I’m a huge fan of period dramas. I appreciate this might not come as a huge surprise, but even after I’ve spent a whole day researching and typing, I enjoy nothing more in the evenings than putting my feet up and being transported back to another century. I’m so addicted that pretty much my entire Christmas list is made up of just DVD box sets. When you combine them with copious amounts of roast turkey and trifle, it’s pretty much as close to perfection as you can get.
(FYI My husband would like to vociferously disagree at this point, but that’s why we have a Playstation. Also, I would point out that The Guns of Navarone is, essentially, a period drama).
Perhaps it’s nostalgia. Period dramas were some of the first grown-up programmes I ever watched. Traditionally, adaptations have been based on literary classics, without swearing or pre-marital sex, so they’re pretty safe to watch at a young age. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favourite books growing up and the Megan Follows’ 1985 adaptation was – and remains – wonderful. The scene where Matthew buys puffed sleeves can still reduce me to tears thirty years later.
Of course, there are exceptions. I’m not sure my mum realised quite what she was letting me watch in the Patrick Swayze (also 1985) version of North and South, but hey, it’s left me with a lifelong interest in the American Civil War, so it wasn’t all corrupting.
That’s another thing I like about period dramas. I learn a lot. At the moment, I’m completely addicted to The White Princess, all about the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses. It’s a period I don’t know much about and, whilst there are obvious historical inaccuracies, over the past 3 weeks I’ve learnt a surprising amount about Henry VII, most of which involves staying away from his mother.
Some period dramas are like a televisual version of homemade soup. They’re familiar and comforting – based on some of my all-time favourite books too (and with the best will in the world it can be hard to read a book in one evening). I like comparing different versions of the same story so that I can come up with my own dream-team versions. Take ‘Jane Eyre’ for example. My favourite lead actress is Ruth Wilson, but my favourite Rochester is Michael Fassbender, one of the few who actually attempts a Yorkshire accent (yes, I have issues about this), although my favourite adaptation overall is the Timothy Dalton 1983 version, which gives the story room to breathe. As for Pride and Prejudice, yes it’s a contentious issue, but there will only ever be one definitive version and you know which one I mean.
Last, but not least, the clothes! I adore the clothes. Not in real life because I’m pretty much welded to my jeans, but I love the sumptuousness of the costumes. Period dramas always win the Oscar for this, don’t they? My personal favourite in this category is The Wings of the Dove, in which Helena Bonham-Carter wears possibly the greatest period drama wardrobe of all time.
So whilst some people might think it strange to be so excited about a night spent in on the sofa with a box of chocolates and mug of tea beside me, believe me, I’m blissfully happy. I don’t consider it to be taking-my-work-home-with-me. I find it genuinely relaxing. And if I’m ever at a loss for something to watch, I have the BBC’s version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, probably my definitive favourite. It’s set in the North (yay!) featuring some genuine history about the start of the Unions (double yay!!) and it has Richard Armitage in a top hat (triple yay!!!) I can’t think of a better defence for period dramas than that.