Julian has collaborated with executive producer of Downton, Gareth Neame, to adapt his novel Belgravia into a six-part series set mostly in London in the 1840s. The show stars Tamsin Greig as Anne Trenchard and Harriet Walter as Lady Brokenhurst, two very different women brought together by a dark secret from the past.
Like Downton, Belgravia is focused on the upper echelons of high society, and – of course – features Fellows’ trademark ‘comedy of manners’ – poking fun at the sometimes bizarre conventions of the upper classes. The new series has drama, romance and deceit, just as Downton did. But fans of the Grantham family expecting a part II might be disappointed, as Julian and Gareth have explained the two series are worlds apart.
“People will compare it to Downton,” Julian told Goodhousekeeping.com/uk and other press ahead of the series airing, “but it has a very different energy.
“Downton, to a degree, was about the decline of that particular way of life and how it was going to have to adjust into the 20th century… The 1840s were the opposite of that. They were the beginning of the boom of Victorianism and it would lead to 1900 when there were more people employed in domestic service than at any time before or since,” he explained.
“The markets were growing, industry was growing, trade was growing, the Empire was growing, everything was growing. I think that does create a different feeling to it.
Producer Gareth described the two shows as “very, very different”, adding:
“This is a novel - it's a closed story... It's a beginning, middle and end. There's much more of a mystery, it’s not as soapy as Downton… It just doesn’t have the same dramatic structure of Downton at all.”
That’s not to say there aren’t similarities, of course. Julian and Gareth admit there are some – namely the fact they’re both period dramas set in households within high society.
“There are similarities, mostly because it’s about social commentary. What fascinates me about Julian’s writing is his observation of human beings and how they organise themselves in whatever hierarchical structure it is,” Gareth said.
Another element that might remind viewers of Downton is Belgravia’s rousing theme tune, composed by Downton’s John Lunn.
“I think similarly, it’s got a very strong theme and it just pulls you into it,” Gareth said.
“I used to describe the titles of Downton as being a sort of call to arms and the idea was, if you were in the kitchen still doing washing up [you’d think] ‘Oh, it's on now.’ I think a show should announce itself.”
Downton stood the test of time and spanned six series as well as a movie – but will we see more of Belgravia after its six episode run?
“For me, this is a completed story. Although whenever I say this to any of the actors, they disagree with me violently so I'm not sure that we know the definitive answer to that really. We'll have to see if anyone wants any more,” Julian said.
“We were not looking to do the next Downton Abbey and we want this to do very well as a limited series. But you know, nothing is ever impossible,” Gareth added.
Belgravia will air on ITV at 9pm on Sunday 15 March.
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