Nicola here. Today I’m talking about costume dramas old and new. It seems to me that after a long period with very little historical drama on TV and even less on film, there has been a revival of interest in the genre, at least from some television companies. Hurrah! It’s been a long time coming but to me the new historical series are very welcome and of course they bring with them a modern spin on an old genre.
I have such happy memories of the UK costume dramas of the 1970 and 80s. The epic Forsyte Saga had been running for a while when I became old enough to watch “grown up” TV and Upstairs Downstairs was also a feature of our Sunday Night viewing. The ultimate historical drama for me though was Poldark. Based on the novels of Winston Graham, it was for me the epitome of everything that a historical romance should be: the handsome hero, the feisty heroine, the wicked cousin, some smuggling thrown in and lots of passion and angst and intrigue. In those days I didn’t even notice the wobbling film sets and the terrible special effects. It was all about the characters and the story. This was the era of plentiful historical drama. There was Dick Turpin, based on the exploits of the legendary highwayman, and Smuggler, with Oliver
Tobias as a naval officer turned…well, smuggler. There was Arthur of the Britons (Oliver Tobias again, as a young King Arthur) and Robin Hood with Michael Praed, and many more.
From the late 1980s through the 90s and Noughties there was little that was more unfashionable in the UK than a historical drama. You had to go a long way to find a good one. The films and TV programmes that were made were generally based on classic books by authors such as the Brontes or Jane Austen. That’s still the case, of course. Most historical drama still seems to be adaptations of classics, although Philippa Gregory has had had her books dramatised with The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen. New series such as The Tudors and The Borgias set new standards for sex and violence plus the use of modern language for a modern audience. The female roles are noticeably stronger than in the past.
Perhaps it is the success of Downton Abbey more than anything else that has given impetus to the revival of historical drama. It’s been so hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic that it has surely helped the trend towards more period drama.
The announcement that Poldark is to be remade caused a huge flurry of excitement. Filming starts this month with Aidan Turner taking the role of Ross Poldark and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Meanwhile Sunday nights on the BBC have been enlivened by The Musketeers, described as “a thrilling world of action, adventure and romance inspired by Dumas’ legendary characters.” And that’s not all – next week the BBC
launches yet another historical drama, Jamaica Inn, based on another
classic novel of smuggling and wrecking in the 18th century, this time by Daphne Du Maurier. Meanwhile over on ITV the drama New Worlds is set in 1680s America and England. It seems that the costume drama is back, at least on the small screen!
I’m curious to know if you’ve seen the same trend towards period drama in the US, Australia and other parts of the world. Has the “Downton Abbey effect” made a difference? Are there any of the old costume dramas you loved and any of the new ones you have enjoyed – or not?