Someone help me; I am currently totally obsessed with North & South. Heather and I watched it over the weekend, and I hear Heather hasn’t left her room since. There are a lot of close parallels between North & South and Pride and Prejudice (did anyone in Gaskell’s time think this book was a little hacky?), but while watching, Heather and I also noticed a lot of commonalities with other period dramas. If you watch enough of these, you start to catch on to some of the common devices used both in the books and in the films. Here are a few we have noticed.
Hottie McSmolderson as Leading Man
The truly memorable period dramas are the ones that bring the brooding hotties, am I right? There is nothing like seeing a beloved book character brought to scowling, fist-clenching life by a handsome actor. No matter how charmed you are by that man, do NOT under any circumstances watch the special features interview with him. He might just be wearing a cheesy, surfer-dude hemp and wood bead choker, and it WILL RUIN IT FOR YOU. <Ahem>
Meaning-Laden Hand Touch
Be it a handshake, a finger-brush while passing a tea cup, or a stumble-and-catch, the hand touch is the opening salvo of romantic affection. Watch out, heroine, emo is coming your way!
Imperious, Haughty Old Lady Who Likes To Stir Things Up
Gotta love the snooty old busy-bodies up in everyone’s business. They are there to stir the pot, sometimes give the heroine key information, and sometimes to act as an established authority figure against whom the plucky heroine can rebel in order to develop her character.
The Foolish/Uncouth/Ugly Woman Who is There for Comic Relief and Contrast with the Clever, Plucky Heroine
You’ve gotta have her – the ignorant, silly, snobby, or maybe just large-footed woman who is there to either make you chuckle or make the heroine look so much better in comparison. Or maybe she’s just there to make those of us who don’t haven’t dainty feet feel bad.
The “Don’t Worry Primary Love Interest, He’s Actually My Brother/Cousin/Other Platonic Relation” Misunderstanding
I swear…it’s not what you think! Or, well, maybe it is? Don’t worry Primary Love Interest – you may think I like THIS OTHER PERSON, but he is actually just a plot device to cause misunderstandings and further draw out our slow-burn love affair. BTW, I’m totally counting Star Wars as a period drama.
Kind of Boring Dying Person (also, Martyr-Like Angelic Character)
Generally set up either as another contrast to the energetic, strong heroine, the angelic character can also convey a social or spiritual message. She may be someone less fortunate than the heroine in some way, be it physical strength, social position, or family situation, and her loss serves to build the protagonist’s character. Either way, she generally doesn’t have much of a personality.
Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ll be in the basement re-watching the Northbound train scene. Feel free to leave other tropes we missed in the comments section, or just talk North & South.