Thursday, 14 January 2016


An oddity of TV period drama is how certain kinds of anachronism seem to be accepted as part of an authentic ambience even though they are clearly no such thing. Our notion of period authenticity seems to have been conditioned by museum visits and we forget that the things we see must have looked very different when new.

Early nineteenth century furniture in a Jane Austen drama should look fairly new but the wood usually has a rich patina which must have taken two centuries of polishing to mature. It should be much lighter, showing the original colour of the wood – possibly quite garish to our eyes.

We see heavily weathered Victorian brickwork which should look virtually new or the entrance to a stately home has sandstone pillars pockmarked with far too much age.

Leather-bound books which should look bright and fresh with gold lettering on the spine. Instead we see shelves full of books more akin to the interior of a modern antiquarian bookshop.

We often see china teacups in antique style but with modern backstamps. Alternatively mid Victorian teacups used in a nineteen thirties setting. Not impossible this one, but unlikely and...

...okay I admit it. Spotting these things is mildly enjoyable. How sad is that?


Demetrius said...

You are right, I think given the history of dyes and materials as well as what was in use, in colour terms it would all have been very different. Also, for much of the time they were in much more ordinary dress. The cost of clothing then was very very expensive.

Sam Vega said...

I watch little TV these days, but remember spotting another anachronism in dramas and also in films: music. Regency dramas often have background music from the early eighteenth century: Vivaldi seems to be a favourite, or some dreadful pastiche that sounds like him. In fact, even Mozart would have been quite old hat to Jane Austen's heroines, who would would probably have tinkled away at the likes of Cherubini, Hummel, or (for the more accomplished) that stormy Herr Beethoven. The same thing applies to the earlier period: for Brits, Georgian England is conjured up by Purcell -trumpet voluntaries and the rondo from 'Abdelazar' (the bit the Britten used for his 'Young Person's Guide...') - whereas Purcell died years earlier.

Then there's the look of the actors, especially the women. They are, of course, chosen to look sexy by our standards. You never see such "modern" faces immortalised in oils from the time. I used to work with a nice women who looked as if she had stepped from a painting by Lely or Kneller (long straight nose, double chin) and she would not have attracted a second glance today.

Woodsy42 said...

Nowadays the BBC appear to make all period dramas by the light of a single candle (or gloworm?) so you can't see what the hell anything looks like.

Michael said...

There's often the odd zip fastener to fall back on as well!

Anonymous said...

Very sad I would say. Now I shall have to have all my Sheraton gone over with that 'does what it say on the tin' stuff.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - there was none of the crease resistance seen in modern materials either. Even smartly dressed people would have creased clothes unless they were very recently ironed.

Sam - the music anachronisms would pass me by, but I almost added a para about the women. As you say, many actresses in period drama don't look right at all. Too slim and mannerisms are too modern. What they could do about the mannerisms I'm not sure, but they seem to make little historical effort in that respect.

Woodsy - maybe it's a cheap way to indicate squalor.

Michael - ah, I haven't spotted one but I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Roger - you could smarten up your Sheraton by sanding it down, filling any worm holes with putty then finish off with a few coats of Hammerite. Should give it a more modern look.

Derek said...

It's the snow that gets me. Never melts, always evenly distributed, always pristine and white - same state the next day/week, and the fact that it's always there at Christmas defies meteorological truths that there wasn't a lot of it about around that time of year - certainly not in London (unless I'm badly mistaken). Still love'em though. Don't know why. Food sold on the stalls is another thing to watch - sometimes too much diversity for the periods depicted.

A K Haart said...

Derek - I like them too although I don't watch many. Good point about the food which would be highly seasonal.