Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I Like Bonnets

I was listening to a little debate on the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show yesterday. It basically asked whether people were fed up of 'bonnet dramas' and suggested that we need to stop living in the past. Some of the discussion was sensible but some of it was hostile in a way that rather infuriated me. People just wanted to ditch Downton Abbey and things of that ilk, never mind the fact that almost 10 million people tuned in to watch the opening episode of series two on Sunday. Those viewing figures, in today's television climate, are astronomical. If something is that popular why would you get rid of it just because it's a 'bonnet drama'?

Some of the criticisms were pretty spot-on. They ran a spoof of clich├ęs usually encountered in period dramas; they questioned the sentimentalisation of history that prompts more sympathetic characterisation in situations which otherwise would reflect badly on them by modern standards. A Downton Abbey example of this would be Mrs Patmore's failing eyesight which is benevolently rectified by the Earl of Grantham in the first series. There is a danger that we're imposing our values on a society that wouldn't recognise them because we feel uncomfortable with the reality of our past. Nevertheless, I think the inaccuracies are overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the drama.

I wrote a piece last year about why Downton Abbey is a master-class in story-telling. I stick by that wholeheartedly. It doesn't matter what period a television series is set in: what matters is how the story is told and who the characters are. Downton Abbey had excellent scripts, an exceptional production team and a cast perfectly suited to their roles. Critics may sneer at the success but isn't it all a matter of taste?

Some commentators in the discussion yesterday claimed that there is too much of the 'bonnet drama' on television. Well, I'm sorry but that irritates me. There is plenty on television for people who don't enjoy drama: reality television viewers, soap addicts, chat show devotees are all catered for. Drama, if anything, is woeful in this country at the moment.We commission small runs of things, therefore leaving huge gaps in the schedules which is - in my own personal opinion - filled with dross. Saturday nights have become the home of reality television. I'm sorry but what about the rest of us who would only watch it if you tied us up and nailed our eyelids open? I'm forever frustrated by the pandering to reality television that channels do. The BBC is considering taking an axe to sections of their best channel BBC4 but are happy to shell out millions on a new reality import about choirs. What am I missing?

People who complain about the abundance of 'bonnet dramas' are within their rights to complain, of course. However, their criticism that we should focus more on modern society misses the richness of our heritage. I am happy to watch modern drama, I thoroughly enjoy some of it. But I don't appreciate the implication that just because a drama is about something old it's nothing to be interested in. That kind of mentality has thrown us into a fame-solves-all mentality where much of the youth in this country believes that if they get famous then they can live comfortably without having to do much. Watch some period drama; have your interest in a historical time or event piqued and go research it for yourself. We have precious few ways of connecting ourselves with our past but period dramas can become that connection.

But, most of all, I would ask people not to criticise something that is obviously filling a vacuum in British society. We like 'bonnet dramas'. So what? Your nectar may be my poison but I have to suffer. If you don't like it, don't watch. It's simple. 


Shelley said...

Well-put! I'm just sad that I won't be able to see this "bonnet drama" until January here in the U.S. :(

CharmedLassie said...

Ouch, that's horrible! At least it'll give you something to look forward to in the new year?