For some of us, our comforts rest in stepping into the on-screen worlds of science fiction, fantasy, comedy or action. With plenty of media from different genres promising a more exciting viewing experience, it calls to question why historical dramas, with their sometimes slow pace and trope-y plots, have risen in popularity in the past year.
The escapism of historical dramas has provided much-needed respite for the struggles of 21st-century life. Films and TV shows in this genre have a certain appeal that makes them especially fun to watch in modern times.
Like millions of other people, I recently binge-watched the Regency-era drama “Bridgerton.” Since the pandemic began confining people worldwide to their homes, a myriad of shows and films, specifically historical dramas, have continually glued people to their seats.
The most obvious draw of dramas like “Bridgerton” and “The Queen’s Gambit” are their immense visual appeal. Even if the plots of these shows aren’t your taste, you can’t help but be captivated by Beth Harmon’s perfectly-coiffed auburn hair or Daphne Bridgerton’s flowing pastel dresses.
In a time when Zoom meetings have hardly required us to dress up below the waist, it’s fun to live vicariously through people on-screen prancing around in fancy clothes while you sit on your couch in crumb-covered sweats. And given that most of us haven’t traveled very far in the past year, historical dramas transport you to a whole different world with their intricate set designs.
Want to spend a couple of hours in a haunted gothic mansion? Watch “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” Dying to see a live comedy show in the big city? Watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Then there’s the widely-adored romance. No historical drama is complete without hours of intense yearning leading up to grand confessions of love in some field or candlelit library followed by a bodice-ripping scene or two.
Sure, everyone gushes at “When Harry Met Sally” and “Pretty Woman.” But when literary classics are developed into historical dramas, like “Pride and Prejudice,” the poetry of romance translates onto the screen better than anything else.
There’s a certain nostalgia we all harbor for these relationships, making us miss even the fictional times before social media changed love forever. If you’ve gone without any kind of touch for a while, well, historical romance is about as good as any of us can get right now.
The sheer variety of historical dramas also allows us to take a look into the past through a different lens with every new adaptation. We’ve had countless films and shows that take place in the Victorian era, the Jim Crow era, the Middle Ages and pretty much every period in history.
Every rendition, however, manages to do something a little different. Through these different interpretations, we not only get the opportunity to experience something we will never get the chance to relive - the past - but we can see how the present-day influences our view of the past.
People of color, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups can now be represented in historical dramas that took place when these groups’ existences were largely erased.
“Lovecraft Country” is a great example of how historical Black narratives don’t always have to be limited to traditional segregation stories. Women have increasingly become the focus of historical dramas as most stories haven’t often been told from the female perspective.
Historical dramas also humanize huge events through characters we can love or love to hate. You might have heard about the controversy within Britain’s royal family through books or tabloids, but Emma Corrin’s elegant performance as Princess Diana in “The Crown” drives home the tragedy of the late princess’ life.
In fact, most on-screen portrayals of monarchy, no matter how whimsical, often show us that the drama of politics centuries ago wasn't too different from what we see on the news now. At its heart, the historical drama genre provides viewers with an immersive trip to the past, away from whatever might be going on right now, while also staying true to the good, bad and ugly parts of human nature.