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Belgravia: London transported to Victorian era in fresh drama from Downton Abbey writer, Julian Fellowes

Belgravia will air for the first time on Sunday evening on ITV. Credit: ITV / ITV News

We can prepare to be swept into the upper echelons of British society once again this weekend, courtesy of Julian Fellowes.

The creator of Downton Abbey is at it again with a new period drama called Belgravia.

Set in the main during the Victorian era, the series shares its name with the wealthy area of central London on which it focuses.

It's a tale of secrets, dishonour and mystery told over six hour-long episodes, every Sunday night for the next six weeks on ITV, and it starts this week.

The novel itself was written by Fellowes and published in 2016.

It is about the Trenchard family, who are invited to the Duchess of Richmond's annual and legendary ball held on eve of Battle of Waterloo, in 1815.

What happens that night will set in motion events that will resonate for decades to come as secrets unravel.

It is an intense family saga, and charged with delivering the drama are the actors Philip Glenister (Life on Mars), Tamsin Greig (three-time BAFTA nominee) Alice Eve, Harriet Walker (Atonement, Sense and Sensibility), Tom Wilkinson (Full Monty, BAFTA and two-times Oscar winner), and Saskia Reeves (Spooks, Luther).

It's being described as a "darker" Downton, and Fellowes agrees.

He told me: "Yes, I think it is right. In Downton, you have this inter-reliant country house with the staff and the locals and very few characters object to the set-up and on the whole they will play their own role within that set-up, with a sense of identity and the possibility of fulfilment, but I think London was a different place.

"Much more jostling and ambitious. Servants didn't stay long. It was a tougher society and I hope we've brought that out in the show. They're not all horrible, they're not all planning to go upstairs and murder people but nevertheless but it's not so rose-tinted."

Our love of Downton stems from the comfort and escapism it provided, so can we love Belgravia as much? I asked.

He hopes so and admits: "I think it's good. I enjoy watching it and I think we've got a marvellous cast, but whether the public enjoys it, that must be up to them."

Belgravia is a costume drama set in London in the 19th century. Credit: ITV

What they have enjoyed is Downton Abbey - the cultural, cash cow and critical darling born almost a decade ago, and enjoyed around the world. Fellowes himself still marvels at its incredible success.

"You don't often have a success on the level of Downton because it was a sort of phenomenon and I think to expect more than one might be a little greedy!"

Downton showed that a period drama, come soap opera, could attract a global audience because of perhaps ours, and Julian's, obsession with class.

"It's difficult to write about the British in any period much before our own that doesn't involved class differences because it's a very stratified society and always had been," he says.

"Part of class is it's a kaleidoscope. It's always changing its pattern and moving and that's why it makes such a good setting for drama. We're always taking our pulse as to how well we're doing, where are we, how far have we got, is this house a step up, is it a step down, who are our friends, all of that.

"It's very automatic and sub conscious but I think it's alive and well with us today."

Downton Abbey captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Credit: ITV

Downton is definitely not his only triumph. He's had many - as an actor, a screenwriter, a producer and in 2002 he won an Oscar for Gosford Park.

His talents aren't confined to period dramas either. He has been involved in a wide range of films from The Young Victoria to The Tourist to School of Rock, and it strikes me when I meet him that he is not a man who rests often.

Just hours after our chat, he is flying to America for three months to start filming The Gilded Age, which tells tales of New York's high society and the fortunes made and lost in the late 19th century, but when he does sit down on a sofa, he likes to watch American dramas.

"I love American television. I loved Mad Men, West Wing, the Good Wife, the Good Fight. There's something about American soap drama that I find very, very absorbing and in a way, the structure not the tone of it, but the structure of [Belgravia] it was modelled on those series and the pace of it.

"In the old days, we used to do much slower dramas."

If a new drama on TV, a new drama in production weren't enough, he has yet another one coming out on March 20.

It's called "The English Game" and tells of the origins of football, but unlike Belgravia and Downton, it will be shown on Netflix and not terrestrial television. Fellowes doesn't think the screening service spells the end of television as we know it though.

"You just have to roll with it. You can't escape the next generation of entertainment. The one thing I do know is people will always want to be entertained and we just have to make sure that we are in tune with how that entertainment is being delivered to the public."

But then he adds: "The mad pursuit of the young audience by television and radio is sometimes, I think, rather a waste of time. I'm all for providing shows for young people. Good luck to them, but the idea that that's the key.

"It's not the key and it's never going to be the key. The key is the people aged between 30 and death, of whom there are a great many. They're the ones who are more likely to stay home and watch TV."

Despite Julian Fellowes' huge triumphs, he still gets nervous when his work is airing for the first time.

"You always have to get nervous. It keeps you on edge, you must never be over-confident. I think that's a mistake. The gods laugh at you if you're over-confident, in love or business."

When I asked him what he hopes his audience take away from his dramas, his expectations were modest.

"I like it if I've dramatised something that makes them a bit curious, makes them question one of their prejudices, makes them think again about something. I think that's great, but on the whole if they've enjoyed it, if they've had a nice Sunday evening with a nice bottle of wine, that's enough for me."

So, get the glasses out at 9pm on Sunday night for grand dames and even grander frocks, as Belgravia begins.