Review: Belgravia by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes


Belgravia app vs book

Belgravia is available as an app and also a paperback

From the creator of Downton Abbey, the Belgravia serves up old-fashioned Dickensian serialised storytelling on a new digital app. But is the medium successful? Kate Coughlan weighs in.

Belgravia, by Julian Fellowes

Review: Kate Coughlan

In a moment of icy, calm control the 1st Duke of Wellington stays seated for supper during ‘the most famous ball in history’ (thrown by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels on June 7, 1815) even after a soldier has rushed to him through the ballroom with a note.

The enemy, the French Emperor Napoleon, has advanced with unexpected speed and is just 15 km south. The Duke continues chatting to his hostess’s daughter, the obviously captivating Lady Georgiana, till 1 am before commanding his officers to farewell their dancing partners and ride with him into battle. Wellington’s narrow victory at Waterloo comes two days later.

This most extraordinary juxtaposition, the young soldiers in glorious dress uniform waltzing one moment then riding into bloody battle the next, provides a rich opening for Belgravia, the latest period drama from master of the genre, Sir Julian Fellowes.

Background information on the Battle of Waterloo in the Belgravia app.

Background information on the Battle of Waterloo in the Belgravia app.

This time the creator and writer of the popular drama series Downton Abbey takes his lead from an earlier, and also masterful, storyteller Charles Dickens by releasing, chapter by chapter, his latest novel delivered via smartphone app.

Belgravia is set in London’s Belgravia in the 1840s and is a tale of scandal and intrigue. Dickens’ 19thC followers purchased weekly magazines to read Dickens’ latest installment. Fellowes’ 21stC followers awaited Thursday’s “ting” signalling the arrival of each new chapter in their Belgravia App.

The Duchess of Richmond, one of the more memorable characters.

The Duchess of Richmond, one of the more memorable characters in Belgravia

It took all of May and June to hear/read the book. The first chapter (of 11) was free and it hooked me despite rather clunky and predictable language (“she was pretty, very pretty even, in that classic blonde, blue-eyed English way, but the cut-glass set of her mouth …”) The App is as clunky as the text but Sir Julian’s marvelous matriarchs made the often-frustrating App experience bearable. Lady Brockenhurst – Maggie Smith written all over her – is fabulously acerbic, powerful and boy, do I know a few just like her in my own extended clan.

Nothing quite beats reading a book, says Kate.

Nothing beats reading a book, says Kate.

Fortunately for the app-abhorents amongst us, there’s no need for to fight the Battle of Belgravia on the slow and cumbersome app. The modern miracle invention, known as The Book, allows readers a take-it-at-their-own-pace option. The handsome paperback was released here in New Zealand on 1 July (2016). However, should Belgravia fans want to know more, the App has it all; history of the characters, clothes of the period, architecture of the time, politics and statistics… including the awful fact that 57,000 men, from both sides, died at Waterloo – one in four soldiers perishing in battle. Puts the current British and French divorce, Brexit, into context, doesn’t it?

Book published Weidenfeld & Nicholson, available nationwide, $39.99
Audio and digital version, $18.98, available on Julianfellowesbelgravia.com

You may also like...

Screen Sirens podcast: Me Before You https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0MmkG_nG1U The Screen Sirens find Emilia Clarke's eyebrows hypnotic in Me Before You. Me Before You is the stor...
Listen: The Girl on the Train book club podcast The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins is headlining the Auckland Writers Festival this month. The NZ Life & Leisure team had a lively chat...
Screen Sirens podcast: Love & Friendship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkjavlqfyHE Love & Friendship Directed by Whit Stillman and based on Jane Austin’s comic novella Lady Susan, st...
Water cooler talk: geese and gnocchi The thisNZlife team reveal the things that got them talking at the water cooler. This week we got excited about geese, gnocchi and Turkish language de...

Send this to friend