Why We Love Period Dramas

From the beloved Downtown Abbey to numerous adaptations of literary classics such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, period dramas seem to dominate both our TV and movie screens, but why? I’ve come up with a few reasons for this period drama phenomenon, let’s see if you agree!

1. The Costumes

From Ramola Garai in Emma to Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria some of these gorgeous costumes might not even be historically accurate, but it’s really hard to care when they’re so great to look at it. The color, the style, the fashion!

                                         Ramola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller in Emma, 2009. 

                                         Eleanor Tomlinson in Poldark, 2015. 

                                                          Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria, 2009.

2. The Sets

Country homes, ballrooms… I think it’s safe to say that period dramas boast the best sets of any genre. And their use of landscape is utterly gorgeous as well. Say what you will about Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (I personally adore it), but it boasts some amazing sets.

                                        Pride and Prejudice, 2005. 

3. Literary Adaptations

The most common form of period dramas is the literary adaptation, with the BBC adapting the novels of Dickens, Austen and other writers with lavish sets and beautiful costumes. Who can resist an adaptation of a favorite Gaskell novel or a Hardy tragedy? Films based on more recent texts such as the award-winning The English Patient adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s novel, can also make for brilliant period drama fare.

                                         North and South, 2004.

                                           The English Patient, 1996.

4. The Dialogue

There’s just something about the dialogue in most period dramas, with the accents and the passionate declarations of love that gets me. Granted, since most period dramas are adaptations, the genius of the dialogue comes from the original material, but then it does take a good actor to make the words come alive. My favorite dialogue scene is Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne Elliot in Persuasion - swoon!

                                         Persuasion, 1995.

5. Exploring different historical periods

People who enjoy historical fiction adore watching period dramas as they give as a glimpse into eras long gone, whether it’s the stately manors and balls of the Regency world, the Edwardian period dramas that explore a world post-WWI, or the 1960s world of Mad Men. In fact, it was watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that first got me interested in the roles of women during and post-WWI. Period dramas can be gateways to historical periods that audiences will want to learn more of, but it is also important to understand that period dramas work to present an idealized version of the time period it is set in. Social elements such racism, sexism, and class differences are often ignored, with a romanticized view of the upper classes being placed at the forefront. The lack of diversity also makes it difficult for non-white actors to star in films of this genre. Belle, however, is a wonderful exception.

                                           Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, 2012. 

                                           Belle, 2013. 

So while period dramas might be good for an afternoon escapism, we must remember that the world we’re escaping into is not the real world of the historical past. I think you’d be better off right here, with plenty of period dramas to enjoy at your disposal :)