Why Historical Period Flicks Matter




I’m tempted to write this in an Olde English font. If that doesn’t give you any idea on my position on historical period dramas here’s the long and short of it; I love them. Put me in front of Downton Abbey any day I’ll be asking to take my tea in the parlor.

However as my parents would often tell me as a young girl. Just because you like something doesn’t mean it’s important to anyone else.

Here’s my call to this cause.

When most folks think of science fiction, usually they think of something in the future – both Star Trek and Star Wars take place in space. And even though they happened a long, long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, in all actuality we can’t hop to lightspeed – hell we’ve stopped going to the moon (Hmmm, I sense a future rant. I’m looking at you NASA). So half of science fiction is based in the future and let’s face it the title says it all. It’s fiction. The caveat here is that we can imagine things that are based in scientific fact. Sure we can hop to light speed yet, but we know what light speed is – and we understand the mechanics behind space travel. That’s insanely awesome and an incredible lesson to our children. I don’t think I have to argue to this crowd about how awesome and practical science fiction is.

Historical fiction is another story. I’ve seen the rogue Facebook posts about the general disdain for programs like Downton Abbey. Some of my favorite hate posts have consisted of “Isn’t this show about the misadventures of a young lady named Abbey who took a jaunt downtown to see all the hip happenings.”


The argument for Downton Abbey and the like.

No, no it’s not. Shows like Downton Abbey are based in a real time period – they strive for historical accuracy. In fact the show employs a number of historains to ensure that they’re not setting a table during the 30s that’s more of a 50s style place setting. Trivial? Maybe. But let’s refocus here; we are actively teaching young people a lesson while engaging them in what they just think is entertainment. This is the ultimate vegetables for dessert scenario.

Take a look at some other popular TV shows right now.


Doctor Who – Science Fiction but let’s talk about the flashbacks. Sure the Orient Express is flying through space. But what if for a moment we are engaging kids to think about what the Orient Express was, why they’re wearing period specific dress and the relevancy therin.


The Borgias – This period drama is based on a former Pope. And while rather scandalous, the accuracy of the show is particularly startling. I found myself having to pause and look up some references. They were being used spot on.


Call the Midwife – This show about midwives in post war London gives an amazing accurate representation of what life was really like during that time. So accurate in fact, that there is a warning prior to the show that it does in fact include things that may not be appropriate for some viewers. For example; one of the mothers on the show has to deliver a stillborn child. Poor prenatal care and unhealthy living conditions were a reality in the 50s, and this program showcases the good and the bad therefore in my mind making it more interesting.

Sure, these shows are not 100% accurate, but we can glean some knowledge of what life may have been like in the times represented.

So historical fiction may not be your cup of tea (see what I did there?) but the main thing separating it from science fiction is that generally speaking the episodes are based off of events that have already happened. Similarly to science fiction we can learn and appreciate the technology (or lack thereof) and use a few extra brain muscles to digest the lessons in the entertainment.

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