If it’s Julian Downton Abbey Fellowes – and Belgravia is his adaptation of his own novel, so it very much is – then you know you’re going to get some statement architecture. In this case, we’re headed for London in the first half of the 19th century, so it’s big-city mansions and dark kitchens – but country-house fans needn’t worry: everyone here also has a second, very large home with some fields around it. This is a series that boasts 107 different locations.
For all this magnificence, Fellowes had his team chasing round both England and Scotland in search of just the right drawing room or staircase. As producer Colin Wratten points out, ‘When you’re writing a novel, you can write what you like. Your mind is conjuring up a shop or a library or the Athenaeum Club. But on TV, you have to see all these places. In addition, all the aristocrats have two houses – one in Belgravia and one in the country, so we needed to find all of those.’
Our story starts in Brussels in 1815, at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of the Battle of Quatre Bras, days before Waterloo. Rather than on the Continent, our locations are in fact in the UK, with the event itself recreated in Bath’s Assembly Rooms, previously seen in costume dramas including 2007’s Persuasion and 2008’s The Duchess. Considering the building is the work of John Wood the Younger, Lord Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones) seems a little churlish to tell the Duchess (Diana Kent), ‘Aunt, you’ve made these very dreary rooms very splendid.’
Our other focus in Brussels is the house of the Trenchard family, led by Anne (Tamsin Greig) and James (Philip Glenister). For this, Hopetoun House in South Queensferry on the Firth of Forth was used, largely the work of William Adam, who worked on it from 1721 to 1748. We see the front stairs, where the wood panelling is decorated with paintings, as well as the bedchamber and the garden parlour, where Anne and her children await news of the battle.
When we then move to Belgravia 26 years later, to see Anne arriving for tea at the Duchess of Bedford’s house, we are in fact still in Scotland – less than 15 miles to the south-east, in Edinburgh’s Moray Place. The Georgian architecture of the city’s New Town provided a good stand-in for the new-built London of the period – with one exception. ‘The problem,’ says director John Alexander, ‘is that it is sandstone rather than the brilliant whites of Belgravia. We had to deal with that and created the white appearance through CGI.’ We’re back here for the exterior of the Trenchards’ own city house, while neighbouring Darnaway Street is used for the Harley Street home of Stephen Bellasis (James Fleet), and we see Charles Pope (Jack Bardoe) walking to his office through Edinburgh’s Parliament Square, past the High Court.
Once inside the Duchess of Bedford’s ‘London’ residence, we’re no longer in Scotland but in West Wycombe House, Buckinghamshire. This Palladian mansion, built by notorious libertine Sir Francis Dashwood in the 1730s, has a long screen CV, including the site of the party scene in Patrick Melrose and Lady Rosamund’s London home in Downton Abbey. Here, we get something close to a guided tour, taking in the Roman-style pillared entrance hall, The Music Room and then The Blue Drawing Room, where Anne meets Lady Brockenhurst (Harriet Walter).
Episode 1 also introduces us to the Trenchards’ own Belgravia house, filmed in various stately homes. The dining room, where we meet son Oliver (Richard Goulding) and his wife Susan (Alice Eve), is Basildon Park, near Reading. Another Downton location, as the home of the Crawleys, it’s also featured in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, as well as 2016’s non-sequel Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The room is in the neoclassical style but is in fact a late-20th-century refurbishment, the original fittings having been sold to an American firm who installed them in the Basildon Room of New York hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Much of Episode 2 is spent at the two homes of Lady Brockenhurst. For her London residence, where Anne calls at the start of the episode, we are back in Scotland, this time at Manderston House in Duns, 50 miles south-east of Edinburgh. Though it dates from the early 20th century, a good 50 years after the period of Belgravia, it is just as grand. Of particular note is the Silver Staircase we see both here and at Lady Brockenhurst’s party, which was supposedly inspired by Madame de Pompadour’s Versailles home and took three men up to three weeks to polish. We also visit the drawing room for Anne’s tête-à-tête and then the ballroom next door for the soirée where Charles Pope is introduced, which retains the original silk wallpaper and gold-threaded curtains.
The Brockenhursts’ country home, Lymington Park, is not in the New Forest but rather closer to London, at Wrotham Park in Potters Bar. Built for Admiral John Byng by Isaac Ware in 1754, this Palladian edifice is given a good deal of screentime: we see an aerial view of the exterior, then the dining room, drawing room and library. It’s long been a popular location, seen in the Fellowes-scripted Gosford Park (2001) and Vanity Fair (2004), as well as The Crown and the not-very-fondly remembered Peter’s Friends (1992).
Episode 2 takes us to another well-used stately home, Syon House in West London. This time it’s to the conservatory, seen in the 2018 TV version of Vanity Fair, as well as Bedazzled (1967), where it represents Heaven rather than, as here, Kew Gardens. Later in the series, the house itself – another key location in Gosford Park – is used as Templemore House, home of Lady Maria Grey (Ella Purnell). We also visit Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, where the Tarred Yarn Store used as Fantine’s factory in Les Misérables (2012) serves as Pimm’s Chop House, site of a rendezvous for Stephen Bellasis and his son John (Adam James). The dockyard is also repurposed later on as a London market and streets near the Mill.
The locations keep on coming. There’s the Trenchards’ country home, Glanville House, which is played by Loseley Park in Guildford, a Tudor manor house that appeared as Broadlands in The Crown, with the below-stairs scenes shot at Hatfield House, chief location for The Favourite (2018) and Getty biopic All The Money In The World (2017). Charles Pope’s childhood home, meanwhile, is Dorney Court near Windsor, another Tudor country house, already seen twice this year as the school in The Personal History of David Copperfield and in the BBC’s Dracula reboot. Truly, Baron Fellowes is too good to us.
Belgravia is available to watch from 24 February, 2020
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