Opinion cb-ripperstreet-ft

Published on February 11th, 2014 | by Nick May

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Nasty, British and Short – Gritty Historical Dramas Axed: Why?

Ripper Street, the gritty, cinematic BBC drama about the criminal underworld of late Victorian London has ended. The Corporation recently announced the return in 2014 of Peaky Blinders, its gritty, cinematic drama about the underworld of post-WW1 Birmingham. Meanwhile, in the States, BBC America has cancelled Copper, its gritty, cinematic drama about the underworld of post-American Civil War New York…

For homegrown historical dramas to succeed it seems that they have to either be mawkish, soapy or populated by good-looking people in period dress getting ‘em off under the auspices of ‘historical romance’.

Sharper-eyed readers may have spotted a trend. Somebody up there likes their historical dramas gritty, cinematic, and set amongst the criminal fraternities of yesteryear, doubtless inspired by the success of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Small but die-hard audiences like them, too. When Ripper Street’s demise was announced, star MyAnna Buring urged fans to campaign to overturn the decision. Stateside, Copper’s fans are petitioning for a movie. Both shows were axed after two seasons which, with Peaky Blinders about to embark on its second, suggests that its future prospects may not be bostin’ (as they say in the Black Country).

Sadly, for homegrown historical dramas to succeed it seems that they have to either be mawkish (Call the Midwife), soapy (Downton Abbey) or populated by good-looking people in period dress getting ‘em off under the auspices of ‘historical romance’. We don’t actually want our history to be historical. Suggest the past was a different country, and not necessarily one that Lonely Planet would recommend, you get cancelled. Let’s not kid ourselves that this sub-genre is historically accurate either, but it provides something for an audience that isn’t catered for by the ‘chocolate box’ homegrown period dramas.

The annals of TV are littered with historical dramas that got prematurely axed. Garrow’s Law and City of Vice were both intelligent series that tackled the issues of their days in all their smallpox-scarred, opium-raddled ‘glory’. Uncannily, they also disappeared after two seasons. Whether Peaky Blinders beats this trend remains to be seen.

If it does, it will be one in the eye for the twee history crowd. What happens to that eye will not bear thinking about…

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About the Author

Nick May is a freelance writer and proofreader with a penchant for Cult TV, film and obscure 60s bands. He lives in Essex with his partner and way too many comics and pairs of trainers for someone his age.



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