I examine the modern viewer’s obsession with Period dramas
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” a famous quote penned by author L.P Hartley, highlights the human kind’s infatuation with the past. In the past we appreciated life, danced harder, every day was filled with glorious sunshine and even if we made mistakes we learned from them. Of course this is a case of rose-tinted glasses syndrome. But none of this seems to matter to the television viewing public. Period dramas- television programmes documenting the past, usually pre-1950 have never been so popular to the modern viewer. From Downton Abbey to Channel four’s latest effort, Indian Summers, we seem absorbed with the idea of reliving a supposed “grander age”.
While Upstairs, Downstairs was the period drama of choice for the 1970’s, what made this show so appealing was its romanticised yet realistic portrayal of the “Bright Young Thing’s” of the 1920’s. And this is perhaps one of the prime reasons as to why the world is in love with drama’s of the past. When stuck in the mud of heart-breaking unemployment of the 1970’s, young people got a chance to witness a time where their generation flourished, a welcome escape from reality.
This popular 1970’s drama undoubtedly paved the way for the now stalwart series that is ITV’s, Downton Abbey. Created by Academy award winning writer, Julian Fellows, the show has received its fair share of accolades from Emmy’s to Golden Globes. Its country house setting, hard-hitting story lines and beautiful stories of romance set it apart from the crowd. The beautiful dialogues between Lady Mary and Mathew Crawley in series 1 and 2 surely restored the modern viewer’s belief in romance, while the inclusion of historical events such as the sinking of the Titanic and the Irish Home Rule Crisis make the drama relevant to all.
Other period drama’s which caught the attention of viewers was the Pride and Prejudice Mini-series of 1995, most famous for the drenched Colin Firth’s fountain scene, while more recently Mr Selfridge and Indian Summers have provided a more lively approach for the period drama viewer in need of more action. From the elegant outfits to the stiff-upper lip accents, the viewing public are in love with costume dramas. They provide an element of escape and an Alice in Wonderland rush, relinquishing us from the doom and gloom of reality. Back then the men are portrayed as true gentlemen, while women although constrained, they learned to dance in this constraint. Romance was usually slow-burning, but worth the wait, unlike now where storylines sizzle and fizzle as soon as they’ve begun.
With Julian Fellows set about writing a new American drama, The Gilded Age, even if Downton does come to a close, it seems like our needs for doting on the decadent past will be well and truly serviced.