The timeless nature of period dramas in a modern world

Gillian Hogan explores the world of period dramas

image credit: Rachel Halpin

Despite the fact that period dramas are confined to a specific era, they are timeless. It seems the more we move forward in time, the more people want to to look back at it.

Of course, period dramas have always had an audience. Downton Abbey has been a firm favourite for years but one look at Netflix shows their surge in popularity. The Crown, Anne with an E, Mary Shelley and The Last Kingdom are only a fraction of the endless list of period pieces that constantly find themselves ‘trending’.

This is not just a Netflix phenomenon. Mary Queen of Scots and Colette both received rave reviews from cinema goers in 2018 and BBC recently added Les Miserables to their massive collection. So, what’s the hype about?

As lives get messier and more stressful, the stronger the need for escapism within our movies and television shows becomes.

Sure, anything with a strong enough story line distracts and entertains but period dramas offer a glimpse into a completely different world. People can watch knowing that their ancestors lived during that time and connect to a story because they feel a part of themselves in it.

Not only is that world miles away from our day to day lives but it is based on the truth.

‘It’s this hidden world that’s so mystified and removed from your own life. It’s like peeking through their window,’ said fan of period dramas, Megan McInerney, age 25.

About five years ago, the industry revolved around dystopian futures like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Everything was extremely fast paced and honestly, a bit unnerving.

Black Mirror has a huge viewership so obviously this hasn’t completely vanished but the trend has definitely died down. Instead of feeling concerned at the idea of an unknown future, period pieces offer a sense of calm. Regardless of how much drama takes place, it makes for easier viewing knowing that it all remains in the past.

Period dramas can be perceived as being aimed towards a certain audience but there is something for everyone.

Romance is perhaps the most popular sub-genre of them all due to the longtime success of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre which encouraged many similar projects.

However, the popularity of romance driven dramas doesn’t negate the fact that not all period dramas consist of fluffy story lines and pretty scenery.

There is no better stimulation for an action movie than war and revolution and unfortunately, history provides lots of inspiration. From Dunkirk’s depiction of the World War II battle and Peaky Blinders backdrop of World War 1, to Scotland’s uprising in Outlaw King and Norse invasions in The Last Kingdom, there’s plenty for people to get their teeth stuck into.

Considering the fact that about half of period pieces consist of story lines revolving around the royal family, The Crown, Mary Queen of Scots, Reign and A Royal Night Out, to name a few, it stands to reason that the genre is mainly aimed at a British or, at least, a European audience.

Perhaps this is another reason as to why they are so easy to connect to and get lost in. Not only are they part of history but they are part of your history specifically.

‘It gives these historical figures a real human being that you can connect to,’ said Megan.

At the end of the day, in a world where people severely struggle to watch anything without scrolling through Instagram, it can be nice to get lost in a world that doesn’t even know what the internet is.


Gillian Hogan 


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