Belgravia, based on “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes’ 2016 novel of the same name, opens two days before the Battle of Waterloo at an aristocratic ball. Two London families—the Earl (Tom Wilkinson) and Countess of Brockenhurst (Harriet Walter) and the up-and-coming merchants, Anne (Tamsin Greig) and Philip Trenchard (Philip Glenister), are uncomfortable in their brief interactions. There are insurmountable class differences and if that were not enough, the romance between the Brockenhursts’ son and the Trenchards’ daughter fuels the discomfort. Over the course of twenty-five years, a long-buried secret unravels and threatens to ruin both families. The shadows of that ball demand a reckoning.
Belgravia soon becomes a suburban residence for the affluent, developed by the Trenchards’ company, as one of the first housing developments of its kind. Betrayal, class warfare, subterfuge between family members, and secret love affairs proceed at a rapid pace as underhanded tactics and greed dominate the plot.
Laced with intrigue, Belgravia is darker and meaner than “Downton Abbey”. Characters have darker places in their souls, if they have one at all. Some family members surprise with their character development and shift in moral compass.
Tamsin Greig and Harriet Walter as the two mothers are at turns, haunting and devious . The veneer of gentility radiates in public places, disguising cozy manners wrapped around a hard core. Both actresses have a remarkable ability to make the viewer share their innermost private feelings.
A thoroughly engaging soap opera/melodrama, Belgravia is certain to be a crowd-pleaser for fans of historical drama and is an engaging follow-up to “Downton Abbey”.
Note: Available on Amazon Prime (Epix) and on Netflix as a DVD.
Of the many movies involving slave trade, films like “Belle”, “12 Years a Slave” and “Amistad” attempt to view the atrocities of slavery from the perspective of a slave or, in the case of Belle, an illegitimate daughter of a British nobleman, Admiral Sir John Lindsay (in a brief role by Matthew Goode). Inspired by a 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Elizabeth Murray, the story looks into who Belle may have been, since few facts about her actually exist today.
In the film, Dido (“Belle”, played by the stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (a consistently charming performance by Tom Wilkinson), the highest judge (Lord Chief Justice) in the British Empire and second only to the king in power. Belle’s aristocratic lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her African mother’s status as a slave prevents her from full stature as a noblewoman.
In this historical drama British writer and director Amma Asante has laid the narrative against the backdrop of the infamous legal case involving the Zong massacre (1781) in which more than 140 slaves were drowned in order to obtain compensation for their “human cargo” from the ship’s insurance company. Although the ship owners claimed they had to throw the slaves overboard in order to save the crew and the ship, and also because of a shortage of drinking water, the insurance company refused to pay, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to prove that drowning was unavoidable. Without the ship’s logs, the insurance company placed the burden of proof on the ship owners to show evidence that the slaves’ deaths were necessary. With Dido Belle as the beloved daughter of his nephew, the personal becomes political as the Chief Justice develops his position on Britain’s slave trade. At court Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s decision leads to the end of slavery in Great Britain in The Slave Trade Act of 1807 (almost sixty years before the US formally abolishes slave trade in 1865).
“Belle” is a very moving personal account of a freewoman’s innocence in the face of the pervasive racist realities around her and her courageous confrontation with societal forces, which refuse to accept her the way she wants to be. A wonderful cinematic narrative about a little-known episode in history and well worth watching, although fiction enters into the tale of “Belle”.
Adapted from a novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a finely nuanced film portraying seven British retirees: a widow (Judi Dench) whose late husband drove her into debt, a bigoted nanny/bookkeeper who is resigned to get a discounted hip replacement in India (Maggie Smith), retired judge (Tom Wilkinson) looking for his long lost lover, a sex fiend bachelor Norman (Ronald Pickup), a Blanche Dubois-type femme fatale (Celia Imrie), and a married couple who do not want to live in reduced circumstances in “senior living” (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton).
The hotel in Jaipur, India is owned and managed by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”) who longs to disguise the decrepit hotel’s faulty plumbing and broken phones with an optimism designed to soothe these seven Brits whose families have “outsourced” them. “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end,” he reassures his guests who have high expectations for living their golden years in India. The hotel will be the new home for “people from countries that don’t care about their old people”–for the elderly and beautiful.
Adjustments need to be made–not only to the exotic environment of India but also to the equally unexplored terrain of aging. Instead of a maudlin discourse on loss and life’s passing, the film is increasingly appealing and buoyant. The marvel revealed is the resilience of the human spirit, the openness to new experiences and the risk taken to dive into the unknown. At times this sweet, often hilarious, movie hovers on being sentimental since everyone is trying to figure out what to do with the years remaining in life. To assume defeat from what every one of us as individuals wants suggests we’re not asking the right questions. In the end “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a shout-out to chasing your dreams, regardless of age.
Younger people might not appreciate this film as much as someone closer to retirement but the hopeful message is it’s never too late to make things happen. Wish fulfillment is in short supply and the target audience for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” will remember the sweetness and folly of these six Brits for a very long time.