This review originally published March 10, 2020
For those who have missed the swirling, upperclass dramas of Downton Abbey, its creator Julian Fellowes has penned another (much shorter) story worth the obsession: Belgravia, a 6-part miniseries airing on Epix. Yes Epix, home to such strange gems as Perpetual Grace, LTD and Get Shorty, as well as the sleepy but stylish Batman-adjacent Pennyworth. For the past few years, Epix has experimented with a variety of different prestige-y genres, but Belgravia serves as their first foray into costume dramas (it’s also co-produced with the UK’s ITV). And it’s a good one—despite a few quibbles about its pacing, Belgravia’s sleek six episodes provide the TV equivalent of a beach read romp, one that is engaging and ultimately very satisfying.
Belgravia focuses on a set of wealthy denizens and the up-and-coming merchant class of this newly planned area of London, beginning on a fateful (true) night of an infamous ball that takes place on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The choices made there between two young lovers reverberate throughout the generations, both old and young, creating a web of lies and pain and coverups that continue to define relationships decades later. That’s a purposefully vague description, because the revelations of these connections and twists are what make Belgravia such fun.
Even so, as viewers of Downton Abbey will know, few of these relationships or plotlines are ultimately unexpected. There’s something to be said for the satisfaction of guessing where things are headed, but more often it can be disappointing. But Belgravia is much more the former than the latter, thanks to the show’s excellent ensemble who play their parts with verve, from a conniving and bored wife (Alice Eve) and deliciously diabolical nephew looking to secure his inheritance (Adam James) to a sparkling young wit (Ella Purnell) and snobby but ultimately good-hearted Lady (Harriet Walter), not to mention a stoic and savvy self-made man looking to break into society like a bull in a china shop (Philip Glenister). Everything comes down to money, of course—those who have it, those who want it, those who will do anything for more of it—and while Fellowes (the series is based on his best-selling novel of the same name) does include some cursory stories of downstairs life, his interest (and the show’s attention) remains firmly with the upper echelons of society.
Belgravia’s title music is almost identical to Downton, linking the two series together tonally despite the fact that Belgravia takes place in a Victorian era prior to Downton. Still, there are many similarities in terms of people who—as they have little else to occupy themselves with—give their lives over fully to social engagements and plotting with or against one another. And that, of course, is what makes it so engrossing, despite something of a dour start that focuses on the hesitant and retreating figure of Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig), who is nevertheless the lynchpin of the series. The secrets she holds, and chooses to reveal, are what kickstart the whole affair, which includes bad debts, secret babies, eloping lovers, useless heirs, and clandestine meetings. All of it layers upon itself to lead us to a thrilling final two episodes, where viewers (this one included) will be desperate for good information to spread as rapidly as the bad has, and for misunderstands to be cleared up and away during a chaotic climax.
Running an economical six episodes doesn’t leave a lot of time for character development, but despite some threads left hanging and heel turns or redemptions happening a little too quickly, it all adds up to a delightful binge watch (one that helps smooth over some of these issues and others). Belgravia would feel fully at home on PBS Masterpiece, and perhaps one day will end up there. For now, fans will have to look a little further on the cable dial (or consider adding this premium service) to unlock its secrets.
Belgravia premieres Sunday, April 12th on Epix (which is currently featuring a free trial offer worth taking advantage of)
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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