Historical drama

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Salah Zulfikar and Nadia Lutfi in the historical drama Saladin the Victorious (1963) Nadialutfi&Salahzulfikar.jpg
Salah Zulfikar and Nadia Lutfi in the historical drama Saladin the Victorious (1963)

A historical drama (also period drama, period piece or just period) is a dramatic work set in a past time period, usually used in the context of film and television, which presents historical events and characters with varying degrees of fictional elements such as creative dialogue or fictional scenes which aim to compress separate events or illustrate a broader factual narrative. The biographical film is a type of historical drama which generally focuses on a single individual or well-defined group. Historical dramas can include romances, adventure films, and swashbucklers.


Historical drama can be differentiated from historical fiction, which generally present fictional characters and events against a backdrop of historical events. A period piece may be set in a vague or general era such as the Middle Ages, or a specific period such as the Roaring Twenties, or the recent past.


In different eras different subgenres have risen to popularity, such as the westerns and sword and sandal films that dominated North American cinema in the 1950s. The costume drama is often separated as a genre of historical dramas. Early critics defined them as films focusing on romance and relationships in sumptuous surroundings, contrasting them with other historical dramas believed to have more serious themes. Other critics have defended costume dramas, and argued that they are disparaged because they are a genre directed towards women. [1] Historical dramas have also been described as a conservative genre, glorifying an imagined past that never existed. [2]

Historical accuracy

2004 filming of a 19th-century film scene set in London LondonSmog.jpg
2004 filming of a 19th-century film scene set in London

Historical drama may include mostly fictionalized narratives based on actual people or historical events, such as the history plays of Shakespeare, [3] Apollo 13 , Braveheart , Chernobyl , Enemy at the Gates , Les Misérables , and Titanic. [4] Works may include references to real-life people or events from the relevant time period or contain factually accurate representations of the time period.

Works that focus on accurately portraying specific historical events or persons are instead known as docudrama, such as The Report. Where a person's life is central to the story, such a work is known as biographical drama, with notable examples being films such as Alexander , [5] Frida , House of Saddam , Lincoln , Lust for Life , Raging Bull , Stalin , and Oppenheimer .

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Film genre</span> Classification of films based on similarities in narrative elements

A film genre is a stylistic or thematic category for motion pictures based on similarities either in the narrative elements, aesthetic approach, or the emotional response to the film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historical fiction</span> Fiction that is set in the past

Historical fiction is a literary genre in which a fictional plot takes place in the setting of particular real historical events. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for historical fiction literature, it can also be applied to other types of narrative, including theatre, opera, cinema, and television, as well as video games and graphic novels. It often makes many use of symbolism in allegory using figurative and metaphorical elements to picture a story.

Docudrama is a genre of television and film, which features dramatized re-enactments of actual events. It is described as a hybrid of documentary and drama and "a fact-based representation of real event".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crime film</span> Film genre

Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Literary genre</span> Category of literary composition

A literary genre is a category of literature. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or length. They generally move from more abstract, encompassing classes, which are then further sub-divided into more concrete distinctions. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, and even the rules designating genres change over time and are fairly unstable.

A biographical film or biopic is a film that dramatizes the life of a non-fictional or historically-based person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character's real name is used. They differ from docudrama films and historical drama films in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a single person's life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Epic film</span> Style of filmmaking with large scale, sweeping scope, and spectacle

Epic films have large scale, sweeping scope, and spectacle. The term is slightly ambiguous, sometimes designating a film genre and at other times simply big-budget films. Like epics in the classical literary sense, it is often focused on a heroic character. An epic's ambitious nature helps to set it apart from other genres such as the period piece or adventure film.

Documentary theatre is theatre that uses pre-existing documentary material as source material for stories about real events and people, frequently without altering the text in performance. The genre typically includes or is referred to as verbatim theatre, investigative theatre, theatre of fact, theatre of witness, autobiographical theatre, and ethnodrama.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biography</span> Written account of a persons life

A biography, or simply bio, is a detailed description of a person's life. It involves more than just basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it portrays a person's experience of these life events. Unlike a profile or curriculum vitae (résumé), a biography presents a subject's life story, highlighting various aspects of their life, including intimate details of experience, and may include an analysis of the subject's personality.

Heritage film is a critical term to refer to a cluster or cycle of late 20th-century British films that were argued to depict the United Kingdom of the pre-World War II decades in a nostalgic fashion. Although this term was originally used to discuss the film genre polemically, its use has broadened out, and it is now also used more loosely to refer to period films with high-quality visual production values, including those produced in France, other European countries and beyond.

Medical fiction is fiction whose events center upon a hospital, an ambulance staff, or any medical environment. It is highly prevalent on television, especially as medical dramas, as well as in novels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fiction</span> Narrative with imaginary elements

Fiction is any creative work, chiefly any narrative work, portraying individuals, events, or places that are imaginary or in ways that are imaginary. Fictional portrayals are thus inconsistent with history, fact, or plausibility. In a traditional narrow sense, "fiction" refers to written narratives in prose – often referring specifically to novels, novellas, and short stories. More broadly, however, fiction encompasses imaginary narratives expressed in any medium, including not just writings but also live theatrical performances, films, television programs, radio dramas, comics, role-playing games, and video games. The publishing industry divides fiction into adult fiction, young adult fiction, new adult fiction, and children's fiction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Novel</span> Substantial work of narrative fiction

A novel is an extended work of narrative fiction usually written in prose and published as a book. The English word to describe such a work derives from the Italian: novella for "new", "news", or "short story ", itself from the Latin: novella, a singular noun use of the neuter plural of novellus, diminutive of novus, meaning "new". According to Margaret Doody, the novel has "a continuous and comprehensive history of about two thousand years", with its origins in the Ancient Greek and Roman novel, Medieval Chivalric romance, and in the tradition of the Italian Renaissance novella. The ancient romance form was revived by Romanticism, in the historical romances of Walter Scott and the Gothic novel. Some novelists, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ann Radcliffe, and John Cowper Powys, preferred the term "romance". M. H. Abrams and Walter Scott have argued that a novel is a fiction narrative that displays a realistic depiction of the state of a society, while the romance encompasses any fictitious narrative that emphasizes marvellous or uncommon incidents. Works of fiction that include marvellous or uncommon incidents are also novels, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Such "romances" should not be confused with the genre fiction romance novel, which focuses on romantic love.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drama (film and television)</span> Film and television genre

In film and television, drama is a category or genre of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. The drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular super-genre, macro-genre, or micro-genre, such as soap opera, police crime drama, political drama, legal drama, historical drama, domestic drama, teen drama, and comedy-drama (dramedy). These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject matter, or they combine a drama's otherwise serious tone with elements that encourage a broader range of moods. To these ends, a primary element in a drama is the occurrence of conflict—emotional, social, or otherwise—and its resolution in the course of the storyline.

When studying literature, biography and its relationship to literature is often a subject of literary criticism, and is treated in several different forms. Two scholarly approaches use biography or biographical approaches to the past as a tool for interpreting literature: literary biography and biographical criticism. Conversely, two genres of fiction rely heavily on the incorporation of biographical elements into their content: biographical fiction and autobiographical fiction.


  1. Annette Kuhn; Guy Westwell (21 June 2012). A Dictionary of Film Studies. OUP Oxford. pp. 98–. ISBN   978-0-19-103465-7.
  2. Robé, Chris (2009). "Taking Hollywood Back: The Historical Costume Drama, the Biopic, and Popular Front U.S. Film Criticism". Cinema Journal. 48 (2): 70–87. doi:10.1353/cj.0.0082. JSTOR   20484449. S2CID   153354352.
  3. Grant, Teresa; Ravelhofer, Barbara (2008-01-15). English Historical Drama, 1500-1660: Forms Outside the Canon. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   978-1-4039-4849-6.
  4. Niemi, Robert (2013-10-17). Inspired by True Events: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films, 2nd Edition: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   9781610691987.
  5. Carver, Terrell (Spring 2005). "Oliver Stone's Alexander". Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies . 35 (2). Center for the Study of Film & History: 83–84. doi:10.1353/flm.2005.0033. eISSN   1548-9922. ISSN   0360-3695. S2CID   191432461.