Redefining the Historical Drama

Hollywood has always favoured historical dramas; the ability to recreate important moments of our past and culture through its transference to the big screen has retained a special place due to our inherent need to connect with the truth. Whilst fictional tales allow a certain form of escapism, true stories provide a means for unbelievable events to be realised.

Around since the silent films of the early 20th century, though often not entirely factually accurate, historical dramas provide an engaging introduction into the past. Throughout the course of cinema, directors have explored periods from the pre-historic times through to antiquity and the middle ages, right up to the modern day in an attempt to create enlightening features that capture some element of yesteryear.

With The King’s Speech recently scooping up many of the big awards this year, it is evident that historical dramas are still popular in the current film market. Following on from his best director win at the Oscars, Tom Hooper has been rumoured to be considering an adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s book Tulip Fever which follows a Dutch artist during the 17th century who falls in love with the woman that he has been commissioned to paint.

Although the distant past has always been a popular choice for director’s to explore, it has only been recently that an emphasis on films surrounding the events of more current affairs has become increasingly favourable.

For example, close behind The King’s Speech at this year’s awards has been David Fincher’s adaptation of the creation and rise of the social-networking site Facebook in The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which followed the early career of billionaire Mark Zuckerburg is a perfect example of how the film industry have used modern events to create new works.

However, there has been a certain amount of apprehension surrounding this latest trend as critics have argued that it is the result of a lack of creativity that writer’s are turning to current affairs for plots as they are unable to come up with decent stories on their own. With Dreamworks lining up a film about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fronted by Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood studio, it is questionable as to how this will be made into a piece of cinema that people would want to watch. Having said that, everyone ridiculed the idea of a Facebook film but Fincher successfully managed to dissolve any of those concerns in what was in fact a terrific film.

Other recent plans announced include a film following the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig which led to the BP Oil spill that was such a considerable feature within the news last year. An adaptation of an article written in the NY Times, the task of writing the screenplay has gone to Mathew Sand who wrote American by Blood, The Summoner and The Red Star.

The question remains then of whether writers feel that having an audience being able to connect to an event from past experience creates more engaging cinema or whether it is the result of idleness? Perhaps it is a result of Hollywood’s need to churn out new releases at such a speed that little time is available to construct original ideas. In a market that has become increasingly concerned with markup and creating the greatest amount of profit, it is evident that the film industry is one that comes across more as a business enterprise than an artistic showcase.

As plans evolve to cover greater numbers of current events, it is clear that they have become an integral part of modern cinema. Our need to associate ourselves with the past and become ingrained in a part of history seems to explain its obvious allure. However, we must still approach this genre with a certain degree of trepidation as for some, it could provide an easy shortcut that alleviates themselves of all the hard work.

Taken from The Student, publish Tue Mar 15th 2011.

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