Belgravia hits all the expected beats of a mundane period drama without really moving beyond them or finding a new way from which to approach them.
This recap of Belgravia Season 1, Episode 1 contains spoilers.
Julian Fellowes’ ITV period drama Belgravia is an odd show, occupying a coveted Sunday night timeslot and filling a hole shaped very much like the one left behind by Downton Abbey. But while at a glance the two are superficially similar – the toff accents! The swanky period attire! – they’re also very different, with the crucial distinction currently being that Belgravia isn’t anywhere near as good.
That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it is stuffy, slightly humorless, somewhat convoluted and a bit dull – not to mention featuring a twenty-five-year time jump after which nobody seems to have aged so much as a day. Beginning on the brink of the Battle of Waterloo – complete with even a “Napoleon is coming!” scene at a Brussels ball – and concerning self-made market trader James Trenchard (Philip Glenister), his wife Anne (Tamsin Greig), and their daughter Sophia (Emily Reid), whose love life links Anne to Lady Brockenhurst (Dame Harriet Walter in fine form), this is stuffy, conventional period fare that proudly ignores some of the livelier strides made in something like ITV’s own Vanity Fair.
The Trenchards are wealthy but not upper-class, and with rigid social division something of a big deal in 19th-Century London, Belgravia Episode 1 makes a meal of this. Fellowes is good with characters and with pace, but seems a bit hamstrung by his own ambition here, turning to laborious and inelegant explanations to keep everything organized and clear. The overall effect is mostly tedium, with the show catching up to character relationships and plot points that the audience has already figured out.
It’s the relationship – perhaps feud might be a better word – between Anne and Lady Brockenhurst which offers the most potential here, and their on-screen chemistry is enough to overcome the functional dialogue they’re asked to exchange. But, thus far anyway, Belgravia rarely amounts to much beyond a bearable but overly familiar period drama of a kind we’ve seen perhaps too many times before.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.