What have you filled the Downton Abbey-sized hole in your heart with since the drama ended in 2015?
We’ve filled ours with tea. Lots of afternoon tea in dainty china cups.
But don’t fret, because a new, quietly scandalous upper crust melodrama from Downton creator Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame premieres Sunday on Epix.
Belgravia, based on Fellowes’ 2016 novel and named for the posh district of London that still exists today, follows two families – one coming from inherited wealth and the other, dreaded social climbers who only recently jumped classes through successful business ventures – bound together by deception and tragedy.
The six-part limited series begins in Brussels in 1815 where the Trenchards – James (Philip Glenister) and Anne (Tamsein Greig) – score an invitation to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball thanks to Lord Edmund Bellasis’ burgeoning romance with their daughter Sophia (Emily Reid). Anne thinks the relationship (and butting in on the lavish affair) is improper due to the inequality of the lovebirds’ economic status. The soiree ends abruptly as word of Napoleon’s descent on Waterloo gets around; Lord Edmund doesn’t return from the battlefield.
We then jump 26 years into the future where the Trenchards have settled in London in the gleaming community of Belgravia and rub elbows with Lord Edmund’s parents, Lady Caroline (Harriet Walter) and Peregrine, Earl of Brockenhurst (Tom Wilkinson) who remain without an heir and are forced to entertain the whims of their charming lout of a nephew John Bellasis (Adam James) and his cleric father with a desperate gambling problem (James Fleet).
Anne reveals a long-held secret to Lady Caroline that has repercussions for both families, which drives the plot to mischievous ends with the help of scheming servants always underfoot.
The scrumptious décor inside the dwellings of Belgravia’s aristocrats and the painstaking details of their garments take a front seat to the drama of manners. It’s almost enough to make us want to travel in time and trade-in this century for the last.
Here’s five reasons we’d prefer to take up residence in Belgravia:
Sitting around in stretchy pajama bottoms for days on end gets old pretty fast. Seeing Sophie flounce in an Empire-waist frock or Lady Caroline saunter regally in a hoop skirt had us reaching for the underwear drawer to put on something with support. And the slender gloves and variety of parasols – this is personal protective equipment anyone would want to hoard.
In this time of social distancing, even the most stolid function looks like a boisterous throw-down. Remember gulping down some bubbly from a stemmed glass presented on a well-arranged tray by a posture-perfect server while a member of high society gave you the stink eye? Yeah, us neither. However, raising our Champagne flute in the air and having someone on the other end meet it with that distinctive clink sounds heavenly.
Imagine not having a device glued to your hands every minute of every day telling you about all the terrible things happening across the globe in real time. That’s it. Close your eyes. Don’t you feel lighter already? John Bellasis’ betrothed, Lady Maria Grey (Ella Purnell) almost fell over with delight at the sight of the latest map of India. How quaint!
Whether it’s the sly peeks between John Bellasis and the Trenchards’ daughter-in-law or the impish gaze young Charles Pope (a newcomer to Belgravia with checkered past unknown even to him) bestows on Lady Maria Grey, the illicit parings never felt so right. The closest modern dating comes is a “U up?” text at 2 am.
Friends keep asking during this strange time of isolation how early is too early to open a bottle of wine? Taking a cue from the characters on Belgravia, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere. Ale or wine is ever-present in the company of the Trenchards and in the home of the Earl of Brockenhurst (this is probably due to a lack of filtered water, but let’s not spoil the illusion).
Belgravia premieres Sunday, April 12 on Epix at 9pm ET.