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Period Drama Codes & Conventions

Rob Miller | Wednesday June 24, 2015

Categories: A Level, OCR A Level, OCR AS, Key Concepts, Genre, Legacy, Television, Television Drama

Period Dramas are also known as Historical Dramas or Costume Dramas. Below are the typical codes and conventions of Period Dramas but also examples of key texts:

  • Elaborate costumes and sets to catch the ambience of a particular time period (stereotypically female audiences are attracted as much by the costumes as by the narrative content)
  • Multi stranded narrative based on character (each character has their own storyline)
  • Often part of a series (each episode has a three act structure but is often open ended)
  • Linear but asynchronous narrative common (use of flashback)
  • Critically and commercially successful e.g. BBC Period Drama (long tradition of producing ‘quality’ period dramas)
  • Often produced by an Independent Production Company and commissioned by the BBC or other networks (e.g. ITV and Downton Abbey)
  • Often scheduled 9pm (post watershed) –  representations and narrative themes
  • Sexuality seen as repressed and ‘smouldering’ – on screen scenes are rarely graphic (with The Tudors as an exception) and representations are often left to the audiences’ imagination
  • High production values (location and studio settings, costume design, sound design, star marketing)
  • Distributed in the UK and the US (popular with American audiences buying into English cultural heritage)
  • Audience appeals – based on historical fact (surveillance), escapist/aspirational representations of English social class (Royal Family, Aristocracy, Landed Gentry), ‘fairytale’ representations
  • Stereotypically ‘feminised’ narrative – apsirational female characters but hegemonic , conventional representations of gender including dominant masculinity and women framed as objects of desire for the male gaze
  • The female victim narrative is common but also a women fighting for respect and individualism within this structured framework (e.g. The Duchess, Pride and Prejudice)
  • Traditional, mainstream representations of social class, national identity...

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