TV puts one foot in the past

TV puts one foot in the past

Period and costume drama on TV is as popular today as it has ever been. Indeed, some would say even more so. You only have to look at the phenomenal success of recent TV series such as Downton Abbey and The Queen to see that this love affair shows no sign of fading.

Many of us will remember the classic hits of the 1970s such as The Duchess of Duke Street, Upstairs Downstairs, The Onedin Line, When the Boat Comes In and adaptations of works by classic authors such as The Palliser Novels by Anthony Trollope, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

More recent TV series have taken a different approach, such as the serialisation of Bleak House into 15 episodes and the choice of the prequel in TV shows like Endeavour, each proving to be a popular format.

But what is it about costume and period drama that makes us love them so much?

A feast for the eyes

There is the obvious visual appeal of some shows, with fabulous costumes and grand houses, but surely it’s more than that. Even shows set in the more recent past are hugely popular, without a sparkly frock or posh home in sight. Perhaps it is the realistic sets, great storylines and well-defined characters, or maybe the draw of stepping back to a time and place where things seemed more predictable.

Although few of us will be able to directly relate to the aristocratic lives and settings of some shows, there is a familiarity about them that resonates. Whilst depicting lives lived very differently from those lived by us today, there is something certain and comforting about them.

These programmes also give a bit of social history. Upstairs Downstairs showed the lives of those above and below stairs with storylines that showcased both social spectrums, as indeed did Downton Abbey. They also have the backdrop of the very real events from history that were shaping people’s lives and communities.

Programmes set in the more recent past can offer us a look back at times we remember all too well, offering us the opportunity to recognise things we remember from our younger days; the Dansette record player, the black and white Pye TV or the Caddymatic wall-mounted tea dispenser!

So sit back and enjoy a little escapism or a trip down memory lane, because whatever the attraction, it looks like period and costume dramas are here for a good while longer.