Presentist Anachronism and Ironic Humour in Period Screen Drama

Author(s): Shanks, John


Several historical period dramas recently shown on television and cinema screens depart from conventional codes of production by the systematic introduction of presentist anachronisms to selected aspects of the production. Some include ironic humour in the presentation. This article proposes that the genre of “ironic period screen drama” demonstrates an apparently successful approach to resolving the tension between past and present in a historical narrative. The examples considered here are two TV drama series Bridgerton (Netflix 2020) and The Great (Hulu 2020) and two movies MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Josie Rourke UK/USA 2018) and THE FAVOURITE (Yorgos Lanthimos UK/USA/IR 2018). These four period screen dramas exhibit in different combinations a range of key features including use of ironic humour, narrative with a feminist angle, exploration of non-conforming gender and sexual identities, female “gaze” of the camera and strategic anachronisms in selected elements of the production, such as soundtrack music against a period-appropriate background of historically authentic sets and locations. Potential advantages of applying the concept of “ironic period screen drama” as an analytical tool include the ability to offer alternative possible versions of the past, particularly in relation to traditionally marginalised groups such as women, people of colour, and LGBTQIA+ individuals, and to engage a younger audience. The success of ironic period drama supports the view of those historians who contend that some types of presentist anachronism are not only inevitable but useful in a historical narrative.

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Preferred Citation
Shanks, John: Presentist Anachronism and Ironic Humour in Period Screen Drama. In: Research in Film and History, Jg. (2022), S. 1-35. DOI:
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