The Stars of 'Belgravia: The Next Chapter' on Building the Show's Central Love Story

Benjamin Wainwright and Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

Benjamin Wainwright and Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

(Photo: Robert Viglasky/Carnival Film & Television Limited/MGM+)

The original series Belgravia was a Julian Fellowes production through and through. Based on a novel Fellowes himself wrote, the series focused on a pair of families bound together by an unspoken secret: An illegitimate child. On paper, it had everything—deception, infidelity, long-lost relatives, false identities, and lots of secrets—-but despite its complicated, soapy plot, the series struggled to find an audience. (And to maintain that audience’s interest, given its unfortunate tendency to focus on the least compelling aspects of its story.) But now, three years, later it’s time to try again. Belgravia: The Next Chapter features a brand new cast and story, and will wrestle with the legacy its first installment left behind.

The follow-up series will pick up three decades after the events of the original, and follow the story of Frederick Trenchard, the third Lord Trenchard, and the illegitimate child Susan (Alice Eve) found herself pregnant with as a result of her ill-advised affair with John Bellasis (Adam James) and that she convinced her seemingly impotent husband Oliver (Richard Goulding) to raise as his own. Frederick’s romance with—and eventual marriage to—newcomer Clara Dunn is the emotional linchpin around which much of the series turns.

But he still carries emotional scars and deep insecurity from his troubled childhood, fueled by a father who resented his existence and a chronically unhappy mother, which color and challenge his relationship with his new wife. How–and if— the pair will learn to navigate these challenges is a question only the show itself can answer, but the show’s attempt to mix new plots with emotional echoes from the previous series certainly helps it stand out from the period drama pack.

We had the chance to chat with stars Ben Wainwright and Harriet Slater, who play Frederick and Clara, about kicking off a new chapter in the world of Belgravia, building a compelling romance between their characters, and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Harriet Slater and Hannah Onslow in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

Harriet Slater and Hannah Onslow in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter" 

(Photo: Mark Mainz/Carnival Film & Television Limited/MGM+)

Telly Visions: I am so excited to talk to you guys about this show! Honestly, I think I like this new chapter of Belgravia quite a bit more than the first. Were either of you familiar with the original? What drew you both to these roles?

Harriet Slater: I was familiar with the original series and also with Downton Abbey, which was created by the same team. I was a huge fan! And, originally, that was what drew me in as soon as I knew that. But also as soon as I started reading it, I think it said something about the women in crinolines and the men in tailcoats, and I was just like, yes, I can see this. I love this.

Reading further and finding out about the characters and their relationship [with one another], I think I felt immediately this was something I could really connect to, and that universally people would be able to connect to, so that was very exciting.

Ben Wainwright: I actually auditioned for the first season a long time ago.

TV: Did you really? That’s so cool!

Wainwright: When it came back round, I was like, well…. I don’t know if I want to audition for this again. [laughs] But I watched the first season in preparation and then read what I had of the script for The Next Chapter and it’s tonally very different. It’s a lot darker, and it covers grittier ground. I liked that about it. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Downton Abbey like Harriet is—

TV: Oh no, those are fighting words.

Wainwright: It’s beautifully made TV. I appreciate the craft of it. But it was very obvious that we were dealing with something similar to that, and I think it has proved to be that. The scripts are just fantastic. And it’s because we had a good foundation from the start. 

TV: One of the things I was most surprised by is the fact that your characters get married in, like, the first ten minutes of the show. Unlike, say, Downton, where the whole show is basically are they going to get together or not. You guys have relatively very little time onscreen to establish that relationship and that bond for viewers. But somehow, I was still just all in from the jump. How did you two work to find the core of that relationship so quickly?

Slater: Thank you! It was crazy. I think we get married on page 50. But because we were shooting out of order, it felt like we already knew each other quite well by the time we came to film the wedding, for example, or the proposal. I think the proposal was even further down the line. And it’s so turbulent, their relationship. It’s all over the place [over the course of the show]. So, actually, it was quite nice to film those really happy early scenes because so much of the rest of it is…things quickly go downhill from there.

Wainwright: Yeah, we had some quite grim weeks, and we’d kind of go, oh, don’t worry, we’re going to Scotland to go on our honeymoon! One day we will be allowed to smile at each other again! So there was always something on the horizon. But Harriet I met quite early on and had a riding lesson together, and I think we felt quite comfortable with each other quite quickly. After that, it was kind of easy, I think. When you get on with someone, you don’t have to worry too much, and I think that reads onscreen. 

Benjamin Wainwright and Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

Benjamin Wainwright and Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

(Photo: Mark Mainz/Carnival Film & Television Limited/MGM+)

TV: What do you think draws these people together so quickly? They’re very different in how they approach the world.

Slater: That is true. They are very different people. But I think that’s what intrigues them about the other—they sort of balance each other out in a way. I think Clara is very…she wears her heart on her sleeve, and her emotions are always just under the surface, and she’s not afraid to show her vulnerability at all, which is quite different from Frederick. But I think she likes that about him. He’s intriguing. He’s a big, powerful figure, wealthy, and a businessman as well, which is a world she doesn’t know but finds really exciting.

Wainwright: I think for Frederick, Clara is so unlike anyone he’s met. She’s come into this world kind of fresh. And I think we’re all attracted to people we think will complete us in some way or fill in those holes we have [inside us], and I think he needs someone to pull him out of his shell. And she’s so vivacious and full of life, I think he’s like, this has got to be it. I think that’s the attraction for him.

TV: Harriet, I think sometimes, for an actor, it must be kind of difficult to play the quote-unquote “good” character — if only because I get the feeling it must be so much more fun to be the person who’s always scheming or has dark secrets that they’re carrying around. But I found myself invested in Clara’s story. How do you see her journey this season?

Slater: I think…intrinsically, she sees the good in people. She’s very trusting. I think perhaps too trusting sometimes. But she definitely has her flaws. I think she….I don’t want to give too much away, but I think she may sometimes say too much.

It was such an amazing opportunity because she has such a journey. She starts quite naive and very sheltered. She doesn’t know a lot about life, especially about this world of Belgravia, because it’s so different from where she’s come. And she’s thrust into the spotlight there, and everything’s so different, and then things go slightly wrong, and she ends up drawn into this whole other world of Bohemians with Doctor Ellaby. And I think she finds solace there too. She has all these different connections with people. It was amazing to be able to play a character that was so well-rounded. And even though she does kind of get on with everyone, there’s still a lot to her and a lot to her story and a lot to explore as an actor. 

Benjamin Wainwright and Sophie Winkleman in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

Benjamin Wainwright and Sophie Winkleman in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

(Photo: Colin Hutton/Carnival Film & Television Limited/MGM+)

TV: I loved her. Frederick, on the other hand…..

Wainwright: Didn’t love! Not sure I did all the time either don’t worry [laughing].

TV: Let’s just say he’s got some, you know, emotional baggage he’s bringing into his marriage.

Wainwright: Little bit!!

TV: Talk to me a little about how you see his journey. Do you think he could ever be satisfied with the life he’s made for himself? Hasn’t he sort of done everything right that he was supposed to do?

Wainwright: Well, I don’t know. I think we can all say that. We all do everything we think we're supposed to do, and does it make us happier? I don’t know.

I think he’s — the journey for him is kind of getting to the root of his trauma. And it’s a very turbulent journey. But Clara kind of gets in there and forces him to confront it. And he has to find another way to live because, as you say, he’s clearly not happy. And he thinks business will somehow fill the void for him or more money or more social standing or more acceptance by society. But none of it does because the root of the problem is still that he fundamentally doesn’t feel loveable. And whereas Clara comes from a family where she’s been surrounded by love, and she doesn’t know why you wouldn’t live like that. But it’s such a huge journey for him, and it's incredibly painful and exposing. To show any vulnerability at all is a weakness to him, I think.

Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter"

Harriet Slater in "Belgravia: The Next Chapter" 

(Photo: Robert Viglasky/Carnival Film & Television Limited/MGM+)

TV: Harriet, you said earlier you were really excited about all the crinolines and corsets and stuff, and I did a little IMDb sleuthing earlier, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think either of you has done a ton of work in period drama before now. How different was filming this kind of show? Just getting dressed seems complicated.

Slater: Long. It’s so long getting dressed. Ben, I think you’ve done more period drama than I have — I’ve done periods like the 60s and 70s. But I’ve never done anything 1870s like this before. So that was incredible and genuinely a dream come true. Like I took hundreds of photos at the costume fittings, which I probably shouldn’t have done. They were very hush-hush. [laughs] I wouldn’t post them, but I just couldn’t help it. They were so beautiful.

Those dresses are just incredible. They're works of art. And some of them are genuinely Victorian, like the first dress that I wear in Episode 1 is a genuine Victorian bodice, and it’s 130 years old. So even just to be standing there like wearing a piece of history and thinking of all the people who’ve worn it before you was incredible. And it really helps you get into character. For me, that’s one of the most important, useful parts of the job is when you first put these costumes on, you’re like, this is it, this is the world. It’s amazing.

Wainwright: It does so much of the work for you. I mean, I wasn’t being sewn into corsets every day like Harriet, but so much of it gives you the world. I wasn’t in a corset, but I had these incredibly high collars, and it really helped me improve my posture. But Phoebe [Williams-Ellis], our costume designer, just creates these amazing silhouettes, and I had this black cape that I spent a lot of time just swishing around. That cape’s an absolute joy, even if it wasn’t Batman. 

Belgravia: The Next Chapter premieres Sunday, January 14, 2024, on MGM+ and streams one episode a week to follow. 

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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