[To talk about SOMETHING else and innocuous briefly.]
The other evening, we watched the first episode of the new ITV historical drama, Belgravia. It is not going to be a long-running series. It is – it seems – only six episodes, so it is really better described as a “mini-series.”
It is adapted from the Julian Fellowes’s 2016 novel of the same name. As Fellowes’s earlier Downton Abbey opens with the sinking of Titanic in 1912, Belgravia starts with the Duchess of Richmond’s famous Brussels ball that was held three days before the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. As Wikipedia summarizes:
Among the guests are James and Anne Trenchard, who are living on the profits of newfound trading success. Their young daughter Sophia has caught the eye of Edmund Bellasis, the son and heir of one of the richest and most prominent families in England. Twenty-five years later, when the two families are settled into the newly developed area of Belgravia, the events of the ball, and the secrets, still resonate.
That first episode was more than watchable and we enjoyed it. I don’t want to give anything away – particularly as I believe it has not yet premiered in the U.S. Let’s just say here that the story leapt suddenly to 1841, and after a couple of plot twists if the first episode is any indication it appears this will be more or less an 1840s middle-class version of Downton Abbey, which as we know is set in the 1910s-1920s.
Near the end of the episode, my wife and I looked at each other during the scene with servants gathered in the basement kitchen around the table after having served their employer and guests upstairs. How many times have we now seen that “downstairs” v. “upstairs” contrast? Other aspects of the episode were also pretty easily predictable.
Fellowes also wrote 2001’s Gosford Park – which was a hit film. Having watched Downton Abbey, if you watch Gosford too and you think you see in it from where so much of Downton Abbey comes – you are indeed not mistaken:
The TV series Downton Abbey – written and created by Fellowes – was originally planned as a spin-off of Gosford Park, but instead was developed as a standalone property inspired by the film, set decades earlier.
I thought on that as a writer too. Every one of us eventually develops a style and choice of stories – genres, times, places, characters, etc. It becomes for us, as a writer, I feel, a balancing act.
Returning readers eventually do come to know you and so come to expect that they “know” about what you will be writing the moment they open the book – and many of them do like that, which may be why they read your books in the first place. But you as a writer also don’t ever want to become stale and samey to the point that you feel you are losing some “edge.” You want always to create something “new,” while also trying to satisfy what “may” be “expected” of you.
In OUR current time that sees a few billion of us around the world largely trapped now at home, we found it to be an hour of necessary and well-acted escapism. If you liked Downton Abbey, I suspect you will like Belgravia; and that seems more than enough to make it worth viewing all six episodes. For a little while, it was 1815 and 1841 again… and not 2020.
Hope you are doing okay, wherever you too are under lockdown in the world.