Claire Monk and Amy Sargeant / British Historical Cinema: The History, Heritage, and Costume Film / 2002

Gainsborough Studios, active in London between 1924 and 1951. Famous for its 1940s costume melodramas.

Book explores the way in which British films have represented the past on screen, the issues they raise and the debates they have provoked. Claire Monk, Lecturer in Media Studies at DeMontfort University. Amy Sargeant, Lecturer in the History of Film and U.S. Media at Birkbeck College, University of London. Other books in series: British Crime Cinema, British Science Fiction Cinema, British Horror Cinema. Intro: The Past in British Cinema. British period films often equated with Britain’s national cinema itself; deep-rooted notions of Britain, England especially, as “old country” (Wright, P. 1985, On Living in an Old Country, London: verso). Britishness often defined/represented in terms of nation’s past. Many “British” exports, period cinema, co-productions with U.S., U.S. funding, big-studio distribution, and international personnel. Heavy burden of representation, because of status as projections of “the nation,” “the national past.” Very contested genre, especially Gainsborough Studios’ costume melodramas of the 40s, and “heritage films” of 80s and 90s. Relatively few areas of British period films have been considered thoroughly by critics. Most essays in this collection are concerned with how the past, actual or imagined, is appropriated. A neglected period is immediate post-WW2 films. See Fidelma Farley on Ryan’s Daughter, dir. David Lean, 1970. Pastness as crucial to British cinema’s depiction of Irish history and Irishness per se [See Odd Man Out]. In “his paradigmatic critique of 19th century Whig history,” 1965, Herbert Butterfield argues, “instead of being moved to indignation by something in the past which at first seems alien and perhaps even wicked to our own day,” we should make “the effort to bring this thing into a context where it appears natural… showing its relation to other things which we do understand.” Sargeant will read Nelson in a broader context of 19th and 20th century history writing and iconography re Nelson’s heroism. As more than propaganda. Propaganda, according to Jacques Ellul, mobilizes established notions rather than invent and impose new ones; confirms rather than coerces; integrates rather than agitates.

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