With the dramatic onset of a new decade and a growing nostalgia for the 2010s, the ideal opportunity presents itself to review the past ten years and admire the resurgence of historical films in the media. This genre is often seen to have reached its peak in the 1990s where big-budget pictures such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) reigned at the box office, sweeping up countless Academy Awards and fully establishing the historical film genre as one desired and welcomed by the masses. The succeeding 2000s brought with it shiny new technology and an excitement to explore unchartered territory, meaning the glitter of the historical film began to fade, giving way to the emergence of a digitised fantasy genre.
However, the 2010s marked a renaissance of historical filmography – both on the big and small screen; portrayals of the past have been among the most successful of the decade and have confirmed the position of the period film as a mainstream and highly profitable genre.
The 2010s saw period films and television series as the big contenders forerunning at awards seasons and the box office. The decade saw some of the brightest stars in Hollywood jump at the opportunity to don a Victorian corset or a king’s crown and play some of the most influential characters in history. Providing a short and sharp insight into the past without wading through the colourless pages of a history textbook, you can sit for two hours and seek colourful escapism in a past so removed from the frequently unforgiving 21st century world.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ period black comedy The Favourite tells the largely unknown story of the 18th century monarch Queen Anne (portrayed by Olivia Colman), supported by the richly venomous ladies vying for power and the affections of the tempestuous Queen – aristocrat Sarah Churchill (portrayed by Rachel Weisz) and fallen woman Abigail Masham (portrayed by Emma Stone.) The film is a complicated web of bittersweet female faction, and with the plot carried by a triumvirate of Academy Award-winning actresses, it is undoubtedly special enough as a successful female-led film. Garnering 10 Oscar and 12 BAFTA nominations, Lanthimos’ unusual and untested historical comedy became one of the most celebrated and critically acclaimed pictures of the year. With the opportunity to reimagine the rivalries and enmities that characterised the era, it becomes obvious as to why the 2010s really elevated historical films to new heights.
The Favourite made a confident and uncompromising statement about the power of female orientated films, and that they could appeal to the masses as well as niche audiences. In 2018, Saoirse Ronan shone in the titular role in Mary, Queen of Scots, supported by the unrecognisable Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I. This was yet another success for the historical genre and finds itself among excellent company with other female-led historical dramas; the 2010s really does deserve a standing ovation for casting light on many forgotten female histories.
However, the renaissance of the historical genre has not been limited purely to the big screen. The 2010s have produced countless historical television series that have been among the most watched of the decade. Netflix’s opulent contribution, with The Crown – premiering in 2016, lavishly exploded onto our screens – with a glittering cast, a wonderful script and an estimated budget of £13 million per episode, it has become one of the most highly anticipated and popular television series of all time, attracting veterans of historical filmography such as Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter. And we could not have concluded the decade on better foundations for the future. Sam Mendes’ 1917, which was released in December 2019, raked in a commendable ten Oscar nominations.
The resurgence of the historical film shows no sign of abating. The Roaring Twenties might signal the return of entertainment featuring fast jazz and flapper fashion, but the future looks bright for the historical film genre, with the 2010s proving it is anything but stuck in the past.
Image: Birmingham Museums Trust via Unsplash