Updated: Aug 29, 2022
A couple of months ago, I saw Belgravia on DVD at the library and wondered how I had missed it. I'd read the book when it was fairly new and enjoyed it, and I love period dramas. The book is by Julian Fellowes, and the adaptation is the closest I've ever seen a movie stick to the book; not surprising, since he wrote both the novel and the screenplay.
Belgravia is two stories about 25 years apart, and I remembered the first part of it very well, and only about half of the second part. I loved that the story is mostly about two matriarchs, and they were what I remembered.
The story is about two families. The first family, the Trenchards, are upwardly mobile and in trade. The father, James, wants the family to be able to break into the upper levels of society in a time when those people really didn't associate with tradesmen. His wife Anne is more practical and not happy about her husband's ambitions. When the story begins, they are in Brussels, and James is a supplier for the British army. Since it's in wartime and they're out of England, the usual rules of society are relaxed, and the Trenchard's daughter Sophia is in a relationship with Lord Bellasis. James is encouraging it, and Anne is sure that it will go wrong.
***Bit of a SPOILER*** Just as the soldiers are leaving to fight Napoleon, Anne sees that Sophia is in a panic but doesn't know why. A few weeks later, Sophia tells Anne that she's pregnant. She thought that she and Bellasis were married, but she has found out that the marriage was fake. The baby is given up.
Twenty-five years later, the Trenchards are doing very well. James is still ambitious and Anne still doesn't like it. When she meets Lord Bellasis's mother, the Countess of Brockhurst, at a tea party, the two of them talk about the past. The Countess has no idea that she has a grandson, and Bellasis was her only child. James wants Anne to keep their secret, but she feels sorry for the countess and tells.
***End Spoiler***At this point, the two ladies are at odds, and it is by far the most interesting part of the story to me. I forgot entire plotlines and characters between reading the book and watching the movie, but I still recommend both for the two grandmothers. The thing that I enjoyed the most was the kind of restraint that makes Jane Austen's book so interesting. (The first part of the book is in the Regency time period, and the second is at the beginning of the reign of Victoria.) No one could come out and say what they were thinking. These two women are having a fight without ever raising their voices or even giving a dirty look. It's so much more entertaining to me than if they threw down.
I liked the movie, but I was annoyed that the focus of the movie cover is the young couple. I'd completely forgotten about their story. I know that I'm a middle-aged woman excited about actually seeing middle-aged women on tv, but they're Harriet Walters and Tamsin Greig, OK? They were so brilliant. Tamsin Greig was Miss Bates in a version of Emma from a few years back, so this is only the second drama I've seen her in, and in Emma, she was a comic character. She played this very well. Harriet Walters has been brilliant in probably a zillion period dramas. (Loved her as Brutus in Julius Caeser).
Another great performance is in the audiobook narration by Juliet Stevenson. I love listening to her read. She was especially good as Anne. After I watched the movie, I debated on whether to re-read the book, or could I get by on reading summaries; then, in a Goodreads review, someone said how good Stevenson's reading was, and I was sold.
So should you read it or watch it?
Usually, when I'm comparing a book and its movie, I say that the book is better of course. In this case, as I said before, they are so alike that it hardly matters. I enjoyed reading it, watching it, and then re-visiting the book in audio. There are always some nuances that are lost in an adaptation, but I love watching the costume dramas. All those fancy dresses and the houses. So, any which way, or all three!
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