Belgravia begins in Brussels, 15 June 1815, at a party hosted by the Duchess of Richmond before the famed Battle of Waterloo. With the impending battle, this prestigious ball seems to be just what the young men need to lift their spirits. With so many people of status and position in attendance, why is that girl and her parents here? That girl, is the beautiful eighteen year old, Sophia Trenchard, accompanied by her parents, James and Anne Trenchard. Mr. Trenchard is chief supplier to the Duke of Wellington, not a man of noble birth or marriage so again, why are they at this ball? Edward, the eldest son of an earl, has gotten them tickets to the because it seems he is smitten with Sophia.
Of course, the relationship with Sophia and Edward is not socially acceptable; he’s a man with title and inheritance. Sophia is beautiful, but she’s not of noble birth; she is the daughter of a self made merchant supplier. James supports his daughter’s relationship with Edward, viewing Edward as a trustworthy young man. Sophia is headstrong and rebuffs her mother’s caution about Edward. James also views this event as an opportunity to network and rub shoulders with the upper echelon. James’s success alongside opportunities like this should help him ascend up the social ladder.
“Sophia lived in a dream, like her father, and dreams could get people into trouble if they were not careful.”
The men leave in preparation for the battle and there is an emotional goodbye between Edward and Sophia. As the Trenchards prepare to leave the party, Sophia is distressed for another reason, one she doesn’t disclose to her mother. Shortly after, Mr. Trenchard returns home after the battle and breaks the news of Edward’s death to Anne and Sophia. Fellowes manages to throw in tragedy as I’m accustomed to from my experience with watching Downton Abbey, but what will happen to Sophia now?
In episode 2, over 25 years later, in 1841 we encounter Anne Trenchard in Belgravia where her husband has made a fortune in building the beautiful private palaces in this fashionable and well to do area. James has convinced Anne to attend afternoon tea among the ladies of society, one of which is the Dowager Duchess of Richmond, the aunt of Edward (Lord Bellasis). We learn Sophia has died! Again, another supposed shock to the audience. Anne has another conversation with The Countess of Brokenhurst (it takes me a while to figure out what title goes to which person), Edward’s mother. Lady Brockenhurst has an abrasive, almost dismissive demeanor. When she finds out that Anne knew her son, Anne has to tell her top, that Sophia has died.
With each episode, we learn more about the Trenchards and the dynamic of the remaining relations. Oliver, son of the Trenchard is spoiled and somewhat self centered. He’s married to Susan and their relationship seems a bit lukewarm. Susan is always pinning for opportunities to mix with the upper echelon although Anne doesn’t invite or encourage such behavior.
On the Brockenhurst side, their family is not without problems either. Lady Brockenhurst’s husband, Peregrine Bellesis, has a younger brother, a cleric named Stephen who constantly stops by to ask for money. Stephen has a gambling problem and John, his son, is a womanizer who lives way above his means. Both men are counting on their inheritance at Peregrine’s eventual demise, since Peregrine has no male heir. The title, estate and inheritance will go to his handsome and self centered nephew, John, if there’s any money left. Peregrine seems to bail them out of debt too many times to count but I digress. There is quite a bit of drama from Stephen and John. John is also engaged to Lady Maria Grey although no date has been set for the nuptials.
James Trenchard is in partnership with a young business man named Charles Pope, a mill owner. He’s bright and ambitious, the complete opposite of his son Oliver. Oliver can’t understand his father’s interest in this nobody. Before Lady Brockenhurst has provided some financial backing to Pope as well. Who is Charles Pope?
True to Downton Abbey form, there humor and wit, along with some gossip and scandal among the servants who care for the well to do families of society. Center stage is Ellis, lady’s maid to Anne Trenchard and Turton, the butler in the Trenchard home. There were characters that reminded me of some in Downton Abbey but overall, the characters in Belgravia were unique to the story. Unlike Downton, we don’t get a chance to really know the servants so I was a little disappointed with that aspect of the story. If you watched Downton, you remember many endearing relationships; Anna and Bates, Mrs. Hughes and Carson.
Told in 11 episodes, Belgravia was reminiscent of Downton Abbey, each episode being delivered in a way to make you want more. I could binge several episodes much like I did when first introduced to the show by a friend who invited me to a viewing party of the show. How in the world can I go watch a show I know nothing about? With Belgravia, I had no idea what the book was about. There were two factors that influenced my decision to pick it up. The first was because the narrator is one of my favorite, Juliet Stevenson. She is a phenomenal narrator and I’m convinced I would listen to almost anything she narrates. The second is because I was a fan of Downton Abbey. Belgravia was a quick read and I would 100% recommend the audiobook. Juliet Stevenson is stellar and I can’t say enough about her brilliant narration.
I read online that ITV (in the UK) will be adapting it into a series, which I hope will mean it will be available in the US shortly thereafter.