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Audrey Kupferberg: Belgravia

Audrey inspects a film
Audrey Kupferberg

Belgravia.  Based on the 2016 novel by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, with Downton Abbey producers Gareth Neame, Nigel Marchant, and Fellowes himself producing and adapting his work to screen, it’s quite a quality production. Boasting an incredible cast of Britain’s actors, the title Belgravia should be on the tongues of every enthusiastic fan of Masterpiece Theatre.

Instead, Belgravia was produced with funds from ITV and the streaming service Epix.  So, viewers need to go Amazon Prime to Epix or directly to the Epix website or several other online streaming services to be able to see the series.  One also can locate the DVDs.

Belgravia is created with a womens’ audience in mind.  The men appear as strong characters, but they often are objects of the action or sidelights to the goings-on.  It is the women who conspire with foxy facility to make things happen. The plot centers around a secret event from 1815.  The series opens at a ball hosted by the Dutchess of Richmond, held just two days before British soldiers fought with Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Twenty-six years pass.  It is 1841.  We quickly learn that the two most important characters in the series are Anne Trenchard, played by the amazing Tamsin Greig, and Caroline Bellasis, Countess of Brockenhurst, acted by Harriet Walter, recently seen in Killing Eve.  Much has happened since the opening scenes of 1815. Mr. Trenchard had been a tradesman who sold arms to the British military back then.  Now he is a very rich and successful Londoner who works with developer Thomas Cubitt, to reinvent London as a great modern city, creating extraordinary neighborhoods for industry and residences.  There are special neighborhoods such as the newly designed Belgravia. 

In 1841, the new Belgravia, with its grand terraces and garden square, is among the most affluent areas of London.  A blend of wealthy business people and high-born live there.  It is no surprise then that Anne Trenchard and the Countess of Brockenhurst should meet at one of the Belgravia’s newly-conceived social hours, the afternoon tea. So begins a lengthy but never tedious journey into solving a secret concerning their families.

Delving into this secret is not a brilliant invention on Julian Fellowes’ part.  In ways, he follows formulaic women’s stories.  While he keeps the focus on the heart of his story, he successfully throws in a number of entertaining subplots involving members of the Trenchard and Bellasis or Brockenhurst families.  Some of these plotlines border on stereotypical.  For instance, the Earl of Brockenhurst, played by Tom Wilkinson, has a good-for-nothing younger brother, a member of the clergy no less, who has a damaging gambling habit. 

And where would we be without scenes of downstairs activity? The servants are made more interesting, because one is enacted by late Paul Ritter.  Ritter died just recently at age 54.  His talents, his versatility, will be missed.

By the way, Ritter and Tamsin Greig, who has an prodigy’s talent for comedy as well as drama, co-starred in the highly popular Britcom, Friday Night Dinner, for six seasons.  It’s the story of a zany but lovable Jewish family in North London.  Every Friday evening, the two incredibly silly sons show up for Shabbos dinner.  Believe me, this show is a treat, and it’s available for home viewing.  I have read that Allison Janney and Tony Shalhoub once made a pilot for an American version that, sadly, never went into production as a series.

In any case, I’m glad I made the effort to see Belgavia, the product of so much British talent!

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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