Gareth Neame interview: ‘Downton Abbey’ producer on bringing ‘Belgravia’ to TV

Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame is back with a brand new TV project.

Belgravia is based on Julian Fellowes’ New York Times bestselling novel from 2016.

The upcoming period drama is a story of secrets and scandals amongst the upper echelons of London society in the 19th Century.

When the Trenchards accept an invitation to the now legendary ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond on the fateful eve of the Battle of Waterloo, it sets in motion a series of events that will have consequences for decades to come as secrets unravel behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest neighbourhood.

The six-part series begins in the UK this weekend and in the US next month.

Gareth Neame was executive producer on all six seasons of Downton Abbey and last year’s hit movie.

Here Neame explains how Belgravia came together:


How has Belgravia turned out?

“It has worked out very well – I’m thrilled. It’s beautifully acted and directed. It is a very accessible drama peopled with characters that we think the audience will love.”


Talk us through Julian’s script…

“Julian has written a wonderful script. It’s very clever with extremely well drawn characters. It has a lot of the things that distinguish Julian’s writing.

“It’s a comedy of manners full of social observations about how people organise themselves into hierarchies. It’s also like a Victorian novel in that it examines where characters have come from, their legacy and their expectations.”


What does Tamsin Greig bring to the part of Anne?

“Tamsin is perhaps best known as a comedic actress so she is a slightly surprising casting for the role. But she is a truly brilliant actress who can turn herself to anything. At its heart, this is a story of a woman’s love for her child. As Anne, Tamsin is so wonderful at playing that emotion. She tragically loses her daughter and never gets over that.

“Anne is from the other side of the track from Lady Brockenhurst, but they are united in grief, tragedy and their determination that their grandson will have the best of life. It’s very emotional and life affirming.

“Like a lot of female characters Julian has created, Anne is also a very brilliant woman. You think, “What would women like that have achieved if they were living today?””


Did you already know Tamsin?

“Yes. She and I went to university together. I even directed her in a play, Samuel Beckett’s Not I which is a half-hour monologue.

“She was the most talented actor I had seen at the time, and it didn’t surprise me at all that she went on to do so well in her career. She is highly talented, and a great pleasure to work with.”


What was the thinking behind the casting of Philip Glenister as James?

“He’s really beloved by British audiences. We are meant to really like James. He is self-made and he lacks polish, but he is very likeable. We thought that likeability was a quality that we would recognise from Philip’s previous performances.”


What is it like working with Harriet Walter?

“When you watch Harriet she is just effortless, she comes in and knows exactly what she is doing. We are blessed to have an actor of such experience and renown. She is supremely confident and just a joy to work with.”


What are John Alexander’s qualities as a director?

“We go back a long way with John. He directed The 7.39 and quite a few episodes of Jamestown. He is such a sensitive, deep thinking, artistic and stylish director.

“Nothing seems to faze him. He’s great with actors. The whole thing has been a joyful experience with John at the helm.”


This is a limited series, isn’t it?

“Yes, this is a limited series. It’s based on Julian’s book of the same name, and the story is fully played out over the course of the six episodes. The characters deliver very well over six hours.

“This is a great age of episodic TV, but there is still a place for a miniseries with a beginning, a middle and an end. Belgravia draws you in with a mystery, but it’s also extremely moving. The end of episode one is quite a tearjerker.”


Are you worried that audiences will think it is Downton Abbey 2?

“No. If audiences relate it to Downton Abbey, that’s no bad thing. It ticks a lot of the same boxes which Downton fans may enjoy.

“But I hope viewers see that Belgravia is quite different and look beyond the fact that there are aristocrats and servants in both dramas. The storytelling and the period are quite different in Belgravia.”


Why does Julian’s writing strike such a chord everywhere?

“The reason Downton Abbey was so popular all over the world is that all human beings organise themselves in a tribal, hierarchical structure. That’s the only way we know how to live among each other. But a lot of people don’t write about that.

“Julian had such a great understanding of why it’s important for some people to live inside a society and to keep others out. He understands about the glue that keeps society together.

“Julian writes with great understanding, interest and affection and does a brilliant job of making us believe we are actually in that world.

“His language takes us into that world without putting us off. He finds a way of making his language both period and contemporary, which makes it pleasurable and not jarring. He also writes about romance in a way that might seem old-fashioned, but that appeals right round the world. He also writes very well about duty.”


You and Julian have a marvellous working relationship, don’t you?

“Yes, we have a really good partnership. It shows how a producer and a writer can complement each other in a very effective way.

“We are now working together on setting up a new series called The Gilded Age. It’s always such a delight working with him. There are always a jacuzzi of different things to enjoy about a Julian Fellowes drama!”


Julian Fellowes’ novel Belgravia is available on Amazon.