I remember very distinctly walking in the gardens of Versailles for the first time. It was easy, it was simple, the only thing that I thought I was missing was to be dressed for the period. You see, as I’ve written on many study abroad and scholarship applications, I grew up wanting to be a Princess. I’ve always loved the idea of being the princess in a castle, then I fell in love with history and acting. Three things that shouldn’t work together but somehow have made themselves the biggest dream of my life. How silly is it for me to still wish for that, to be a princess in a castle? There’s nothing I would want more than to put myself in the that dress and roam the gardens of Versailles. It makes me realize why actors love period dramas. Acting itself brings things you wouldn’t expect if you’ve never done it, one time I got so into it I almost shattered someone’s ear drum with a shriek. But there’s something about putting on that costume you’d never wear as yourself, it brings you to levels you couldn’t go to before. As I grew up acting I wanted to always do my character right, I still have some mannerisms from former characters that I can’t shake because I would do them until they were second nature. It’s where I get my posture, most rolls I played were women of status in different decades of the 20th century, I naturally sit up straighter now from hours upon hours of sitting up straight with my legs crossed like in the Princess Diaries.
I think that’s what makes me mad the most. I understand the need to not do a character right. I know what goes into it, the research, the work. Now as a young woman studying to be a historian, I’m furious most of the time I watch at period drama. How could an actor do that much research and accept an outcome their given most of the time. How could someone be content after doing the research that some of these things would happen? I don’t understand how someone could be okay with the work they’ve done and that they did what was true for the actual person they played. An example being: I don’t see how anyone could play Elizabeth of York and be content that the writing says her husband basically raped her and that’s why their son was born 9 months exactly after their wedding. Yet despite all the evidence pointing that their union was a very happy one or at least one of mutual love by the end, they chose to start their love story with almost rape. The image below is actually from the episode after the encounter, we’re supposed to see them fall in love now? That’s an arguement for another day but still. There are teams of people that write and then going on to act these things that are completely ridiculous. Yeah I’m looking at you, The Other Boylen Girl, Reign, The White Queen, The White Princess, ITV’s Victoria, Marie Antoinette, The Tudors etc. Essentially if it’s a popular period drama it’s wrong.
It’s ridiculously frustrating as someone who studies History for the people, I feel cheated for these people. My heartaches for these people who have been dead for anywhere from 600-400 years. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one supporting the fact that these people actually lived. So while I grew up dying to give a character justice, these are real people whose names are mud now. Anne Boleyn is thought of this wild adulteress whose only goal in life was sleep with the king, which most likely is not what happened. In all likelihood, she had no choice. We think of Marie Antoinette as this monster that the world has painted her, laughing about cake and frivolously spending. While yeah, my girl Marie probably could have stopped spending as many shoes as she did it’s not her fault her husband wasn’t that good with money. And she never said let them eat cake. In fact the statement, qu’ils mangent de la brioche, was written in a book that was published when Marie Antoinette was nine years old. Elizabeth I did not look like the way she is currently being filmed to look in the new Mary, Queen of Scots movie. Elizabeth I was still in her prime in the time the movie takes place.
I’ve always been passionate about things of this nature, yet I can’t imagine being as naïve and frankly idiotic as some teams are when it comes to these things. How can you have all this evidence in front of you and all this history that you’re trying to tell only to discard the fact. I can’t imagine standing in a medieval castle filming knowing I was doing nothing that was true to the character. And the lengths they go to excuse it is ridiculous, it’s not for a storyline. You do not need to add witchcraft into the War of the Roses, that war is interesting on it’s own when looked at from the perspective of the women that the White Queen vehemently failed to do in a historically accurate way. Historians and fans of history know that there’s no way to possibly get everything right because we don’t have a time machine. There are little things that can be fixed like, using what knowledge we have. Understanding back corsets weren’t a thing until the late 17th early 18th century. Period dramas should pull those people who love history in not make them avoid them like the plague. It’s exhausting as someone who is a part of their target audience to see them making fiction into fact for the world. There are people who casually watch these like their documentaries or a textbook and suddenly believe everything is fact. It’s sad and it’s frustrating. Thinking about the fact that these are real people. When they make their fiction stories with the basis that it’s fact they don’t just make a bad movie or show, they drag someone’s name through the mud.
I know why actors still agree to do these ridiculous things after all the research they’ve done. I’ve done theater, I know it’s either do what’s written or quit. There’s a reason why I’m no longer in theater, I couldn’t compromise who a character is just for the paycheck. I most definitely couldn’t compromise that character knowing that they actually lived. I know why they do it though, that’s why I stopped before I got to that point. I can’t blame them, just appreciate the ones who realize how inaccurate it is. No one is innocent in the process, but it starts with that fact that period pieces don’t hire historians to work with them on set. They don’t ask or consult or even consider working with people who would actually know what they’re talking about. Until they try to even consult the facts instead of making fiction into fact, there’s nothing to do but scream every time something ridiculously stupid happens and decide to watch it for the entertainment instead. But just remember, you should really, at least, google these people or events after watching a period drama, because you probably watched mostly fiction.