Gareth Neame Interview: ‘Belgravia’ producer
Producer Gareth Neame and writer Julian Fellowes struck Emmy gold with their last collaboration, “Downton Abbey.” That historical drama ran for six seasons and spawned a hit movie in 2019. The pair have reunited for “Belgravia,” a limited series based on Fellowes’ serialized novel of the same name that is airing on EPIX.
Neame, who is the managing director of the production company Carnival Films, was delighted to get the chance to work again with Fellowes. But unlike “Downton Abbey,” where he had the idea and approached the Oscar-winning screenwriter (“Gosford Park), it was Fellowes who came up with this story. “Julian said I won’t show it to anyone else until you’ve read the book. It is a fun, accessible read with brilliantly drawn characters. It is dramatically different from ‘Downton’ but it has the comedy of manners and social observation that Julian does so brilliantly.”
While “Downton Abbey” is about the slow but steady decline of the aristocracy, “Belgravia” chronicles the rise of the middle class. Set in the well-heeled London neighborhood in the 1840s, “Belgravia” chronicles the lives of the aristocratic Bellasise family and the upwardly mobile Trenchards. The plot pivots on one eventful night a quarter-century prior when, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, British society gathered in Brussels for the Duchess of Richmond’s ball (Thackeray set the climax of his classic novel “Vanity Fair” there as well.)
Following in in the footsteps of “Downton Abbey” scene stealer Maggie Smith is another Dame of the British Empire: Harriet Walter dominates the screen as Caroline, Countess of Brockenhurst, the grande dame forced by circumstances to consort with the Trenchards. The “Belgravia” cast also includes Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson as her beleaguered hubby Peregrine, Earl of Brockenhurst, and two British TV veterans — Tamsin Greig (“Episodes,” “Green Wing”) and Philip Glenister (“Life on Mars,” “Ashes to Ashes”) as the social climbing Anne and James Trenchard.
Neame reveals that he went to university with Greig, who is best-known stateside for her comedic talents. “We’ve never worked together. She has an excellent reputation as a stage actress in London. I felt this could be the time for her to be recognized as a great drama actress.” And, he notes, “there is a great contrast with Harriet. At the heart of the show are these two women from completely different walks of life. They are united in that they have both lost a child. That grief is a part of you forever.”
Neame brought back many of the Emmy-winning creative team from “Downton Abbey” including production designer Donal Wood, art director Mark Ebby and set decorator Linda Wilson. “It is impossible to film something of this scale in Belgravia. We filmed in the New Town section of Edinburgh. But Belgravia has a distinctive white render. We added that in post and the porticoes on the front of the buildings are visual effects. It is excellent symmetry between art direction and VFX.”