Belgravia: The Next Chapter’s romance, mystery, longing looks and furtive glances

A new instalment of top-tier costume drama from the creator of Downton Abbey arrives with Belgravia: The Next Chapter. It’s a sumptuous treat for fans of costumed melodrama, writes Adam Fresco.

If it’s pedigree you’re after, then Belgravia has better breeding than most dog shows. Its creator is British actor and author Julian Fellowes, who won a screenwriting Oscar for costume drama Gosford Park before penning scripts for movies Vanity Fair and The Young Victoria. Fellowes followed big screen success with small-screen smashes Downton Abbey and The Gilded Age. Now comes Belgravia: The Next Chapter, set in 1871, twenty-five years after the events of the first season.

Whilst the cast and characters are largely new, the drama follows the same family as past misdeeds catch up with a new generation, threatening the third Lord Glanville, Frederick Trenchard. A case then of same show, different scandal, although you don’t really need to have seen the first series to make sense of it all. But go ahead and binge if the fancy takes you, as it will certainly help set the scene for this new instalment of melodramatic aristocratic voyeurism.

Opening with a high-society ball, the sequel doesn’t hide its inspiration from that age-old tale of star-crossed love, Cinderella. Beautiful poor girl meets handsome aristocrat, etcetera. Take away the pumpkin, fairy godmother, and magic mice, and this is a finely costumed British period romantic drama, not more than a deftly lobbed glass slipper away from the fairytale of Cinders and her charming prince.

Enter young Clara Dunn (played by Harriet Slater), who sings by the piano for the gathered throng of exquisitely costumed lords and ladies. As soon as the captivating Clara sings, she’s spied by the suave and sophisticated Lord Frederick Trenchard (Ben Wainwright). Clara and Fred’s eyes meet, to form an almost visible pulsating red, cartoon heart, shot through by Cupid’s arrow.

Immediately spotting the sparks, the Duchess informs Fred that Clara’s father has recently passed, leaving Clara and her mother in precarious financial circumstances. But Fred is smitten nonetheless. “My goodness Frederick, I do believe you’re hooked”, utters the Duchess, as she introduces the two lovebirds and, quicker than you can say: “I bet they wed”, the pair are engaged, and Clara’s set to be Lady Trenchard.

No spoilers, but that quick and mercilessly efficient set-up is a slick series start, allowing the show to skip straight to the not-so-happily-ever-after married bit.

Lord Fred may be the perfectly handsome, wealthy, and caring husband Clara desires, but there’s no accounting for family. Enter Fred’s estranged brother, The Reverend James (Toby Regno), a priest with a dubious past. And, if family feuds and sibling secrets aren’t enough, there’s always the serving staff to dish up drama. What’s the deal between Fletcher, the family valet, and Davison, Clara’s maid? And is dashing young Doctor Stephen Ellerby hiding more than just a stethoscope in his medical bag? And who the heck is that mysterious French Marquise, and is she pouting at Fred, Clara—or both?

As any fan of costume drama of the romantic kind knows, a little cliché is required. A dash of melodrama here, a pinch of stereotype there, plenty of billowing costumes, sumptuous locations, and grandiose narrative twists. It’s a familiar recipe which, cooked with care, offers pure catnip for Downton Abbey acolytes, and admirers of Jane Austen TV adaptations. It’s shot with style and looks great, but high production values can’t hide the fact that we’ve been here before, met these characters in other shows, and marvelled at similarly splendid 19th Century architecture, and high society fashion.

Belgravia: The Next Chapter nevertheless offers an entertaining procession of pleasant and eye-pleasing pageantry. A villain here, a hero there, a damsel in distress to save, a long-buried family secret exposed, a shameful past misdeed revealed, a sinister interloper, a kind benefactor, unrequited love, star-crossed lovers, and every other plot point plundered from the works of authors from Elizabeth Gaskell to Charles Dickens.

It’s all in how the ingredients are presented, and this second helping of Belgravia serves up a sumptuous treat for fans of the costumed melodrama genre. Replete with romance, mystery, longing looks and furtive glances, this second chapter might not feel original, but offers an engaging array of characters and enough intrigue, billowing period costumes, and regal locations to please old and new fans alike.