Review: Belgravia by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes
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.
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.
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.
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