A Short History Of The Period Drama, Part One: FAITH TO THE TEXT (or, The 1940s)

greatexpectations A Short History Of The Period Drama, Part One: FAITH TO THE TEXT (or, The 1940s)

Period piece. Costume drama. Historical epic. Any way you slice it, it’s been around about as long as cinema itself. Of course, in those days what we now consider quintessential period drama was practically contemporary – the Lumière brothers patented their cinématographe in 1895, which is only as distant from Austen’s last novel as the Second World War is from us. Turning this wonder of technology to life in the present – rather than the past – was a more immediate concern.

That’s not to say that film ignored the past for forty years before the invention of talking pictures – but the sudden explosion of sound invited the complexities and potential of literature on to the screen in entirely new ways. With sound came dialogue, and filmmakers grabbed books from their shelves with both hands.

The roll call for 30s and 40s period drama is impressive – Austen, Brontë, Shakespeare, Dumas, Tolstoy, Dickens, Alcott, Hemingway, Wilde, even Puccini. Such was the demand for fiction on film that a book might appear at the box office twice in a decade. Original period pieces from this time are rare – in 1940 film was still only forty-five years old, the baby of the media family, and writers and directors wanted the shine of celebrated classics to rub off on their ‘populist dross’.

Read A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PERIOD DRAMA, PART ONE: FAITH TO THE TEXT (OR, THE 1940S)
One Room With A View

Read PART THREE
Read PART TWO