Premièred by BBC One HD Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence Written by Jed Mercurio
There’s a reason Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence is being called a “BBC period drama” rather than just a “period drama”. And it’s because BBC period dramas often have a style that separates them from other period dramas that might been seen on television, and it’s that they’re all the same. The period drama genre takes a lot of prejudice from people who aren’t interested in them for being indifferent from each other, but then so does every genre. People who don’t watch sci-fi may think that they’re all the same, for instance, even though they couldn’t be less similar. But for some reason, period dramas broadcast by the BBC are the same, and do prove their own stereotype. It’s weird.
The BBC is being scrutinised right now based on their content output and budgeting relative to the licence fee; which is to say, the government, who set the television licence fee, are asking whether the BBC’s really worth the money, and the quality of programming is at the centre of that. Personally, I take each programme on its own, as each is made by different artists, with the BBC acting just as the platform promoting them. The BBC may have a specific creative direction and intent, but they can’t be wholly judged for all their programming in the same way as, say, Music Television.
As it happens, that mentality is how I’ve come to judge Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, broadcast on BBC One HD earlier this month.
Because Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence really was quite, quite bland. Bland in the sense that, were I to tune in at any random moment, there’d be no way of knowing specifically which period drama I’d be watching. With most BBC shows, there’s something immediately unique about it. They all have their own style, idiosyncrasies and the “ah, it’s… [that show]” factor. But for some reason, period dramas are something the BBC think justify themselves. And nothing justifies itself. Right now, ITV’s Downton Abbey is possibly the most popular British period drama since BBC One’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The final season starts this Sunday, and it’s undoubtedly going to be a ratings hit.
And do you know why Downton Abbey has been renewed so many times? Because it’s actually about something. It’s about the relationships between the inhabitants, and their position compared to each other based on whether they’re upstairs or downstairs, even if that admittedly is basically ITV’s own Upstairs, Downstairs from fourty years ago.
But anything in any genre can work if there’s a story to it, as opposed to it having genre and that being what’s considered the selling point. Now, I’m sure that fans of period dramas will have watched Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have liked it. Because, if they watch so many of them, I doubt they’ll accept one on the basis of its existence. I’m like that with science-fiction. It’s my favourite genre, but that means I understand what works and what doesn’t.
I believe the thing I’m talking about is called “genre television”, where there’s nothing particularly interesting about it, but is fulfilling the basic check-boxes to qualify as a specific genre and push itself on that basis. Well I prefer that these things have something happening, rather than a “look, a period drama!” kind of thing. Because any story that’s told well transcends its medium to become universal. It reaches the point where the genre no longer matters, and it could be told through any of them. That‘s storytelling. This is just an excuse to put on some costumes.