Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why period drama?

Pride and Prejudice 2005

Seeing this brief comment about my blog (you have to scroll right down) set me thinking: where does my passion for period drama stem from? The person on this forum rightly asserted that I don't watch very many non-costume drama movies or TV series. That isn't to say that I don't watch any films other than costume dramas - I enjoy a wide variety of movies, from fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings (although technically I suppose LOTR itself is a costume movie :P) to animated films like WALL-E, etc. Having so many younger brothers and sisters, I am inevitably subjected to a great many animated movies whether I like it or not!

But the proportion of non-costume drama films I watch is far outweighed by the number of costume films that I see. Why is this so? Why is it that I (and countless other women) have this curious obsession with costume drama? I'll try to sort out my thoughts and give some kind of explanation below.

*I am without a doubt more of a bookworm than a movie buff. I have had a great love for books and, more particularly, the classics, for over ten years - that's over half my lifetime! :P (For non-regular readers, I just turned 17.) Hence it comes as no surprise that almost all of my favourite movies are adaptations of my favourite books. This is perhaps the single most important factor to consider when trying to map out the reasons for my costume drama obsession. My love of Jane Austen books and films go hand in hand. If I had never read any of Jane Austen's books, I might still enjoy Jane Austen movies, but I almost certainly wouldn't appreciate them as fully as I do now.

Lorna Doone 2000

*I am a conservative Christian - many of my values and morals are "old-fashioned", or would be considered so by many. Thus it makes sense that I should love old-fashioned movies! In modern, contemporary romance novels and chick flicks, I might love some aspects of the story and/or characters, but often there will be one - or several - jarring notes that partly spoil it for me. In books and movies set in the first years of the 20th century or earlier, innocence and purity in relationships was highly valued. Not so today! 

Sense and Sensibility 2008

*Classics are classics for a reason. They have withstood the test of time - generation after generation of  readers have thrilled to these stories. When you're making a movie based on one of the classics, you have one great advantage - the story is pretty much guaranteed to be a good one! Of course there is some work to be done in translating from the book to the screen, but unless the screenwriter has made sweeping changes to the characters and plot, you can rest assured the story will be engaging and entertaining - or profound and challenging, depending upon which author you are working from! (Jane Austen is great, George Eliot is a different kettle of fish altogether! But both authors were brilliant at what they did.)

North and South 2004

*Escapism. There's nothing wrong with this - it is partly what movies are for, after all! To entertain us, capturing our imaginations and transporting us to a world different than our own. Some costume movies are brilliant at doing this - P&P 2005 comes to mind. However, most period films are also very relevant to us today - times may change, but people don't. Fashions come and go, but themes of true love triumphing over all, good v. evil, etc. ring as true today as they did hundreds of years ago. It can be something of a revelation to see this - another one of the reasons why I love period drama. It brings different historical periods to life, making us realise that people were just the same "back then" as they are today.

EDIT: a couple of comments left by readers made me realise that escapism was perhaps not the right word to use in this instance! Consistently trying to escape from reality is not a good or healthy thing. However, simply taking a "time out" from our everyday lives to enjoy a good movie - I don't believe there is anything wrong with this. A really good movie can leave you feeling rejuvenated and inspired - Amazing Grace is a great example of this. I left the cinema with a big grin on my face, feeling so incredibly inspired by this retelling of Wilberforce's life!

Looking back to the War years and the Great Depression - it may have been a very difficult time in most people's lives, but it was essentially the "Golden Age" of cinema! It will be interesting to see how the current economic crisis affects our movie-watching and cinema-going habits. . . I dare not hope that we'll see a second Golden Age, but I think we'll definitely see a change of trends in the movies being made.

Sense and Sensibility 1995

*I'll readily admit that some of my reasons for liking costume drama are comparatively superficial. The costumes, the sweeping landscapes, the grand old castles and stately homes, the gorgeous soundtracks, the good-looking guys in cravats. . . these elements are not necessary for a good costume drama - what really matters is the acting and the script - but they certainly don't hurt, either! ;-)


Those are some of the reasons that I was able to come up with. Why do you love costume drama? Or, conversely, if you're not a fan, why do you not like it?

Current Mood: Thoughtful


Charleybrown said...

I heartily agree!

Andy Moore said...

Good reasons there. I reckon I like the period dramas because they give you an amazing insight into "where we've come from". Although I disagree that escapism is a good thing... it's one thing to get caught up in the story, but quite another to, well, what is escapism... to empty your mind and allow the story to take over.

those good-looking guys in cravats... definitely a highlight for me.

Enbrethiliel said...


Editrix, did you ever watch the Canadian (I think!) TV series Road to Avonlea? It met all these standards, and then some!

Even as a preteen, I knew that there was no way they could have transplanted the themes and stories to a modern setting. We may still have innocence and purity today, but look how the media treats people who take those ideals seriously!

I think that we don't "escape" to costume dramas in order to flee reality, but in order to take a breather when the world has gone particularly mad.

The Editrix said...

No, I haven't seen "Road to Avonlea"! I'd like to watch it though - I might have to look into getting the DVDs. ;-)

There are so many Biblical values that are so out of fashion these days - purity, unselfishness, doing one's duty. . . the list just goes on!

I think that we don't "escape" to costume dramas in order to flee reality, but in order to take a breather when the world has gone particularly mad. That's pretty much exactly what I meant, you just worded it a lot better than I did. :-)

Miss Jen said...

I whole heartily agree with you, Elise! Beautifully done indeed!!! :)
That's really funny that Enbrethiliel
mentioned "Road to Avonlea" I have been watching that show quite often of late... it is very sweet
indeed!!!Hope you are having a pleasant day
dear friend and feeling a wee bit better!

With Much
Love Your Sister in Christ,

Charleybrown said...

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed Road to Avonlea - I fell in love with all the characters and each episode is a sweet trip back in time. If you like Anne of Green Gables, this series is faithful to the style of Lucy Maude Montgomery. Although only the first seasons are based on Montgomery's books, all 7 seasons of the series are first rate!

The Editrix said...

Wow - I really must watch this series! :D Thanks for recommending it, everyone!

Jen - thankyou! I think I am feeling a little better today. :-) *hugs*

Alexandra said...

I love period dramas because...

1. Morals were so much better then.

2. I am an extreme costume buff.

3. I wish guys dressed like they did 100 years ago (or even sixty...gotta love those trenchcoats, three piece suits, and ESPECIALLY those fedoras!!!)

4. They're called classics for a reason...stories just aren't that great anymore.

5. They usually have lovely soundtracks, and I adore soundtracks.

6. I love drama in films...probably why I am attracted to tragic romances (I prefer crying to laughing in my movies ;-))...and period films seem more dramatic than most "modern" films, which all seem to be comedies (at least the romantic films)

7. Men were always gentlemen and women were always ladies

There's a million other reasons, but I'll stop there. I totally understood your escapism comment...just "getting away" from the hassles of the modern world for a while, to a time when things were SO much simpler. Great post and LOVELY pictures!

The Editrix said...

Alexandra, those are all excellent reasons! I totally agree with every one of them. :-D I'm glad you liked the post. ;-)


Enbrethiliel said...


On your update:

"Escapism" may be a loaded word, but it's really not as bad as its critics would like it to be. A Romance author I love once said that everything from football games to yoga classes to holidays at the beach are "escapist," so why be embarrassed to enjoy books and movies which give one the same benefits? =)

The Editrix said...

^Yes, I agree! The problem is, as you said, "escapism" is such a loaded word! I guess I didn't want people to misunderstand my usage of the word.

Anonymous said...

I started out with the Anne Shirley films, then watched Road to Avonlea, followed by Snowy River, which was my favorite television show for a long time (it was an Australian import). After that I discovered Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and, well, that was it. I became a costume drama fanatic. :)

The Editrix said...

Where did I start. . . I really couldn't say where my costume drama obsession began. I remember watching [and loving] P&P95, S&S95, Little Women 94, and Anne of Green Gables when I was really little. The Sound Music was also a great favourite. :-)

I think it really began in earnest, however, when I started reading Jane Austen's books, as well as watching JA movies - I would have been about 11-13 at the time, I think.

Anonymous said...

A few months ago, I made myself a fave movies list and was surprised to see that all but one was a costume/period drama! You totally expressed so much of my own feelings for liking them so much! Some modern-day set films are okay (maybe), but they just don't have that old-fashioned charm and morals and dresses as the costume/period dramas do!


The Editrix said...

^I absolutely agree! I think if I were to put together a list of my favourite movies, the majority of them would definitely be period dramas. :-)