ITV's new Julian Fellowes-penned series Belgravia is a pale imitation of a good period drama

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a screenwriter in possession of a big hit, must be in want of another. Unfortunately for Julian Fellowes, I don’t think Belgravia (ITV, Sunday, 9pm) is going to be it.

Friday, 20th March 2020, 5:00 pm

Fellowes is the writer of Edwardian-era tug-me-forelock-sir megahit Downton Abbey, but for his new show he goes further back in history, all the way to the Battle of Waterloo.

There are dashing soldiers and empire line dresses and it’s all very Austen-like – we even have a ball in the first 10 minutes.

But – and I think Fellowes reckons this is a big twist on the format – our protagonists, the Trenchard family, are merchants, victuallers to the Duke of Wellington’s army, which is about to finally defeat old Boney at Waterloo.

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Star-crossed lovers Sophia and Lord Bellasis hide a secret in Belgravia. Picture courtesy ITV/Carnival Films

So, much like the old Frost Report sketch, they look up to the aristocracy, and look down on the working classes. While Mr and Mrs Trenchard may get whiplash, we get bored, as this new middle class still dress in silks and satins, they still have staff at their beck and call, and they still live in lovely house – in the Belgravia of the title.

The dialogue is an Austen pastiche – “Bring her to the door, my dear, while I fetch the shawls” – and the ‘big secret’ of the first episode is tossed away with barely a remark, as Mr and Mrs Trenchard (Philip Glenister and Tamsin Greig) get into bed.

You wouldn’t be surprised if French and Saunders strolled on set making lewd remarks about the gentlemen’s breeches.

It’s not very good, even as escapism in these coronavirus-troubled times. BBC’s iPlayer has just released a load more box sets, so try Gentleman Jack, War and Peace or Call the Midwife. These are all better dramas. Period.

Once again, enthusiasm burst from the screen in Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema (BBC4, Thursdays, 9pm) as the motor-mouthed critic tackled superhero films. A great companion to the MCU.

If Julian Fellowes remains stuck in a period drama rut, culture-clash sitcom Kate and Koji (ITV, Wednesdays, 8pm) at least tried something different, tackling issues such as immigration and racism.