Julian Fellowes on Belgravia: Tragedy is a mixture of magnificence & unhappiness

Tamsin Grieg as Anne Trenchard in Belgravia
If you’re looking for a new show, I can definitely recommend Belgravia. It’s on Epix, which is offering one month free through Amazon Prime. I don’t think I signed up for Epix but I was able to watch the first two episodes free through Prime. Belgravia is a fabulous historical drama in the vein of Downton Abbey, by the creator of Downton, Julian Fellowes. It’s set in mid 19th-century London, with a focus on the aristocracy, the nouveau rich, and a family secret. It’s not what I expected from Fellowes, but it’s got that rich take-you-to-another-place feel of Downton and the plot is Dickensian. It’s based on a book by Fellowes, published in 2016, and he did an interview with Town and Country promoting it. He said it was different to self-edit his work for television, and I found his explanation of how he comes up with plotlines fascinating.

We know the real place Belgravia inspired you. Are your characters also based on history or are they entirely fictional?
It was completely made up! When I did make it up, though, I realized I needed a time jump of about 25 years. So, I thought it would be fun to start it with the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball, which took place [in 1815] just before the Battle of Waterloo. I had always been interested in that night but became even more so when I wrote an adaptation of Vanity Fair for Reese Witherspoon, so I did even more research. It’s an iconic, tragic moment.

Tragedy is usually some kind of mixture of magnificence and unhappiness; it isn’t enough for someone to be killed in the road by a milk float, you need a queen to be decapitated in a revolution to get that kind of romantic tragedy.

And that ball always struck me as having a bit of alchemy: these young men were in their dress uniforms dancing with their fiancées and then were suddenly called to arms, so that many of them were still in those uniforms when they died. Going from that kind of great privilege to ruin is so vivid and terrible that it’s always burned an image into my brain.

The series has moments that fans of your other work will recognize. How similar is it to something like Downton Abbey for you?
I think it’s darker than Downton. The servants are working people; they’re doing their jobs because those are the jobs that were available. It’s not sentimental. In the country, people tended to work for families for many years and live in cottages on their estate, but that wasn’t true in London. The average time in 1880 for a footman to remain in a London house was 18 months. It’s a sharper world.

[From Town and Country via People]

I love that line he gave about how tragedy “is usually some kind of mixture of magnificence and unhappiness” (the whole line wouldn’t fit in our title format). That’s so true for Downton and now I want to see his 2004 movie with Reese Witherspoon, Vanity Fair. I haven’t seen that one yet and it’s on Starz. So far only the first two episodes of Belgravia have aired, but unfortunately it’s only a six episode series. It’s so good! The twists are amazing. I’m not going to give away any spoilers except to tell you to watch it. Also thanks to my friend Z for recommending it!

Alice Eve in Belgravia

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21 Responses to “Julian Fellowes on Belgravia: Tragedy is a mixture of magnificence & unhappiness”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    I just started this last night because of your tweets about it! I really liked it. I actually never watched Downton (I saw the first few episodes of it and that was it) but I did see Vanity Fair in 2004 (I didn’t love it, but I have never read the book, don’t know if that would have made a difference.)

  2. Snowslow says:

    I finally gave in to Amazon Premium and LOVED Forever & Casual.
    Checked Outlander because I was under the impression it was good and it felt like erotica sans the erotism. WTH
    A bit sick of ‘historic’ brit porn.

  3. manda says:

    I watched the whole series and LOVED it soooo much. It’s annoying how much the score sounds like downton abbey, though

    • Celebitchy says:

      It is out now? I thought only the first two episodes were out. I actually liked how familiar the score was.

    • JaneDoesWerk says:

      I found the score distracting as well! I’ve only seen the first episode on Prime, is the entire season available somewhere? I liked the first episode but I tend to love leaning on period dramas as a distraction from real life…. especially now.

      • manda says:

        Omg, yes, period pieces are so my thing. It is not out in the US, but it finished airing in the UK.

  4. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Definitely worth a watch. And certainly darker than Downton, which suits me more. I loved Downton, but it had a hopeful vein running through it both upstairs and downstairs which was ‘sweet.’ Not too much sweetness to be doled out in the 19th century, and I think Dickensian is the way to go…when trudging through city life.

  5. Jen says:

    For whatever reason I haven’t been intrigued enough to watch this. I LOVED Sanditon though. I thought it was a really fun change of pace from the standard period romance. Definitely recommend and I think you can watch that on Prime as well.

  6. Nicole says:

    While Fellowes did contribute to the screenplay, Vanity Fair is much more Mira Nair’s film. That was her big follow up to Monsoon Wedding.

  7. Sunflowerlady says:

    Love Belgravia!! And my husband’s even watching it.

  8. Kerbear says:

    I read the book in anticipation of this show coming out! The story is a lot of fun, it’s definitely got the Downton-esque way of showing the heroes and villains in a black and white way. I like what Fellowes said about the servants being guided more by survival and self-preservation in this story. Downton’s upstairs/downstairs relationships were a little corny and saccharine sometimes.

    The cast of Belgravia is excellent!

  9. raindrop says:

    I really enjoyed the 2004 Vanity Fair movie. I didn’t realize Fellowes wrote the screenplay, but that makes sense. I’m a fan of the book and I thought it was adapted very well (though the book is darker and far less flattering toward its main character.)

    • Anners says:

      I loved the casting (except for Reese – she is not at all the Becky Sharp of my dreams) and the set design was so gorgeous! Did not appreciate the whitewashing of Becky.

      Celebitchy – I think you’d enjoy it – Gabriel Byrne, James Purefoy, Rhys Ifans, and evening a young Robert Pattinson. And I loved Romola Garai as Amelia.

  10. MrsMeow says:

    I love this show! Anything by Julian Fellowes is so good. My husband even got into the English Game on Netflix with me.

  11. Belig says:

    Belgravia was quite watchable. The first episode was the weakest in my opinion. Although I enjoyed both Sanditon and Vanity Fair (the 2018 TV show) more. They felt more… lively, for lack of a better world.

  12. Murphy says:

    I was excited for it but ended up being bored. And yes the music is two notes away from Downton music.

  13. Andrea says:

    This looks so good! It is on the list once I finish Sweet Bitter and Too Hot To Handle.

  14. Flying Fish says:

    I watched Episode 1 and 2 today based upon Kaiser’s recommendation and I like it a lot.

    Thanks Kaiser.

  15. JRT says:

    Vanity Fair is on the Canadian Netflix right now. Just thought I would let the Canadian readers/commentors know.