I gobbled up Julian Fellowes’s latest, “Belgravia,” but not because it is so good. It is just OK, largely because the storyline — based on Fellowes’s 1840s-set novel of the same title — is a bit obvious and under-baked, particularly the extremely flat “downstairs” servant material. It’s a Dickensian-styled story in some ways, with an emerging secret from the past and shades of “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist,” but it’s also fairly flat and soapy.
I gobbled it up because it suits my taste for escape at the moment, as the pandemic darkens everyone’s lives. “Belgravia” is gorgeously appointed, it’s romantic enough, it’s grounded in the manners of a far more delicate time when everyone stood six-feet apart lest they bump hands, and it does what Fellowes’s “Downton Abbey” did, in a deeper and more engaging way, as it explores the differences between the entitlement of old money and the scrappier personalities of new money. There’s a large estate at stake, and there are a few reputations in the offing. It offers a mild six-episode escape, basically, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of what we think of as quality TV these days.
Most important of all, “Belgravia” offers a pair of performances that I fully admired and that lifted up the material. Tamsin Greig (from “Episodes”) is Anne Trenchard, the nouveau riche mother of a daughter who died many years earlier. She isn’t tacky in any way, but she is not privy to the same social respect that automatically belongs to those born into wealth and property. And Harriet Walter (Logan Roy’s ex on “Succession”) plays the Countess of Brockenhurst, a personage who lost her son in the Battle of Waterloo. They clash, to some extent, but they also share a form of unending grief that leads to a number of powerful scenes. As is often the case in this kind of period drama, the women are more interesting characters than the men.
To watch the series, you have to have Epix, which is airing new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m.