Why You Should Never Live With A Character From A Historical TV Drama – Part II

We’ve been here once before, Ladies and Gentlesirs: yea, and verily so. But a spate of reading historical fiction lately, the lightning wrap-up of Poldark on BBC and the forthcoming ice-cream headache that is the Dowtnton Abbey movie have caused me to ruminate on the differences between historical novels, which tend to plod along quite nicely for a thousand pages, and historical TV dramas, which after about one and a half episodes of character-settling soft focus, tend to hurtle along like a steam engine which just discovered rocket fuel.

So without further ado, here is the latest instalment in the blog series which was once said by nobody at all to be ‘like a wolf in stereotype’s clothing’.

***************************

It’s dusk. Light is failing, like the health of an urchin with a persistent cough. Shadows lurk in corners, on walls, and on the jawlines of swarthy young swains in ragged trousers; still, there is suspiciously enough light to conduct the glow of the comeliest maidens and the swashbuckliest gents. A creak sounds. It might be a door, a floorboard, or the croak of a dying patriarch with a posthumous fortune which would tear apart the morals of the most sanctimonious clergyman.

You peer into the gloom. Suddenly, nineteen more candles which are somehow deemed unnoticeable to anybody watching cast a dancing beam onto the faces of HISTORICAL TV DRAMA GENTLEMAN and HISTORICAL TV DRAMA LADY.

Tark And Mara Reluctantly Agree To Appear On That Dreadful Blog

HTVD Gentleman: Hello? Hello? Who goes there?

You: [looking up from your phone] What? It’s me. I’m not going anywhere.

HTVD Gentleman: Speak, Sir, and state your business! We have just come from the most terrible carriage accident, in which we both almost lost our blessed lives.

You: Would you ever give over? I live here, remember? I’m your landlord. I rented the room to you a year ago?

HTVD Lady: But a twelvemonth.

HTVD Gentleman: ‘Tis true. ‘Tis important to get the dialogue most rightly. The cadence of speech, and the bloom of ye olden days dialecticals.

You: But it’s fine to leave 20th century props lying around the place and have the place lit up like a Christmas tree by only two candles and a clearly fake fire in the hearth? You guys are a continuity nightmare.

HTVD Lady: Oooh, my stars!

HTVD Gentleman: My dear! Whatever is the matter?

HTVD Lady: I’ve suddenly come over most peculiar.

HTVD Gentleman: Fetch the smelling salts!

You: I don’t have any. I don’t think anyone ever had that many smelling salts to hand, truth be told.

HTVD Lady: [Draping herself, with the help of HTVD Gentleman, over a conveniently located settle] ‘Tis like the turn I had yesterday, my Lord.

HTVD Gentleman: God’s bones! When you saw that villain from your past, the one who stole your father’s fortune and threw you, your mother and sisters onto the mercy of your beastly cousin, who promptly schemed to marry you, only for me to save you at the last moment and simultaneously discover that you were in fact a missing Russian princess who had been forced to murder your father’s assassin?

HTVD Lady: The very one, yes.

You: Sorry, but is this not an awful lot of info dumping, even for you?

HTVD Gentleman: Prithee, Sir! We have three more pages of backstory to race through before we may get to the glorious setpiece that is the strangely long swordplay scene with my lady’s beastly cousin!

HTVD Lady: And you are rather delaying things.

You: What? I only said one line!

HTVD Lady: But even one line can slow the action to a crawl! This scene was supposed to end two minutes ago.

You: But that would have been only twelve seconds after it started!

HTVD Gentleman: Precisely! Your dilly-dallying has cost us the setup for two whole plotlines!

HTVD Lady: [weeping prettily] And I had been so eagerly anticipating the story of the poor-but-happy farmhand rescuing the lonely rich heir who got trapped by rioting peasants…

HTVD Gentleman: Let alone the agonising setpiece of the vicious old grande dame who begets her comeuppance through the strangely modern socialist views of her newest housemaid.

You: Stop! We’ve already had enough plot for an entire series in the last half hour alone. I’m exhausted.

HTVD Gentleman: PLOT!! PLOT!! THERE MUST BE MORE PLOT!!

You: But this is intolerable, don’t you see? We don’t even know who you are! How can we care about you if you haven’t fleshed out your character?

HTVD Lady: I beg your pardon? How dare you! We simply cannot conceive of such a thing. We are historical TV drama characters! We exist only for the plot!

You: I’m not sure that’s actually how it works. Actually.

HTVD Gentleman: Well, I’d love to stay gasbagging all day, but I have four plot devices to cram into my next two lines, and I can’t see a damned thing by this candlelight.

[A pantomime servant with an unnecessary twitch whom you’ve never seen before arrives and hands a piece of period-inappropriate Egyptian parchment to HTVD Gentleman.]

You: Why are we getting post delivered to the door eight P.M.?

HTVD Gentleman: Oh, my stars!

HTVD LADY: Oh, my Lord!

You: OMG.

HTVD Lady: Pray tell, whatever does it say?

HTVD Gentleman: [white-faced] It’s my extensive business interest in something vaguely to do with ships. Something terrible has happened. We must immediately to London in the morning!

You: But that’s five days from here by carriage!

HTVD Lady: Not for us, it isn’t.

[Morning. Carriage rolls over London cobblestones.]

You: Oh, for Christ’s sake. I blame Downton Abbey for this nonsense. I’m off to watch something about cops.

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  10 comments for “Why You Should Never Live With A Character From A Historical TV Drama – Part II

  1. Will Hahn
    September 8, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Gawd, that’s genius. Only I’m pretty sure the cops aren’t going to make you happier.
    Maybe the thing with historical fiction is the eagerness from the reader/viewer to substitute themselves for the characters (or is that a romance thing, I don’t know). But you’re quite right that character is sacrificed to plot, and people who want to BE them don’t worry so much about empathizing with them.

    Well, that’s another frog dissected, I guess. But well done Tara!

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 8, 2019 at 6:20 pm

      I’m not sure if it’s the Everyman character thing either, Will… so much as someone in a Writer’s Room somewhere going ‘there must be Action or the audience’ll get bored!! Quick!! Throw in another fire and some dull-eyed orphans!!!”

      Like

  2. September 8, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Just wait until you meet the Historical TV Drama Servants. 😉 You might turn around and run out the door shouting, “No more plots!” 😆

    This small part had me laughing out loud: “You: But that’s five days from here by carriage!
    HTVD Lady: Not for us, it isn’t.
    [Morning. Carriage rolls over London cobblestones.]

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 8, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      The upstairs downstairs thing never seems to follow the rules of logic or consequence, ‘Tis true! Glad you liked it 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. September 8, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Which is why I only watch TV shows and read books actually written during the time period by people who didn’t know they were writing for the future. Which means exactly what you think it means: there were NO TV shows filmed in Jane Austen’s time, so I’m not likely to watch ones which weren’t.

    I blame the educational system in the US (have no idea about the British one), and Regency ‘romances.’ Modern kids don’t even know what ‘anachronism’ means!

    I remember watching a telenovela, in Mexico, with my mother (who always did her hand-sewing while indulging), called ‘El Secreto,’ and discovering at one point that the plot had been stolen from Jane Eyre, and transferred undiluted to an hacienda in Mexico. We had a good laugh. It was the 1960s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 8, 2019 at 6:24 pm

      I wonder sometimes if most historical TV drama isn’t just being made for US audiences, Alicia. The lucrative success of Downton Abbey stateside rather did send things down that path…. stick to your guns, be they Mexican or not!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. September 8, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    On target! Are we talking historical drama — or hysterical drama? I laugh in a demure, genteel manner befitting the station in life to which I aspire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 8, 2019 at 7:49 pm

      Oh that is VERY appropriate, Ruth. Im sure your chaperone and spinster aunt will be most greatly pleased with you.

      Like

  5. September 14, 2019 at 8:06 am

    What gets me about rustic period drama [Poldark springs to mind] is that the woodwork in the houses looks so old and crumbly – surely, back then, it would have been new and free from woodworm? This really bothers me.
    Also, you are right about the very thin plots. Poldark was really about people bombing along a scenic cliff top, with or without horses, in various states of undress.
    Sx

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 15, 2019 at 10:51 pm

      Absolutely, Scarlet. It’s amazing how many aged antiques there were in the 1700s. I wonder what happened to them. Perhaps they got repurposed into MDF in the 1800s…?

      Liked by 1 person

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