There are more than a few reasons why I would happily watch a period drama film, but I’ll start by telling you what they’re not.
It’s not because I secretly love a good rom-com, but prefer to watch predictable plotlines play out under the guise of something slightly more high-brow. It’s not because I know a great deal about history, or literature, or wearing one’s hair in ringlets. Above all, it’s not because I’m a hopeless romantic, harbouring notions of marrying my own Mr. Rochester and living in a stately manor.
There are, however, several slightly more valid reasons why this genre has remained particularly compelling. Many frown upon the notion of nostalgia, but in a world where it is films such as Kidulthood and Fish Tank which are often cited as being accurate representations of modern-day society, is it any wonder that audiences yearn for bygone eras? Is there anything wrong with wanting to watch a film where women might marry for money, but they don’t drag men into the nearest portaloo to pay off debts from an outstanding drugs deal?
The cinematic experience is, after all, largely about escapism. Period dramas have an advantage in that they transport their audiences to another world – and yet it is one which we know existed not so very long ago. While a handful of cinema-goers reportedly experienced so-called ‘Avatar withdrawal’ – whereby they struggled to live in the real world after experiencing the beauty of Pandora – the majority were able to understand that the setting was entirely fictional. It is far easier to identify with idealistic representations of times gone by, than of eras which may or may not be yet to come.
A number of period dramas are also based on great literary works. This is not simply good news for those who have an upcoming exam, and have failed to get past the first chapter of the recommended reading. The plots, characters, and scenarios of period pieces are those which have already stood the test of time, as well as being of historical interest. They may be set before the audience was born, but the psychology and moral heart of a period film can ring truer than many contemporary stories. For anyone who’s ever sat through one of Eddie Murphy’s worst films, or one of Adam Sandler‘s latest, it can come as a horrible shock when the credits roll and you realise that you won’t be getting back the last couple of your life back.
On the contrary, there is a reason why we’ll willingly watch umpteen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice – and it’s not just for Colin Firth. There is a reason why we’re still captivated by the likes of Heathcliff and Cathy, a love story which was first told on screen as early as 1920, whilst more modern heroines (Juno? Carrie? Bella?) may already be failing to hold our interest. Along with the stunning costume designs, the impressive attention to detail, and the carefully crafted scripts, period dramas contain insights and emotions that are relevant for many cinema-goers, myself included.
Read ‘Why I Won’t Watch a Period Drama‘.