery
Who is this mysterious charmer Charles Pope (Jack Barber) whom everyone wants to know?
Like Cousin Patrick in Downton Abbey, has he come to lay claim to a fortune? No, because he has no idea of his true lineage . . .
Who is this mysterious charmer Charles Pope (Jack Barber) whom everyone wants to know?
A marriage of misery
Oliver (Richard Gouding) is the Trenchards’ spoilt and lazy son.
He looks down upon his parents and has neither title nor land, and this irks him greatly.
Meanwhile, his marriage is miserable because he and Susan (Alice Eve) have not been able to conceive a child.
Susan is beautiful but bored and has a weakness for a bad boy. Uh-oh.
Oliver (Richard Gouding) is the Trenchards’ spoilt and lazy son. His marriage is miserable because he and Susan (Alice Eve) have not been able to conceive a child
James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) is our main man, the rufty tufty son of a market trader who has worked his way up from trainer moustaches to the full Hobbit.
There are moments when his sideburns look positively Elvis.
He made his fortune by becoming the Duke of Wellington’s victualler, a merchant trader who supplies the Duke’s army through determination and some major heroics in the dry goods department.
‘He’s a cross between Del Boy and Trump,’ the actor told the Radio Times. James has come far, but he is blind to the limitations that class puts on him ascending further.
One person who does understand is his wife, Anne.
James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) is our main man, the rufty tufty son of a market trader who has worked his way up from trainer moustaches to the full Hobbit
The Trenchard servants bitch about their employers. They are less moral than their Downton counterparts, and show little loyalty.
Turton the long-time butler (Paul Ritter) filches venison joints from the kitchen, usually in cahoots with his main ally, housekeeper Mrs Babbage (Penny Layden).
Two villainous ladies’ maids are full of greed and resentment.
The Trenchard servants bitch about their employers. They are less moral than their Downton counterparts, and show little loyalty
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