Period dramas offer audience escape from present-day woes

“Downton Abbey.” “Bridgerton.” “Peaky Blinders.” “Outlander.” “Reign.” Jane Austen adaptations such as “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” … the list goes on.


“Downton Abbey.” “Bridgerton.” “Peaky Blinders.” “Outlander.” “Reign.” Jane Austen adaptations such as “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility” … the list goes on. Period dramas have become a staple in the world of entertainment, captivating audiences globally with their lush settings and intricate narratives. While some series strive for historical accuracy, others choose to incorporate historical fiction to enhance their storylines and capture the attention of certain audiences. 

Both “Reign” and “Outlander,” for instance, draw inspiration from historical events and figures (Mary Queen of Scots’ fascinating life story and the Jacobite risings of the 18th century), but also incorporate many creative twists and fictional relationships to heighten drama and intrigue. This blend of nostalgia and imagination allows millions to be transported to another era through romanticized portrayals of the past. 

Netflix reported that 82 million households around the world watched “Bridgerton” in the first 28 days of its release, surpassing Netflix’s own predictions by 20 million. In 2013, PBS declared that “Downton Abbey” was the most-watched drama ever. With these soaring ratings and the recent surge in popularity of period dramas, it’s worth exploring the reasons behind their widespread appeal. 

Additionally, it’s fascinating to observe the different approaches to history that these shows take — some adhere closely to historical facts, while others lean heavily into fiction — depending on the goals they have for engaging their audiences. 

It is easy to idealize the past when the present is filled with unknown fears and complexities. Period dramas allow viewers to escape their current worries by immersing themselves in another century, where they carry none of the same concerns. Many of these shows focus on romance and heightened drama in order to keep audiences engaged. No period drama can perfectly depict different historical periods, but they can help viewers discover new interests and genres.

Of course, some period dramas face backlash for not accurately educating viewers about history. It’s important to consider what the show promises to deliver to its audience. If a series is claiming historical accuracy, that is one thing, but many of today’s popular shows make no such promises. Many of these types of dramas — intended for casual viewing — do not need to replicate every historical detail to convey themes that immerse audiences in their world. 

Some argue that including people of color in certain period dramas set in times where it wouldn’t have been common, or possible, undermines the credibility of that series. However, this perspective is inconsistent and hypocritical, as the majority of period dramas are already romanticized, dramatized, and fictionalized. Historical dramas are not typically designed to educate viewers for the first time about history according to factual records — this is what school and research is for. Many turn to period dramas as a brief, leisurely escape from the challenges of understanding the present. Including people of all backgrounds and skin colors is an important present-day aspect to consider when casting for a project.

Ultimately, period dramas offer viewers an escape into a different era, allowing them to experience the past in an imaginative and captivating way. Whether they closely adhere to history or take creative liberties, these shows continue to delight audiences by blending romance, intrigue, and adventure.