Rewriting History

I have always loved history, whether it be completely honest and from a textbook, or slightly romanticized and dramatized for books or the big screen.

Television has always drawn from history to find its drama. Unsurprisingly, the first hit of period pieces drew from the infamous story of “The Tudors” with King Henry VIII and his six very different wives. Though it lasted only four seasons, the BBC drama won numerous Emmy Awards and gave many actors, like Natalie Dormer (“Game of Thrones”), recognition.

The writing for the show, which covered a span of 29 years, manages to touch upon the instrumental details of the king’s reign (while still having time for its rather infamous sensual scenes).

Royalty remains a popular topic in television. Last year, the CW Network premiered its newest hit, “Reign,” which has been coined a mix between “Gossip Girl” and “The Tudors.” While the costumes are stellar and acting choices excellent, the plot lacks historical facts and events, using only the historical figures to create their own drama.

Set in Scandinavia, The History Channel’s “Vikings” might not be as historically accurate, as there are not as many recorded facts about the legendary figures, but since it is the History Channel, they make up for holes in the history with their own unique stories.

Building on the success of “The Tudors”, the BBC and PBS transitioned to another British period drama in “Downton Abbey.” Set during the post-Edwardian era, the story is based entirely in fiction even if the events are not. Downton starts with the sinking of the Titanic, an event many of us know from the classic Leonardo diCaprio film, in which the aristocratic Crawley family loses their heir. Continuing into the series, which covers the First World War in the first season and the outbreak of Spanish influenza and the Marconi Scandal in season two.

In the third and fourth seasons of Downton, the tone of the show almost entirely switches, like it did in history. Skirts lengths rose, necklines dropped, and while the show kept its austere nature, it is clear that during the fifth season, which is currently airing in Britain and will air in the State in January 2015, we are in for more change.

Also set in the 1920s, HBO pans to America, where Prohibition is alive and well. “Boardwalk Empire” investigates American corruption in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The show nods to historical figures like Al Capone. As recommended frequently by the Hockaday History teachers to study what the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition looked like, it’s corruptively enthralling.

Briefly this summer, “Manhattan” covered the 1940s and the Manhattan Project, though it bears glaring historical errors. However, most television series have jumped to another glamorized and much-exploited era of Civil Rights and Communism, of Kennedy and the Vietnam War.

AMC’s “Mad Men” is set during the 1960s, in New York City, an ever-changing scene. The Emmy award-winning series transforms with the decade, delving deeper into the issue of female sexuality and women’s rights. Many aspects of the era are also touched upon, such as racism and counterculture, but mostly the changing world of business in the 1960s is the focus.

Also set in ‘60s on television, “Masters of Sex” features the era in a much more scandalous light.

Over the summer, AMC premiered another historical period drama, focusing in on the 1980s personal computer revolution. Set in the Silicon Prairie, the cast of “Halt and Catch Fire,” headed by Lee Pace (“The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” and “Pushing Daisies”) is a fascinating mix, featuring queer characters and breaking gender roles in television and in the tech world. The series follows the struggles of technological entrepreneurs during America’s tech boom, giving viewers a glimpse into the early days of tech companies such as IBM, Apple and Texas Instruments.

Going back to the beginning of America’s roots, AMC is adding another historical piece into the mix, called “Turn” about America’s first spy ring during the Revolutionary War. The show is based on Alexander Rose’s 2007 book Washington’s Spies. Excitingly accurate, the program will return next summer.

On the more fictional side, Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” dapples in the events of the Revolutionary War but adds a more supernatural turn to them, contributing to the amount of myth that always seems to surround the Founding Fathers.

Television networks are adding more and more real events to their repertoire, and they’re only getting more and more accurate.

– Kate Clement