“It is the setting up of a world that was coming toward its conclusion by the time of ‘Downton,'” Fellowes told UPI recently in an interview. “In a sense, they’re on the opposite sides of the hill.”
“Belgravia” depicts England just before the rise of Victorian dominance, while “Downton” deals with the aftermath of Queen Victoria.
“Victorian importance in the world would reach its kind of apogee in the 1860s and ’70s, which is after this but before ‘Downton,'” Fellowes said.
Fellowes adapted his novel for the series. The Trenchard (Tamsin Greig, Philip Glenister, Richard Goulding, Alice Eve) and Bellasis (Adam James, Harriet Walter, Tom Wilkinson) families reconnect at Belgravia.
The Bellasises never knew that Sophia Trenchard (Emily Reid) bore Edmund Bellasis’ (Jeremy Neumark Jones) son. Sophia died in childbirth, and the Trenchards arranged for the boy to be raised and educated.
“Particularly for women, if their reputation had gone, it was very, very difficult to get back,” Fellowes said.
“So the stakes were high. You really had to protect your good name and the good name of your family, but there were certain ways around it. There were certain routes you could take. Our characters on the whole take them.”
The fictional Trenchards and Bellasises cross paths with a few historical figures throughout the series.
“Obviously, the Duke of Wellington and the Duke and Duchess of Richmond were all real characters,” executive producer Gareth Neame said during the interview.
“It helps anchor this fictional story in a place in time.”
Social customs begin
“Belgravia” begins even earlier than 1850. A flashback to 1815 shows the ball at which Sophia and Edmund had their affair. “Belgravia” depicts the beginnings of social customs that would continue through the time of “Downton Abbey.”
“The ball at the beginning was in 1815, which was the very, very beginning of the waltz,” Fellowes said. “Of course the waltz was the staple dance of the Victorian ball really through her reign.”
Neame said music also came into play when portraying the 1850s. The show had to reconstruct period authentic music.
“Even the music is different — the kind of instruments,” Neame said.
“You have to use ancient musical instruments, which are quite different from those that would have become the norm later in the 19th century right the way through to today. They are in some cases quite unrecognizable instruments to us.”
“Belgravia” is Fellowes’ first adaptation of his own work. He believes his experience in film and television enabled him to write a book that lent itself to adaptation.
“I suppose I’ve written so much for the screen now that I tend to write fairly visually, and I kind of see the film in my head,” Fellowes said. “So, in fact, when I was adapting it, I found that most of the scenes were quite visual in their context.”
Fellowes maintains he was not self-indulgent, though. He was able to make cuts to fit the screen time.
“You do have to be quite tough with yourself and say, ‘Oh no, this speech is far too long for a screenplay. We don’t need to hear from him again,'” Fellowes said.
With just over 400 pages, Fellowes felt he needed to expand “Belgravia” to six-hour episodes. In the adaptation, Edmund’s brother, Stephen, got a bigger role.
“We had a very interesting actor in James Fleet playing that role,” Neame added.
“We increased the story of his indebtedness a bit more. I think there were some more twists and turns in the mystery, but I don’t think there was a whole new storyline.”
“Downton Abbey: The Movie” came out in 2019, leading fans to start asking for a sequel. Fellowes is open to it, but he’s busy right now.
“Well, the movie did very well, I’m happy to say,” Fellowes said.
“Of course, that is the key factor in this culture — that if the picture does very well, the next question is will there be any more? We’re still really in the middle of discussing it.”
“Well, I think one never wants to shut down every hatch,” Fellowes said. “You always like to leave a little bit of possible movement, and I think we did in various different areas. I don’t think everything was sewn up at the end of the picture.”
In the meantime, Fellowes is writing “The Gilded Age” for HBO.
Should “Belgravia” demand a second season, it would likely feature a different story in the neighborhood of Belgravia.
“I don’t think this story could continue,” Fellowes said. “That’s it for these people. I think the idea of telling stories with Belgravia as a backdrop could easily continue.”
“Belgravia” premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT on Epix.