This week, the BBC announced it planned to move away from traditional 19th century costume dramas in favor of a grittier look at the period and a new focus on other historical eras.
A senior BBC drama insider said, “There is to be an evolution in the presentation of period dramas, moving away from classic 19th century so-called ‘bonnet’ dramas to looking at other periods of history. This will allow us to look at other times and places in British and world history. The aim is to give drama audiences something new and different to enjoy.”
Traditional costume dramas would not be abandoned altogether, but the BBC will focus on the new type of period drama–an adaptation of the award-winning novel Small Island, about Jamaican immigrants moving to Britain in the 1940s, and Desperate Romantics, about a group of “vagabond painters and poets” set among the “alleys, galleries and flesh houses of 19th century industrial London”, among the first to be broadcast later this year.
While at first blush this might seem like bad news for fans of the costume dramas–and that still might be true–it might be beneficial in the long run to revitalizing the BBC drama and placing “costume dramas” within a wider drama context, thus making the “costume drama” not just a precious oddity, but another subset under the Drama banner.
I do worry sometimes that our (meaning historical fans) tendency to fetishize our history means it doesn’t translate to a broader audience. I like the idea that the BBC is branching out, as we encourage our readers and authors to branch out in era, location and characters.
What do you think?