When she’s not curating the latest trends and happenings, the style blogger is escaping into the distinctly refined world of period drama
For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep, deep love of revelling in the past by watching period dramas. Once I was ready to upgrade from kids’ TV and Disney (although who could ever actually tire of Disney?!), the period drama biggie Pride And Prejudice conveniently aired just as I was starting secondary school and beginning to read copious amounts of Jane Austen. I was too young to appreciate the significance of Colin Firth in a wet shirt (actually, I still don’t really get it), but I did develop an addiction to proper speech, chaste conduct between men and women and, of course, the aesthetics of the period costumes and sets.
That started off my obsessive pursuit of every period drama I could get my peeps on – the good, the bad but probably not the ugly, given that I preferred the ones that looked stupendously lavish even if the plot and scripting were a bit thin.
It’s a generalisation, but going back through time via historical dramas is probably my way of reacting against the fast-paced demands and complications of life in 2012. Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, crowned the 1500s for me, then Aristocrats took me to the 1700s. Given that I was the eldest of four daughters, this BBC series, based on the four Lennox sisters who lived a decadent life of frocks, feathers and love affairs, quickly became my sisterhood fantasy. Thanks to Helena Bonham Carter’s turns in the 1900s-based Howards End and A Room With A View, I remember wanting wispy bouffant hair.
The House of Eliott and Evelyn Waugh adaptations like Bright Young Things sent me into a craze for wearing twenties and thirties-style multiple pearl strands and cloche hats and learning how to do the Charleston in my bedroom. The mothership of all period dramas, though, has to be the Victorian family epic, The Forsyte Saga. Produced in the sixties, it’s 26 episodes of clunky sets and old-fashioned editing, but the joy of watching John Galsworthy’s trilogy so faithfully re-enacted is comfort TV fodder of the highest order.
And that’s what it’s about for me. I want the drama equivalent of mashed potato and a hot-water bottle, and period dramas are certainly that. I say “Pah!” to dramatic twists and turns. There is a weird safety net in watching three different versions of Emma. And Austen, Brontë, Dickens and Gaskell adaptations are all very reliable ways to procrastinate away a weekend when I should be working on deadlines.
Obviously I’m also attracted to the costumes, which feed my natural interest in the history of dress. In fact, one of the reasons I started Style Bubble, my fashion blog, was so that I could write about the amazing costumes of my latest period drama obsession, even if only about 0.004% of my readers had any interest in it. Weirdly, I don’t consider myself a nostalgic person. I love modern films and dramas too, but cast a more critical eye over them. As a history graduate, I’m fully aware of the tendency for period dramas to romanticise the past, but you can’t beat the escapism, the amazing sets, the moody locations. I have crazed fantasies of standing on a windy moor and hearing Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester in my head. Even at school, I’d pepper my speech with “indeed!” and “How simply divine!” I’m pretty sure it was my adolescent way of differentiating myself from the crowd.
I’m going to be controversial and say Downton Abbey is period drama-lite for me. It’s fluffy and enjoyable enough but it jerks between storylines too much and never quite hits the right climax points. I’ll probably end up watching the Christmas special, but I’ll be turning to my box sets of Cranford and the original Upstairs Downstairs for greater comfort.
My latest fixation is actually The Paradise, a BBC drama set in an 1870s department store. I’m determined to worm my way onto the set to soak up the pastel-box feel of this fantasy world. Unadulterated romance, crinolines, stately homes and happy endings? I’m there.