THE parson was an impostor. Not in the existential I’m-not-worthy-to-be God’s-minister sense that assails us all most of the time, but, more basically, a layman with no authority whatsoever dressing up and pretending to be a priest. It was a subtler plot twist than I expected from Belgravia, a new six-part series that began on Sunday (ITV, Sundays).
Beautiful Sophia is the daughter of James Trenchard, victualler to Wellington and the British army, who takes his family to Brussels, where she falls in love with the dashing Lord Bellasis. Her mama, Anne (Tamsin Greig), pours cold water on the romance; James, an upwardly mobile tradesman of ambition, encourages it.
The lovers marry secretly and (of course) immediately consummate their nuptials (a scene that we were spared so that the series can sell easily in the United States).
Trenchard has wangled tickets to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball — the most famous in history, I suppose. As, mid-supper, Wellington calls his officers to arms, Sophia, to her horror, recognises one of her lover’s laughing fellow officers as the supposed clergyman: she has (like many a girl before and after) been duped by an aristocratic cad so that he can have his wicked way with her. Lord Bellasis is killed at Waterloo; and Sophia dies giving birth to their son.
Twenty-six years later, Trenchard has prospered mightily in building Belgravia, where all London’s ton now reside. At a grand tea-party, Anne encounters, for the first time, Bellasis’s mother (who knows nothing about the romance, never mind the fake wedding), and they share the agony of losing beloved children.
So, for all the melodrama, we are presented with a serious moral dilemma: should Anne reveal the truth, so that Bellasis’s mother might acknowledge the bastard as the heir she longed for? But this will require her to confront the shameful truth about her son’s disgraceful behaviour. Will the truth bring delight or heartbreak? The cast is superlative; the production looks gorgeous, and will surely run and run.
TV companies have one goal: creating contemporary dramas with a following strong enough to guarantee follow-up series until kingdom come. BBC1’s Last Tango in Halifax (Sundays) and The Split (Tuesdays) have both garnered solid praise from other critics.
Why can’t I stand them? They have contrasting aims: Last Tango is a lighter tale of love flowering among those likely to be self-isolating some day soon; The Split is a serious mix of marital break-up and tragedy among a family of high-end divorce lawyers (have you picked up the irony there?). For me, both offer too much: sub-plots fight for attention, each scene must thrill or amaze, no character lacks a highly wrought trait or story. They are too rich and indigestible. We need simpler, Lenten fare.