TV’s Costume Drama Gets A Makeover

It wasn't all that long ago that the great British public had a very distinct idea about what the term 'historical drama' meant.  Images of bored English Lit. students were all too familiar, sat zombie-like before worn out TVs in high-school classrooms, watching battered copies of Nicholas Nickleby, accompanied, by an equally battered-looking and bored teacher.  Boyfriends and husbands throughout the land were united in a mutual fear of being asked, blushingly, by their partners to sit through yet another back to back session of Pride And Prejudice, in the full knowledge that they were, once more, going to be somehow emasculated by a man with sideburns, a frilly shirt, and testicle-crushingly tight trousers.  As the only item of clothing Miss Lizzie Bennet takes off throughout the narrative is her bonnet, there was not much consolation to be found.


Not that there was anything wrong with the crusty BBC adaptations of Dickens, Austen and Thackeray.  Many were a fantastic tribute to the wealth of quiet talent we have growing in this country, and they enjoyed great success both here and across the pond.  They were what crowned writer Andrew Davies as 'King of the Costume Drama', and with good reason too.  The talents of Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth and Julia Sawalha were displayed to their fullest, in meaty roles depicting English Literature's greatest heroes and villains.  However, they could never quite shake that image of being the sort of DVDs your granny would have on her shelf.


Reaching a high point in the mid-90s, the costume drama promptly fell out of favour.  It seemed the BBC were finally ready to hand the corsets over to the moths, and as the world tipped towards recession, making such productions impossible.  The genre was thoroughly stagnated and desperately needed a new approach.  Thankfully, HBO had just the idea in mind.



Read the rest of Corsets To Camelot, in our September 2011 issue.  Out now!

"Boyfriends were united in mutual fear of being asked to sit through another session of Pride And Prejudice."
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