It may not be based on a 19th century novel but The Hour is yet another example of our national obsession with re-imagined histories. British television schedules are dominated by period dramas: the past 12 months alone have brought us Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, The Crimson Petal and the White, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, South Riding, Garrow’s Law and The Night Watch, not to mention endless repeats of Jane Austen adaptations. In short: we can’t get enough of polished silver, pantaloons and impossibly laced-up corsets.
You could put this down to escapism. The genre’s cosy blend of familiarity and fantasy comforts us in hard times, playing on our sense that life was better and values clearer-cut in pre-industrial, pre-technological eras. The second world war gave us historical dramas such as That Hamilton Woman (1941) and Henry V (1944); the subsequent austerity of 1946 coincided with record-breaking cinema attendance numbers; more recently still, a glut of Dickens adaptations thrived under Thatcher.