3 Things I Appreciate about Period Drama

By Monday, September 28, 2015 ,

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know by now that I analyze and analyze and analyze every book or movie I invest time in. It’s one of my favorite things to do! And I think that’s largely why I love period drama so much – there’s so much to analyze! The gorgeous England scenery and handsome heroes help, but the stories are complex and have so many thought-provoking aspects, which is perfect for my ever-active brain. In a previous post, I described several things that fascinate me about this genre, and I’ve now got more! As I’ve continued to enjoy period British dramas, I’ve come to discern some not-as-obvious elements of it that give it meaning for me, and I think all of these are things we ought to take note of now and learn from. 

1. Simpler, quieter times 
It’s important to define what I mean by this, because those balls and lavish dinners and endless rules make it seem like that life was anything but quiet and simple! But when you consider that all of those things were second nature to people in the Victorian and Edwardian eras of England, you realize that they always knew what was expected of them. Everyone had an expected role and rules to follow, and though that limited the options for people, it also meant that they were not overwhelmed with choices and they were rarely worried about what they were supposed to do next in life. For most people, there was little doubt about what they would do when they grew up because almost everyone continued in the family business or inherited the estate they were born at, and married one of the eligible people within their social circle. There was quietness and simplicity in that everyone played their role and generally didn’t question it. At a recent press tour for the upcoming final series of Downton Abbey, actress Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora Crawley, said that this is one thing she’ll miss about the show: 

“I miss the peace of this world where everybody knew their place and accepted it. Life seemed so quiet by comparison. I think that’s part of the appeal and escape [of the show]. In today’s world, we contend with more information than we can actually absorb. In the world of ‘Downton,’ we only know the circle that’s right in front of our face. There are limits to that life, of course, but it’s peaceful...”

I think that’s the case with any period story, and that quote kind of made me realize it. We’re so overwhelmed with options and distractions today that I do find myself envying the characters I watch because they weren’t constantly taking in the volume of information that we do or overwhelmed with endless options for important life decisions. 

I enjoy the scenes on this bench in Downton. Something about it gives that peaceful feel to the moment.
{Via Tumblr} 
2. Respect 
Manners and courtesy were the natural order of things in 19th and early 20th century England, as I’ve written before here and there. The British aristocracy was known for always putting on a stiff upper lip and concealing emotion, even to an unhealthy degree. But with this rigid formality and courtesy came a respectful society. People were held to high standards of behavior, and that lent itself to a general politeness. Manners scream in practically every scene of a period drama, but I think they’re expressed particularly in interactions between men and women. Unmarried men and women were never allowed to be alone together, which I think heightens the sense of gravity about marriage, and we definitely could stand to regain that today. The happy relationships you see develop in these stories always demonstrate that respect for yourself and the other person are vital to longevity. What’s more, simple acts of courtesy toward women were commonplace. Holding a door open, standing when a lady left the dinner table, and helping her up or down stairs were natural, and I like that. It was also of course before everyone became so hyper-sensitive, so women expected it and were grateful for it. I was happy to recently read that actor Allen Leech, who plays Tom Branson in Downton Abbey, said that he appreciated this about the world of Downton:

“I think there is a politeness that has been lost. To be honest, when I look at society today, you’re more surprised when a door is held open for a lady than when it isn’t. I’m sorry to see that get lost.” 

Can we all take note of this, please? 

Mr. Darcy helping Elizabeth into the carriage in Pride and Prejudice. Not only was this a common polite gesture, but here, it's a significant moment because it's the first time they've touched at all. I like that it makes you realize how important it was when we wouldn't think twice about hands touching now.
{Via KnightleyEmma}
3. Importance of family and community 
Family was of paramount importance in this period in England, as we see through the endless talk of “connections,” “rank,” “family honor,” and countless other terms. You were your family, and your behavior reflected on them for better or worse. While I’m glad that the pressure in this area has changed, I’m reminded of the value of family and community when I watch Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Downton Abbey, or virtually any other British drama. The sister relationships in Jane Austen’s novels are precious things to observe, and family loyalty is a steadfast theme throughout all the seasons of Downton Abbey. Not only was family instrumental to your place in society at the time, but it also was a constant presence in everyday routines. The lavish dinners you see in Downton Abbey were the real deal! They could last well over an hour or two, especially if guests were dining with the family, and after dinner, wine and coffee and cards in the drawing room could last well into the night. Again, I’m glad we don’t have to do that every night now, but when I watch it, it does remind me of the value of time with family and friends that we’re often “too busy” for now. It’s a good reminder to not take it for granted!

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood might be the sweetest sister relationship of Jane Austen's creation. They're polar opposites, but love each other devotedly and learn from each other's differences.
{Via FanPop}
Thank you, period drama, for these things. I think we could all definitely take some notes from them. People of every new era naturally think we have the most objective point of view, as Eric Metaxas wisely points out in a new book of his, but that is a dangerous tendency reeking of pride. As he exhorts, studying the past exposes our own cultural prejudices and preconceived ideas about important life issues, and I think the eras portrayed in period British dramas have much to teach us in all these mentioned areas and more! 

*I do not own the rights to the photos in this post. All photos used were retrieved from credited Internet sources*

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