& the slipper still fits

A Costume Drama girl’s guide to adaptation adoration

PART 1 : So you're a newbie

Are you a newbie to the whole costume drama scene? Do you have a friend you want to introduce to the fandom, but don’t know where to start? Have you seen a few, but still don’t get the terminology or “rules”? Well, I’m here to make sure it’s not nearly as so big or scary or confusing. Because nothing as wonderful and costume dramas and adaptations should be big, scary, or confusing.

Let’s start with Costume Drama’s definition. There really are three definitions, or "levels" might be a better way to explain. And to make things even more confusing, most fans have their own particular definitions based on their likes and dislikes. But we’ll start with the basics:

Level 1: It’s called costume drama – Which means, above all, there are breath-taking costumes in the production. This is the central thread that really ties the costume drama fandom together. Thus, most costume drama blogs are not about the stories, or the actors, or reviews, but about admiring and dissecting the gowns and clothing worn. Therefore, you can say anything with elaborate costumes can be considered a costume drama, including: films such as Black Swan and Robin Hood, shows like Merlin and Mad Men, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, and fantasy films.

Level 2: It’s about a historical time period/literary subject – This is generally what people mean when they say they love costume dramas. Most that are included in this category are adaptations of classic novels either produced by the BBC or a major studio. A great example is the many adaptations of Bronte’s Jane Eyre. There are four versions made by the BBC and over five made by major motion picture companies; all are considered costume dramas at this level. Additionally, films like Becoming Jane and Bright Star would fall under level 2 because it is about the life of a literary/historical figure.

Level 3: It’s all BBC all the time – The final level of costume drama is considered a very hardcore streamlining of what costume drama can be. Put simply, if it wasn’t produced by the BBC, and about a literary or historical figure, it’s not a costume drama. Likewise, this would make all costume dramas a mini-series. And, to be fair, when people use the term costume drama, they are often talking about a BBC production. But it is a very flawed definition, and so most fans of costume drama are not so fanatic as level 3; for example, under this definition the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice would be considered a costume drama, but the 2005 version with Keira Knightley would not.

On most community forums or blogs, the writers and community members stick within the range of level 2. (To be exact, it’s more like level 3 with their favorite big budget movies included.) Why are these definitions important? Well, really, they’re not, but if you’re just starting out, these distinctions can help you sound like an old salt fast; and can help you understand some of the general themes that communities have – why the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice is considered the seminal example of costume drama, for instance.

Looking to get a friend interested in costume drama? The above definitions can also help you navigate where to start your friend on their costume drama journey. Did they love Gosford Park, but swear they could never stand a costume drama? Well, you can politely nudge that Gosford Park can be considered a costume drama(level 1), and if they love it, they’ll probably like Dowton Abbey (level 3). Too much mini-series for them? Think about showing them Easy Virtue (level 1). Not enough? Upstairs-Downstairs (level 3) could be their cup of tea.

And that’s the basics. Remember, when watching costume dramas, it’s all about what you enjoy. And if it’s with your favorite actors, that’s even better.

Now that we have our definitions, what’s the next step? Well, recommending/watching some costume drama of course! Watch for Part 2: Start at the very Beginning, it’s a very good place to start.