History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

11 August 2010

Masterpiece [Theatre] Muses

I don't know about you, but I fell in love with the whole idea of historical fiction from watching various series on public television as I was growing up. My parents had one TV -- in their bedroom -- so my sister and I were limited as to how much telly we were permitted to see; and it had to be quality. Which meant we were addicted to Channel 13, NYC's public television station.

Home from school to watch Sesame Street and The Electric Company before sitting down to do homework. And after dark, the big treat was to catch the latest episode of Upstairs, Downstairs, Poldark, The Pallisers, or Brideshead Revisited... and some time later, the entire Sharpe series. Some of my earliest crushes were on British/Irish/Scots/Welsh actors in perfect recreations of period dress. My romantic imagination ran wild. Antony Andrews! Robin Ellis! Jeremy Irons! Sean Bean!

I credit these brilliantly written, gorgeously filmed, and sumptuously acted Masterpiece Theatre series (among others), for inspiring my own writing, particularly my historical fiction. They are clinics in storytelling, and because they are cinematic, offer a terrific lesson in how to craft a scene that "shows" rather than "tells."

It sparked my trip down memory lane, and now I invite you to join me. Are you now, or have you ever been a fan of Masterpiece Theatre (nowadays truncated as is everything else these days into just "Masterpiece")? Did any of the series ignite your creative spark? Did you take any of the famous literary characters depicted in the various series (or the actors and actresses who played them) as inspiration for any of your own creations?

Which ones?


Blogger Erastes said...

I came to nearly all of these (apart from Upstairs Downstairs) through the books which are infinitely better than the film/tv versions. Don't get me wrong, I adore Bean as Sharpe and I love the original series of Brideshead, but the books rule. I am horrified at the Upstairs Downstairs remake - Keeley Hawes AGAIN? It'll be just a scandal sex romp, I'll wager. Gah. I wish they'd leave some things alone.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved U/D, although I never watched it when it originally aired. I got all of the DVDs from Netflix and watched them marathon-style a couple of years ago.

Didn't know that they were bringing it back. Although I loved the series, it always seems to be difficult to re-invent these old beloved shows, doesn't it? Still...I'd like to see what happens to the family through WWII.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Sounds like we have very similar upbringings, LOL! I grew up on Masterpiece Theatre, and am still an addict today. The recent Poriot series has been wonderful, and I was a HUGE Foyle's War fan. Also loved Inspector Lynley, and the wonderful job they did with Cranford and Cranford Revisited, oh, and Miss Marple. Pretty much you can just bet on me watching whatever they’re showing.

I can still remember all the moms gathering to watch taped copies of Poldark. I’d guess there’s a little of Demelza in all my heroines . . . I know my mother has all the books. Maybe I’ll steal them next time I’m there.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I've always had a bit of Demelza in me, Isobel! LOL! Funny, that I've never read those books. Erastes, the books are invariably better than the TV and film adaptations, although many of the well cast and well written series (such as the original "Brideshead Revisited") will always be dear to my heart. They may not be entirely faithful to the original novels, but at least these series from the 1970s don't flagrantly play fast and loose with history and then shove your nose in it, as many of the more recent cinematic adaptations do.

Christine, how long did it take you to get through all of the original U/D on DVD? I'm still only through Season 1 of "The Duchess of Duke Street," -- which you would like very much if you loved U/D.

I, too, am a huge fan of "Foyle's War," and I have always admired Michael Kitchen's work. And speaking of Kitchen, and adaptations, remember the film version of "Enchanted April" from about 10 of 15 years ago?

11:43 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

LOVE Enchanted April!!!

12:58 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Speak of the devil! I'm watching the (long-awaited) DVD release of Jennie, starring Lee Remick, and it's stirring a bevy of ideas within me. I'm also working my way through The Duchess of Duke Street, having read Mollie Hardwick's fictionalized dramatization and two Rosa Lewis biographies a few years ago.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Evangeline, I guess there's something to be said for the Collective Unconscious. I just finished season 1 of The Duchess of Duke Street and have 3 of the discs for season 2 sitting on my coffee table!

6:24 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I grew up on the same shows, Leslie! My being an historical novelist owes a great deal to growing up on Masterpiece Theatre, I think. My whole family was glues to Brideshead Revisited, and my mom and one friends and I rewatched the entire series on New Year's Day when they showed it in a marathon, while my dad watched football. My family caught on Poldark later, when it was rerun late at night on Saturdays on our local PBS station. My mom and I are were at an RWA conference, and we called my dad (who normally didn't program the VCR) to make sure he recored the episode we were missing. And I love Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe...

7:15 PM  

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