Historical period drama

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Filming of a 19th-century scene in London

A historical period drama is a work of art set in, or reminiscent of, an earlier time period. The term is usually used in the context of film and television. It is an informal crossover term that can apply to several genres but is most often heard in the context of historical fiction and romances, adventure films, and swashbucklers. The implication is that the audience is attracted as much by the lavish costumes as by the content. In the performing arts, a period piece is a work set in a particular era. This informal term covers all countries, all periods and all genres. It may be as long and general as the medieval era or as limited as one decade—the Roaring Twenties, for example.


Historical drama film stories are based upon historical events and famous people. Some historical dramas are docudramas, which attempt an accurate portrayal of a historical event or biography, to the degree that the available historical research will allow. Other historical dramas are fictionalized tales that are based on one or more actual persons and their deeds, such as Braveheart (1995), which is loosely based on the 13th-century knight William Wallace's fight to protect Scotland's independence.

A period film is a film that attempts to faithfully depict a specific time period. Examples include movies like Cinderella Man, Schindler’s List, Les Misérables or Lincoln.


The most common type of period piece is the historical period piece, both on stage and in movies. This category includes Robin Hood (1953), Barry Lyndon (1975), Amadeus (1984), The Young Victoria (2009), and From Hell (2001). Films that are set in the 1930s and 1940s, such as Last Man Standing (1996), can also be placed in this category. Other examples include Marie Antoinette (1938), Middlemarch (1994), and Pride and Prejudice (1995).

Many highly successful television series have been known as period pieces. Notable examples include The Tudors, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Deadwood, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and Little House on the Prairie.

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