The Future for Historical Dramas

Jagoda Waszkowiak explores where historical dramas have already tread, and where she hopes their future may lie.

Jagoda Waszkowiak
23rd October 2017
Image: YouTube

Historical dramas are defined by the fact that their plot is set in an earlier time period, that is at least more than 20 years in the past. The timeline may be as long and general as the Middle Ages or as limited as one decade. The definition is quite informal and fluent, so this type of film or programme usually combine several genres. Often historical fiction is mixed with romance and adventure. But most importantly a period film attempts to faithfully depict a specific time period.

Many of the most successful television series has been known as period pieces. Notable examples include The Tudors, Downton Abbey, Dr. Quinn, Father Brown and Little House on the Prairie. But, in my opinion, after some time their themes seem to be quite dull and boring.

TV period drama needs to grow and develop. Writers should try to diversify their shows, to find new, interesting perspectives on history. Old clichés like romance and the British aristocracy should be implemented differently. Biographical period dramas like Netflix’s The Crown and ITV’s Victoria, have a strong, independent woman in power as the main character; their emotional journeys are not only about their romantic relationships. Even more, the main protagonist is not in the centre of focus anymore. The background ensemble is portrayed as much more vibrant and diverse than is used to. The problems of usual people are not being ignored.

On the contrary, national historical events make a strong, visible base for the plot and are shown through struggles of regular citizens. I am a big fan of this modern take on biographical pieces and I would like to see more of them. Maybe this format would work nicely not only in Britain but also in different countries. I would love to see full Swedish monarchy backstory, during their mid-17th-century Deluge in Europe. Or the German, French or Spanish nobility perspectives, contrasted with the perspectives of their citizens during the uprisings and civil wars.

The main protagonist is not in the centre of focus anymore. The background ensemble is portrayed as much more vibrant and diverse than is used to.

The ranking is already made of TV shows which channel many different time periods and nations. For example, the global fan favorite The Americans, which deliberately with irony, tells the story of Soviet spies in early 1980s during the Cold War in the USA. This is an example of choosing an uncommon perspective on a recognizable time period, that we have seen implemented on film many times before. I would love to see more of the Great Depression, Korean and Vietnam War or just problematic, critical eras from the perspective of minorities, people in the fight against addictions, oppression, and social injustice. Last month HBO premiered a new series called The Deuce, which follows the story of the rise of porn industry set in and around Times Square, New York in the early 1970s, including the perspective of women. I think the series so far shows a great potential and a flashpoint for more period pieces to be created in a similar concept.


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