New BBC drama from Julian Fellowes gets off to a stuffy start, but improves as it brings the melodrama.

A confession. I’m still adjusting to the concept of Tamsin Greig in period costume in the new BBC drama, Belgravia.

After all she was such a modern gal in Episodes, including gettin’ it on with one Matt Le Blanc, that this new miniseries is literally worlds apart.

Belgravia is the latest offering from Julian Fellowes, he of Downton Abbey fame. It’s another sprawling period drama where costumes, sets and props are filled to the edges of the screen, this time beginning in Brussels, 1815.

Tamsin Greig plays Anne, wife of successful merchant James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) and the action gets underway at a ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond (Diana Kent), just before Napoleon fought The Battle of Waterloo. James is known as ‘The Magician’ for his ability to sell supplies to the army, even if the classes deem him beneath their rank.

While Anne’s obstinate daughter Sophia (Emily Reid) is in love with Lord Edmund (Jeremy Neumark Jones) son of the Earl and Countess of Brockenhurst (Tom Wilkinson, Harriet Walter), both are separated on the eve of the Battle of Quatre Bras. Given this takes place rather early in the piece, it’s not really a spoiler to say things don’t end well when Lord Edmund heads off to war….

But Fellowes fast-forwards the action to 26 years later, to Belgravia, London’s grandest neighbourhood, also described as “a spangled city for (the) rich.” Here Anne and James are now resident, rubbing shoulders with the Duchess of Richmond and the Brockenhursts. Yet there are secrets from the past, which are definitely spoiler-territory.

It also wouldn’t be a Fellowes script with the class differences -yes there are servants passing judgment on their employers, if not necessarily upstairs and downstairs.

But unlike Downton Abbey, this gets off to a stuffy start where the costumes and interiors are at risk of upstaging the characters. There’s a fair whack of the aristocracy keeping up appearances and talking over tea, without spilling enough of it.

Tamsin Greig’s sparkle is the saving grace here, giving the viewer someone to connect with. It bore little of the Dallas-like melodrama that punctuated Downton so remarkably -at least until the third act of the opening episode.

Thankfully things finished on a good, if scandalous, note more fitting of Fellowes’ style. But there is also a sense of TV history trying to repeat itself. This could be one for the fans.

Belgravia airs 8:30pm Sunday on BBC First.

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