It may be set in the 19th century, yet ITV’s Belgravia – full of all the drama, lies, secrets and suspense we’ve come to love from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes – kicks off in an incredibly timely fashion.
Why? Because the legendary Duchess of Richmond’s ball feels… well, it feels a little off. As Anne Trenchard (Tamsin Greig) notes, it’s strange to prepare for a fancy night out when the world is on the brink of war. And anyone who’s been to the pub or popped to the shops of late will know that feeling all too well: life, in 2020, feels similarly off-kilter thanks to those blaring coronavirus headlines.
Anyway, I digress: here’s what you need to know about episode one.
What happens in the first episode of ITV’s Belgravia?
The first 15 minutes of this period drama take us back to the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. There, we see well-connected society girl Sophia Trenchard (Emily Reid) head to the ball with her family at the behest of her lover, Edmund Bellasis. There’s a little gossip, a dash of scandal and an overwhelming whiff of class divide, until all the uniformed men are forced to rush off to battle.
Bellasis passionately promises Sophia that he will return, which, naturally, means he’s doomed. Indeed, we learn shortly after the first ad break that he’s “dead” (RIP Bellasis, we barely knew you).
It’s up to Sophia’s father, James Trenchard (Philip Glenister), to break the devastating news to his daughter, although this bombshell takes place off-screen.
The next thing we know, it’s 26 years later. As everyone in view celebrates the birth of the afternoon tea (yes, really, who would have thought that the Duchess of Bedford invented the institution in the 1840s?), Anne is sipping her brew in polite company and informing us that her daughter hasn’t had the long, happy life we’d expected.
“Sophia died,” she says matter-of-factly. “It was quite soon after the battle, so it was a long time ago now.”
This is, however, a Fellowes drama, which means that a) there’s far more to all of this than meets the eye, and b) the servants downstairs at the Trenchard household are full of intriguing little titbits for us to mull over.
So, what really happened to Belgravia’s Sophia Trenchard?
In a surprise almost everyone will have seen coming, Sophia was pregnant at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. With, yes, Bellasis’ secret love child.
“How did it happen?” her mother asks.
“I thought we were married,” Sophia replies.
Why? Well, because they… because they got married in a false ceremony, with one of Bellasis’ friends dressed up as a priest.
When Sophia realised she’d been duped, she did everything she could to try to terminate the pregnancy, but to no avail. Anne, however, is less interested in all of this: all she cares about is the fact that her husband knew about the wedding, and that he gave the union his blessing.
How did Belgravia’s Sophia Trenchard die?
Tragically, the doctors couldn’t stop the bleeding after she gave birth to the son she’d never wanted.
Speaking with her mother in the moments before she died, Sophia begged: “Whoever takes him in? Make sure they love him. And give my best love to papa. Try not to blame him for any of it, please.”
Could James Trenchard have brought about Edmund Bellasis’ death?
Well, it’s a possibility. he knew that his daughter had been duped, he went into battle alongside the soldiers, and he was the one who identified Edmund’s body.
Perhaps he did something he later regretted, especially when he learned of his daughter’s unfortunate out-of-wedlock situation.
What happened to Sophia Trenchard’s son?
In order to preserve Sophia’s reputation, her parents arrange for the child to be brought up by a vicar and his family (as per the book of the same name), and the Trenchards provide for his education.
For the past two decades, James and Anne have worked tirelessly to keep the child’s existence a secret. Now that Anne’s learned Bellasis’ mother has no other children, though, might she be tempted to reveal the truth and secure her grandson’s inheritance?
Quite possibly, although not if James has anything to do with it.
“I will not have the memory of our own daughter defaced,” he furiously replies when she suggests coming clean. “Especially by her own mother.”
Is Belgravia worth my time?
If you’re a fan of historical dramas, probably. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, absolutely. It has secrets, scandals, sex, class warfare and a compelling story to boot, not to mention an outstanding cast.
What more could you want from ITV on a Sunday evening, eh?
Where and when can I watch the next episode of Belgravia?
Episode two of Belgravia begins on Sunday 22 March at 9pm. We’ll see you there, yeah?
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.