Derek Johnston deposited The Gothicisation of British TV Historical Drama in the group Television Studies on Humanities Commons 2 months ago
This paper examines a strand in British television historical drama that presents what I term a “Gothicised” version of history. This actively engages with historical trauma as returning to confront its originating society, as the classic Gothic text represents the returning or ongoing effects of a traumatic past in the narrative present. In Peaky Blinders this is a combination of the specific trauma of the First World War with the ongoing trauma of class struggle. In Taboo this is the trauma of economically-driven imperialism. Each series also makes use of an identifiably Gothic aesthetic. This often includes disrupting our ideas of “what historical drama should be like”, in terms of language and music, encouraging a sense of temporal disruption which emphasises how the depicted past traumas return not only in the present of the narrative but echo into the present of the viewer.
The paper builds on Helen Wheatley’s concept of “dark heritage” drama (Gothic Television, 2006), which itself positions the Gothic representation of the past as a response to the idea of television historical drama as being cosy “heritage” productions. It focuses on three series which were created or developed by Steven Knight: Peaky Blinders (BBC, 2013-2022), Taboo (BBC, 2017) and A Christmas Carol (BBC, 2019), but includes further examples to suggest that this is a particular approach to historical drama that challenges our understanding of the past and its representations by its focus on trauma.