April does seem to be the cruellest month where blogging’s concerned. I have had legitimate reasons for having a blog rest – headaches, toothache, travel – but maybe I have also been put off by the depressing nature of my chosen blog post subject: the likely end of the English costume-drama trend we’ve been seeing for the last few years.
I remember grumbling about the lack of costume dramas back in 2010: well, something changed, and I bet it was thanks to Downton Abbey. It took some time, mind, before Downton had the desired effect, but finally we got there. The BBC stopped being sniffy and met ITV’s challlenge by churning out high-quality and watchable period dramas of its own, culminating in the superb Dickensian. But now – well, I may be imagining it, but it feels like we’ve reached the crest of the costume-drama wave, and that new meagre years lie ahead.
Granted, there will be a new series of Poldark eventually, and ITV has committed itself to a drama about the young Queen Victoria. But these are projects that have been in the pipeline for a while, and when it comes to Poldark, the Beeb couldn’t very well back down from at least a second series after all the scything fuss. At the same time, they’re not doing a second series of Dickensian. I’m not going to be too hard on them – it was a wonder that Dickensian was done at all, and I can see that it must have posed a challenge from a marketing point of view. Nevertheless, I can foresee that we’ll have to wait for a long time for something equally good costume-drama-wise, or simply drama-wise. As for ITV, they got a three-episode Trollope adaptation out of Fellowes. (I’ve not watched it yet: I made the mistake of reading the novel Doctor Thorne first. Don’t if you’re not already a Trollope fan. A TV version should be quite sufficient.) But apart from that, and the Victoria series starring Jenna “Clara” Coleman, they don’t seem to have anything new lined up to fill the gap – or rather the chasm – left by the end of Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge. Maybe, because the BBC had such a success with The Night Manager, spy dramas will be the new black now for a while.
At least the final series of Mr Selfridge was good. It didn’t have the same frothy appeal as the first and second series, but this time around, when something serious happened you actually cared. Harry Selfridge himself remained a problem to the end; I could well understand the frustration of his enemies – a newspaper proprietor, a gambling agent and a share-holder representative, all with legitimate grievances. Nevertheless, when Selfridge was kicked out of his own company, it was a melancholy moment, not least because he was fully responsible for his own downfall. I’m glad they stopped the series before he got completely impoverished. Other characters, such as Mr Grove, Miss Mardle and Mr Crabb, have been around for long enough to earn our sympathy, if not to a Downton degree. (Someone give Ron Cook a lifetime award or something: he’s been excellent in everything I’ve seen him in, from cheeky boy actor in Will Shakespeare way back, via the debtor’s prison guard in Little Dorrit to Mr Crabb, who was little more than a function character to start with.)
We probably won’t get to see anything as engrossing as Downton again for a while – if ever – but with Mr Selfridge, ITV has shown that they can come up with a creditable long-running costume drama in its own right. There’s enough screenwriting and acting talent out there to make it happen again and again. So what are they waiting for?