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Period Drama Politics

Steven Fielding asks if the portrayal of class relations in period dramas Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and Noel Coward's play Cavalcade had any political effect.

Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at Nottingham University, asks whether the portrayal of class relations in period dramas - Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and Noël Coward's play Cavalcade - had any political effect.

Steven sees striking parallels between the dramas; all three are set in the early decades of the twentieth century in wealthy households with servants; all three portray the relationship of the upper classes with their servants as essentially benevolent; all three appeared at times of national crisis (the 1930s, the 1970s and after the 2008 financial crash); and a Conservative government was voted in after each one.

Steven investigates whether there is a pattern here. Are these dramas just comforting entertainment or could they have had a subtle effect on voting habits? And how accurate is the portrayal of relations between the ruling classes and their servants?

The programme features a specially recorded interview with Downton creator Julian Fellowes, and an archive interview with the Script Editor of Upstairs Downstairs, Alfred Shaughnessy, that hasn't been broadcast before.

With archive material from Noël Coward, Sheridan Morley, Jean Marsh, Eileen Atkins, and Sir John Gielgud, and contributions from Coward's biographer Philip Hoare, Upstairs Downstairs expert Richard Marson, and Selina Todd, Professor of Modern British History at Oxford University.

Available now

58 minutes