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Historical Television Drama
Transcript of Historical Television Drama
Taking a 'commemorative form' (Morey, 2013: 222)Historical Dramas speak to the present, addressing a contemporary audience.
- With the majority of plotlines relevant to contemporary society.
- Relying on the audiences understanding of the genre, by means of recognising similarities and differences between the past and present.
In what ‘remains [an] underexplored’ (Cagle, C. 2012: 419) subgenre, Historical Dramas are some of Britain’s best known, 'quality television' (Creeber, 2006); ‘shown on Sunday evening prime time, came from the from educational children's TV’ (Creeber, G; 2008. P.86). They are enjoyed by many audiences, one of the reasons being they ‘evoke moments of British “greatness”’ (ibid, 39) in their portrayal of history, which can be described as ‘conflicted historical nostalgia’ (Cagle, 2012: 420).
Historical dramas make societal and political comment on the present, by displacing concerns
onto historicised backgrounds (Morey, K. A., 2013: 232). The cultural currency, as well
as the critical acclaim of programs such as Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders, are further
enhanced by what Morey calls their ‘defiant Britishness’ (2013: 232).
Both Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders are based upon true historical events; the introduction of the department store into London, the creation of Selfridges (1909), and the gangs in post-war Birmingham (1919).
Historical Television Drama
“Today costume drama are big
budget, sumptuous productions shot
on film for an audience approaching
10 million in the UK alone”
(Nelson 2008: 49).
E.g. Downton Abbey
more than 1 million pounds for
Settings and Locations.
→ need to find and restore locations “authentically” to construct a world not by history but by the depth and richness. (Nelson 1997)
For international viewers
“Drama and reality-based factual programmes were key to increase in UK TV export” (Nolan 2013)
e.g. Downton Abbey - sold more than 200 territories in global (Midgley 2011)
Mr Selfridge - sold to 99 countries (Itv 2013a)
Historical dramas were made for international viewers, as well.
TV Export to the foreign country
Construct the image of “Britishness”.
“There may also be general association with the cultural myths” (Nelson 1997 : 149)
e.g. Downton Abbey
In China, one of the famous British drama.
The replica English market town in China (Buckland 2013)
the sumptuous interior settings and costumes are in historical drama are features of popular spectacle on TV. (Nelson 1997)
Things on Historical drama mush be “authentically” and richness. (Nelson 1997)
Shooting at actual historical places
huge budget / Many props and costumes.
e.g. “Mr selfridge” has 150 staffs for only settings. (Itv 2013a)
Settings and Costume
Whilst people are talking.
A lot of wide shots
Wide shots enable viewers to see the setting and heritage. (Hirabayashi 2007)
Talk and story line < heritage and settings
The camera often moves in historical dramas.
Tracking shots enable the background to change continuously
Televisual (Dant 2012)
“Aesthentic based on an extreme self-consciousness of style” (Dant 2012: 78-79)
The movement of camera creates dynamism, activity and energy on the screen.
to keep viewers attention to the screen through effects by camera and editing. (Dant 2012)
Many uses of Computer Graphics
to create “the illusion of the history”.
to make the old/ historical atmosphere.
Aesthetics and Acting Style
Type of Acting
Unlike soap, acting in a period drama (Mr Selfridge, Peaky Blinders or Masters of Sex) requires a stage/Theatre acting background.
Stanislavsky acting style, forth wall etc…
These dramas call for realism acting, where the audience (house wife's) can use the show as a type of escapism.
There is a difference between melodrama and dramatization.
Characters are being dramatized in historical dramas.
Showcase dramas dramatize the acting to make it interesting.
Character Types and
Showcase dramas take modern day political issues and apply them to the past, this is post adaptive thinking. This way audience members are shows todays issues but see that in a different time.
The generic issues tackled: Gender equality, Race equality, Sexuality, disability, prostitution, mental heath.
Historical dramas reinforce stereotypes while other forms break down stereotypes.
Black people we’re seen as a problem in drama but that is because of the time the show is set, using minimal ethnic characters cohered to the time. (Nicholas Abercrombie; 1996. P.69).
Mr Selfridge uses class between characters in an interesting way.
Upper class differences between American and British women.
‘Woman’s’ genre like romantic, Hollywood women’s films or period dramas put the emphasis on the central women characters; there is a division between male and female spheres. Abercrombie, N; 1996. P.71)
Dualities between Characters
Narrative and Plot
The main feature that distinguishes historical dramas from other television dramas is the focus on the past
As demonstrated, a noticeable way that this is achieved, is through the ‘luxurious settings and period-accurate details’ (Morey, 2013: 222).
Similarly, the plot is also greatly domineered by the same retrospective turn as the production and aesthetics.
'The historical drama ... uses historical narrative as an entry point into a biographical arc for the protagonist family' (Cagle, 2012: 421)
Historical dramas are formed as linear narratives, similar to soap operas. Where events occur chronologically.
Conventional to cinematic history, 'appears in three acts; exposition, complication and resolution'. (Stubbs, J., 32)
Like the majority of television genres, the narrative in Historical Dramas is objective, giving the audience an omniscient viewpoint.
According to Robin Nelson, they adopt ‘Flexi-narrative form’ (2001: 35), in which much longer plots are contracted into short segments of narrative, focusing on the main events. Allowing several plots to concur, which the narrative moves amongst.
In the same way as most television dramas, historical dramas often employ what Tim Dant calls ‘seriality’ (2012: 90). Whereby the narrative is circular with progressive plot lines. In addition, the operation of many characters makes the typical historical dramas multi-part serialisation.
For example, in episode 2 of Mr Selfridge, the narrative includes Mr Selfridge, Mrs Selfridge, Rose Selfridge, the Selfridge children, Lady Mae, Ellen Love, Agnes Towler, Victor, Henri LeClair, Miss Mardle, Mr Grove, Mr Crabb, Kitty and Poppy, Frank Edwards, George Towler, Roderick Templeton...
Another similarity with soap opera narratives, is the use of the minimum three concurrent narratives which proceed. (Charlotte Brunsdon, 33), however unlike soap opera, historical dramas reach a ’final ideological or moral closure' (Geraghty, 2005: 8).
For example, in episode 2 of Mr Selfridge, the narrative follows more than three stories, such as; Agnes' father trying to get back into hers and George's life, Harry displaying the first airplane in his store and Rose meeting Roderick.
A major feature in Historical Drama’s narrative structure, like soap operas, is the ‘adherence to conventions of realism’ (Abercrombie, 1996: 49)
For example, despite being historical fiction, most of the scenarios in the plot are thematic amongst television drama and relative to everyday life, therefore recognisable to a contemporary audience. Such as: the businessman's venture, any of the romantic subplots, family crisis.
Historical dramas often convey a more nostalgic view of the past, which is evident through plotlines, such as the more favourable view of the roles and status of female characters.
Like most dramas, historical dramas adopt a sense of realism into both their narrative style and plot lines. The majority of storylines, are identifiable to the viewer, conforming to Robin Nelson's theory that ‘accessibility and followability are vital’ (2001: 39).
Historical dramas often convey a more nostalgic view of the past, a typical example being Mr Selfridge which is mostly an upbeat representation of the past, involving mainly simple domestic situations. However, in contrast and unconventionally, Peaky Blinders shows a much bleaker and grittier portrait of history, with its main focus a post-war (WW1) uprising.
Recreation of the styles, atmosphere and look, of the period, attests the power of formal elements to synthesise certain impressions and affects that concur to make historical fiction relevant to contemporary audiences. (Morey, 2013: 230)
The reason historical dramas are well adverse in the aesthetics and why they cost so much is because they put emphasis on the 'period-piece details', resulting in 'accurate reproductions of garment and architectural style' (ibid) virtuous to the programmes presentation of history.
Aesthetics (costume, set, props, lights, sound etc) in historical drama play a very important role ‘highlights the mise-en-scene as it’s own sceptical’ (Robert Burgoyne, 1994).
Aesthetics are hugely important in historical dramas because audiences have a 'pleasure of looking' (Morey, 2013: 229) which is what separates this genre from others.
"No one goes there on public days, it's full of all sorts of riff raff"
"The paintings are all the same no matter who is there to view them"
"What an original point of view"
The set plays an important role in the realism of historical dramas 'historical setting takes on thematic significance' (chris cagle, 2012: 421)
Different setting examples: Store (offices, cafe, 4 different departments, shop floor) Coffee cart, Lady May home, Mr Selfridge home, Delfine club. There are also many off set recordings, Shooting in forests, Dover, 1907 underground, National Art Gallery, many quest apartments
There is a huge divide between upper class costume and lower class costume. This makes it easy for the viewer to place the character in a class bracket. Soap acting sends signals to the audience and historical drama does the same thing with costume, set and props being used.
In episode 2 Mr Selfridge, Lady Mae had 4 costumes changes in the 20 minutes she was on screen.
Portrayal of Women
Portrayal of Men
Certain motifs reflect moods throughout the whole show.
Music has a place in most of a show.
Music on TV sets up the expectations for the show, the opening montage music is composed into different motifs which are used separately during the programme to back the on screen action
5 motifs being used – Busy, Work, Gloomy, Money, Uncertainty.
Unlike soap or sit-com music plays an important role.
Most music is non-diegetic unless there is a reason why musicians are shown on stage. These reasons are usually when the source of music is in the script or for the aesthetics of the scene.
Masters of Sex, Episode 5
Portrayal of Working Class
traditional most historical dramas are based in the country side, where they were not based on a historical event but general issues which the mass could relate too: Downton Abbyd and Pride and Prejudice. Recently they have been moving tarward cities and focusing on events that happened.
Romance and Sex
The Male Gaze
A common feature in most television drama, as well as all aspects of media such as music videos.
Historical dramas also utilise the male gaze, including in reverse form. Rather than being as
explicit as other dramas, fitting in the with the conventions of the particular time periods,
Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders rely more so on the implications.
Robin Nelson wrote that 'romance is at the heart of the central stories' (2001: 35) in historical drama. This is evident through the many romantic subplots concur in the plots of Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders, more so Mr Selfridge. Supported Johnathan Stubbs’ statement that ‘ Historical dramas ‘frequently injects romance into its stories, even when amorous affairs are not central to these historical events.' ( :32)
Sexually explicit content is often exempt from Historical Dramas, with it relying mainly on undertones.
Sticking with the gritty representation of history, women are not usually viewed in a favourable light, with few female characters at all
E.g. When Bar manager tells Barmaid that if any of the higher customers want her, there’s nothing she can do about it.
However… Aunt Polly speaks out in the family meeting:
“This family does everything open, you've nothing more to say to this meeting"
“No, Nothing that;s women's business"
“This whole bloody enterprise was women's while you boys were away at war... What's changed?"
"We came back".
Which is both a social and political comment.
More nostalgic view of the position of women in society, which would be more pleasing to the contemporary female target audience
For example: The character of Lady Mae, is married to Lord Loxley, however refuses to be called Mrs Loxley, as she does not want to be associated with him. Also, she has a lover whom she dominates.
However... Rose Selfridge is a classic representation of women in the media from the past. As she is a stay at home wife and mother.
Negatively... Ellen Love is seen to utilise he beauty in order to manipulate Harry.Harry chooses Ellen's opinion over Henri Leclair's regarding photos. This displays how beauty is idolised in society, despite leclair being the expert. Also Harry's cowardice as he exits the room in comparison with his entrance, such as how he doesn’t look Henri in the eye, is suggestive of socitty's self-awareness of this recurring flaw and the lack of care to adjust.
Depicts a rather large gap between the working class and middle class. With the focus, conventional to Historical dramas, mainly being that of the middle class.
E.g. When the character of Agnes Towler enquires about any vacancies for her younger brother, Mr Grove assumes she is attempting to blackmail him.
However… The fact that Agnes managed to procure herself a job at Selfridges (which is seen as a more prestigious establishment), despite her being fired from her previous job and having few references. This can be seen as a reference to shifting class boundaries, opposing the notion that working class people get working class jobs.
In comparison, Peaky Blinders focuses mostly on the working class.
E.g. As a post-war historical drama, it is set on gangsters in Birmingham who arise because of the unfair treatment towards the working class. This is reinforced by Stubbs' statement that a Historical Drama 'portrays morally uplifting stories about David's and Goliaths' (2013: 32).
“We went off to war and what thanks have we had for it”
"We aren't the IRA, we bloody fought for the King"
Further by the post-war depictions of the horrors of war, such as the character of Danny's disturbing hallucination scenes, which result in him committing murder.
Also... It is mainly the authorities, not the middle class, who the working class are opposed with. A main representative character being Inspector Chester Campbell. In the Pliot episode, he is introduced by the fear of other characters over his work in Ireland. When finally appearing, one of his first acts is to arrange Arthur Shelby beaten up."
This conforms to Stubbs' notion that Historical drama clearly presents heroes and villains. (2012: 32)
Historical Dramas often favour the middle class
as they are typically based upon them, portraying their perspective, leaving the lower classes to other forms of television drama such as soap operas.
Similar to theatre, which Lynn Gardner claims is 'not just default white, it's default able-bodied, middle class and frequently predominantly male, too' (2014).
Features the Male Gaze in a less sexually explicit form.
E.g. Ellen love in the plane, Rose been approached by Roderick,
However… Reversal of Male Gaze: Kitty and Poppy talking about Victor, ‘long legs’ and ‘strong arms’
With most of the plot occurring around representation characters of the era, the majority of scenarios are quite domesticated and often involving romance, with a frequent sexual undertones.
For example: Victor is constantly attempting to charm Agnes, as well as the marriage between Harry and Rose.
However, there is also a rather large amount of adultery featured, which is surprising for the time period. Such as: Mr Grove and Miss Mardle, Harry and Ellen, Rose and Roderick.
'The double emphasis on the formal qualities of narrative and their usefulness to audience-seeking television companies was noted by Raymond Williams in a 1969 television review when he observed how narrative was used to organise viewers' relationship with a new medium' (Geraghty, 2005: 8).
This applies to Historical Drama, as it utilises a range of discourses in the plotlines, in order for audience identification to occur. This is in accordance with what Tim Dant says about television, that it 'both reflects society and extends it' (2012: 119).
Issues which represent both the past and present are featured. Such as the theft and sales of ammunition - political and societal.
However many are exempt from Historical drama, such as other than heterosexual character.
Historically, men are viewed as important figures, which effects the way they are portrayed in television drama.
Historical dramas often feature the white middle class male at the forefront of the narrative.
Both leading males are captured with prominence, despite the class difference.
Mr Selfridge and George Towley
Tommy Shelby and Inspector
As the plot as a greater sense of history, focusing politically and thematically on the post-war uprising of the working class who were affected by war, the programme does not open with as many domestic situations as Mr Selfridge.
However... a more sordid example of romance, in keeping with the more gritty representation of history, would be when Ada goes to meet Freddie Thorne under the bridge by the canal.
The portrayal of women, such as the depiction of their roles and the status they are granted, is an important factor in Historical Drama. This is due to the history in the treatment of women in the relevant period of time, such as equal rights.
The most prominent example would be the barmaid, already an outsider, is frequently held under the male gaze.
"I'm not in the mood for the pictures tonight Ada"
"Well I'm not doing it here again, I got covered in mud last time".
Initially she is told she is too "pretty" for the job.
"Are you a whore?
Cos if you're not you're in the wrong place".
"We haven't had singing in here since the war"
"Why d'ya think that is Harry?"
Similar retrospective turn
The whole story will be shown through flashback, with the possibility of intercutting to the present – this allows for the juxtaposition of societal and political issues in both periods of time
Unconventionally, docudrama form would be used to inject factual scenes from older woman's memory/knowledge, such as tv footage
Parallel narrative: young girl and woman reader
Temporally, the flashbacks will occur in chronological order, as the diary is read
Roughly follow Tzvetan Todorov's narrative theory
Unconventionally, won't always have the minimum amount of concurrent narratives associated with genre
The diary of a young, working class girl – enables us to portray the innocence destroyed by war and corruption
Read by an older woman, with a professional background – her perspective of the story will allow for moments of historically factual input, which would have been left out by a child
This will provide both a middle class and working class perspective – providing a unique approach to historical television drama, as it usually portrays middle class people and rarely represents working class, whereas ours shall do both
‘Early television presumed a unified culture that was upper middle class … but since the 1960s, broadcast content has recognised diverse class and cultural origins and interests’. (Tim Dant, 2012: 60)
Follow the diary
Will be a progressive serialisation.
Essentially the quotidian life of the young girl, enabling a civilian viewpoint
Most of the action will follow her, except for scenes including the input of the diary reader, which will be historically contextual – this is different from typical historical dramas as their narratives are usually wholly objective
This will allow for domestic situations that the audience can identify with, similar to Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders. However, it wil have more of a historical focus, such as less inclusion of romantic subplots - which consumes the majority of Mr Selfridge.
Show minority groups in a post adaptive way. Set, costume, props will be based on post world war one Russia.
Historical drama uses elaborate costumes, sets and properties are featured in order to capture the ambiance of a particular era and/or time.
Character types will be working class and activist groups.Middle/upper class white males.Government officials mainly from the politics side.
Historical dramas usually experiment with different types of characters in odd ways to bring out different sides of people that are not usually seen.
For realism Russia accents, mannerisms and acting will be used.
Character Types & Acting Style
Music that reflects emotions on screen using Russian music.
Music will be non-diegetic mostly, unless there is a reason to have an on stage band.
Mr Selfridge adapts music from the time era and uses it in the show, most of the shows music comes from ‘Sing, sing, sing’ By Benny Goodman.
Our show will do a similar thing using Russian music and adapting it.
Long shots make the viewers focus on
the background like the situation of the Moscow, the War and military.
Also, the long shot can provide the viewers the insight of the Russian culture.
Wide shots helps to explain the culture of the drama. (Morey, 2013)
Closer shots make the drama more emotional and enable the viewers to get sympathy. (Selby & cowdery 1995)
◎The diary ＝the book written about the person’s feeling.
→to show the facial expression of Nina on the situation.
the camera movement makes the image active, and energetic. (Dant 2012)
→to show the large-scale of the war
the innocence of children while they are playing.
The transition can determine the atmosphere of the scene.
→more emotional/personal scene: slow
On the other hand, the quick tempo of the transition of the video gives us the oppressive/disoriented feeling.
e.g. when her family were raided by Stalin’s secret police.
to show the how severe surveillance is .
The editing which put the importance on the Character’s feeling.
e.g. Inserting the close-up shot first at the beginning of the scene.
“I Want to Live: The Diary of a Young Girl in Stalin’s Russia” (Black Swan: 2008)
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Nina Sergeyevna Lugovskaya.
Her father, Sergei Rybin-Lugovskoy
Two older twin sisters, Olga and Yevgenia
The Soviet political police
Often compared to Anne Frank's diary...
Nina suffered from depression, and repeatedly confided her suicidal fantasies to her diary. Nina further suffered from lazy eye, which made her very self-conscious. In her diary, she often confided her hatred for Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These beliefs came from witnessing the NKVD's repeated harassment and internal exile of her father, who had been a NEPman during the 1920s.
Setting up the social state of Russia at of the time and introducing characters thoughts of where they live. Also have small plots which show these people are normal (children misbehaving, work problems)
Moving on to the writing of the diary which is where we would see how Russia treat their people (minority groups)
Bring the duality of two different middle class women (two government officals wife's who have different opinions)
Working class issues, pay, work hours, health.