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Period Drama Codes & Conventions

Rob Miller | Thursday April 26, 2012

Categories: A Level, OCR A Level, OCR AS, Key Concepts, Genre, Hot Entries, 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

Distributed in the UK and the US (popular with American audiences buying into English cultural

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 and race and ethnicity

Interiors lavish production design, built sets and on location shooting (on location shooting often
uses to its advantage existing cultural heritage when filming e.g. many Period Dramas have been
filmed on the River Thames at Greenwich (Maritime Museum, Historical architecture)

Saturated colour palette (wealth and status), use of high key lighting

Dramatic, emotive non diegetic soundtrack punctuating the narrative

Primary target audience 35-55 females, white, traditional working class (apsirational, escapist
appeal, enjoy the costume design, history, settings diversion)

Nostalgia (fondly remembering or reminiscing about the past) also a key audience appeal

Secondary target audience 18-35 females characterisation

Tertiary target audience male, educated 35-55 (historical narratives, buying into the old
fashioned, traditional representation of masculinity, social class, national identity..)

Narrative themes explored but primarily for entertainment values

Key Texts

Upstairs, Downstairs

The Forsyte Saga

The Onedin Line

The Pallisers


Jane Eyre


Pride and Prejudice


Mad Men

Mildred Pierce

Downton Abbey

The Tudors

The Borgias

A Man for All Seasons

Robin Hood


Game of Thrones