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08 May 2016 @ 11:30 am
Tudormania; posh British actors  
I started reading this article expecting it to be one of those finger-wagging pieces about how the sheeple just like escapism and fancy dresses, and was pleasantly surprised. It has a little bit of that ("At this moment, what we want from our relationship with a national past is this: to draw the curtains, shut out the noise of the world, and put on a box set. Thinking about Tudor history is, at least in its laziest manifestations, an excellent way of not thinking about history"), but by and large it remains an exploration of why the Tudor story resonates with people:

Tudormania: Why Can't We Get Over It?

Tee hee:

Jessie Childs, a popular historian who has written about the period, said: “The Tudors are very clearly defined for children: you have Henry VII, the battlefield king; then Henry VIII, the tyrant who marries six times; then Edward VI, the boy king; then Lady Jane Grey, the nine days’ queen; then [the Catholic] Mary I who burns 300 people; and then Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. They are like a boyband: each has an identity. If you look at the Plantagenets, on the other hand – people don’t know which is which.”

I bought Jessie Childs' book God's Traitors ages ago - when it first came out in the States, in fact - but haven't yet found the time to read it…alas. Anyway, the author also speaks to Hilary Mantel, as well as to other historians who want to widen the scope of what we talk about when we talk about the Tudors.

[Edited to add: …huh. I got this link via Twitter, so I went back and clicked on the Twitter handle of the author of the article. It turns out that she wrote Under Another Sky, a book about Roman Britain that I…appear to have misplaced, actually, but I found a copy of it on sale in a bookstore in York when I was there, which is good because I don't think it was published in the US. But it also turns out that she wrote This New Noise, a book about the BBC that I read about a little while ago and wanted to look up. I did not know that these two books were even by the same person!]

Then there's an article on how aspiring actors from farther down the social ladder are increasingly being shut out of the profession in the UK. These have been bubbling up for a few years now; this one takes its starting point from the show The Night Manager. (I haven't seen it; it will probably go into the bin of "stuff about machinations that I really don't want to watch," along with House of Cards.) The article also takes a tiny swipe at costume drama, so these two articles wind up being a tiny bit related:

Why working-class actors are a disappearing breed

And what, you can’t help wondering, is our obsession with period drama all about? Downton, suggests Josie Long, comedian and co-founder of the charity Arts Emergency, “speaks to that certain weird thing that is going on in the UK. Something very repressive that is reflected in our art.”

It’s what happens, she thinks, “when you don’t have different voices coming through”. And “posh fetishisation… posh as aspiration” becomes a defining feature of our culture.

Posh is at the very heart of mainstream viewing, a cornerstone of all TV schedules and a guaranteed seller abroad. The Night Manager is currently being broadcast in America on the cable channel AMC, which contributed a large part of its £18m budget. It’s a vision of Britain that sells.

The piece itself is a more interesting look at this phenomenon than simply "Downton make drama all posh now." But I'm sure there is some sort of "Downton effect," even if it is more about making money than having it: just as it's harder to sell comedies internationally because they tend to rely more on specific cultural contexts than action and superhero films, it is probably easier to sell costume dramas and literary adaptations abroad - if only because costume drama tends to assume that you have to explain the historical setting at least a little bit, and that explanation works just as well overseas. It is frustrating, though, to be a fan of costume drama and have it assumed that you must just want to watch posh people lounging about in frocks, as opposed to being interested in fictional explorations of what life was like in the past. I would love to have a wider range of costume drama available - even just getting a show set in the Tudor period that didn't take place at court would feel like Christmas!

That's separate from the main point of the piece, though, which focuses on how hard it is to pay for a place at drama school, and then to find work in the industry if you do. (And as always, don't read the comments: Guardian articles about the arts are always overrun by people who fling about the word "luvvies" and seem to think no one should ever expect to be paid for art, because it's not a real job like plumbing. One wonders whether these people watch TV or movies, or listen to music, and what they think would happen to their own lives if we made it impossible for people to make a living while making art.)
litlover12 on May 8th, 2016 05:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, I read God's Traitors. It was good. It'd probably make a heck of a period drama, come to think of it! :-)