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Downton Abbey and other Costume Dramas

27 marca 2017, poniedziałek,


British Costume Dramas

Along with Royal weddings, cream tea and pop music ‘the costume drama’ is something the British feel they excel[1] at – and they are right.  Today, I’m going to review four famous British Costume Dramas and as an added bonus have included some useful language too.

Downton Abbey - British Costume Drama

Downton Abbey – Image licensed under CC by 2.0; https://www.flickr.com/photos/lafiguradelpadre/8660533478

Costume, what?

Costume dramas are in essence modern stories in which the characters wear costumes from past eras. Historical foreknowledge[2] isn’t needed to enjoy these TV series, indeed most are very loosely ‘based on historical fact’.

Here are my personal reviews of four famous British Costume Drama Series. Read through and see if you agree with my views.

Downton Abbey

It seems Downton Abbey is popular with everyone (including apparently the Queen) but me! It was certainly a hit in the UK and USA. For those people who have been able to avoid this six series epic it follows the fortunes of a wealthy family and their servants through a period from the sinking of the Titanic (1912) to just before the Second World War. This is a ‘them’ and ‘us’ drama which the British, and it would appear everyone else, tend to lap up[3]. An interesting aspect of what I find to be dull fare[4] is the way in which the class divide is bridged; a ‘commoner’ in this case an Irish Revolutionary firebrand chauffer elopes with the Lord’s daughter before marrying into the family. As if!

Little Dorrit

Charles Dickens always makes for good costume drama, I have highlighted my personal favorite but really any of them can be watched over and over again. In Little Dorrit, the BBC recreate the contrasting entrepreneurialism and poverty of Victorian England superbly. The acting, locations and overall ‘feel’[5] are magnificent. Other English classic adaptations of Jane Austen, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell are similarly unmissable!

I Claudius

Considered too highbrow[6] for the masses when it was first shown in 1976 this tasteful adaptation of the Robert Graves novel became a huge success. The elderly Claudius narrates the tale of the early Roman emperors and their families; murder (usually poisoning), incest and bad haircuts feature in most episodes! Most memorable for the fantastic performance of the late John Hurt as the crazed Caligula. “I wasn’t a God after all,” he tells Claudius in a dream, “You could have knocked me down with a feather.” It looks a little dated now but is still watchable if just for John Hurt.

The White Queen

We are in 15th Century England! No, we aren’t. On first glance The Wars of the Roses an historical feud for the English crown between two powerful families is ready made for the TV screen being overlong and largely pointless. Based upon the popular Philippa Gregory novels this curious blend of history and soap opera has ‘sexed up’[7] the Middle Ages. Most of the cast wouldn’t look out of place at the Glastonbury Festival!

Over to you

There you have it my four reviews.  Do you agree with me? Let me know your opinion on the shows via the comment box.

[1] Excel (verb)- to do something very well.

[2] Foreknowledge- to know something in advance

[3] Lap-up-to drink in the manner of an animal (cat), suggests an appetite for something.

[4] Fare-food, in this case cultural food

[5] Feel – in this sense ‘atmosphere’.

[6] Highbrow-intellectual

[7] Sexed-up-Informal, made sexier, more attractive.