Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.48 MB)

Heritage and Post-Heritage: Investigating the Style, Form and Genre of Period Drama in 2010s British Television

Download (1.48 MB)
Version 2 2023-09-26, 01:37
Version 1 2021-12-09, 10:43
posted on 2023-09-26, 01:37 authored by William Abbiss

This project analyses six period drama productions in British television of the 2010s, expanding Claire Monk’s term of ‘post-heritage’ into a critical framework. Its case studies establish a cycle of progressive representations of the past in recent television drama, which operate against the assumptions of ‘heritage’ nostalgia forwarded by earlier scholars. The post-heritage framework consists of five guiding elements: interrogation, subversion, subjectivity, self-consciousness and ambiguity. These inform the analysis of the project’s case studies, while also allowing the existence of post-heritage elements to be recognised in earlier period drama productions. The thesis is split into three distinct parts, which allow the heritage and post-heritage elements of the case studies to be associated with the characteristics and theoretical concepts of television drama. The first chapter of each part evaluates the institutional context of its case study, identifying its impact upon production through textual examples from the programme. The second chapter of each part focuses on close analysis, demonstrating the extent to which post-heritage elements can assist innovation in television drama. Part I focuses on televisual style, identifying the naturalist, realist and modernist aesthetics of television drama. Scholarly sources are used to connect these with periods of British television history. This aesthetic discussion leads to theoretical concepts of identity and culture, which informs the case study analyses that follow in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 concerns the BBC/Masterpiece revival of Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12), identifying its more developed post-heritage point of view in comparison to Downton Abbey (ITV/Masterpiece, 2010-15) and the original Upstairs, Downstairs (ITV, 1971-75). It also considers the circumstances that hindered the production of the BBC series’ second season and contributed to its cancellation, establishing the impact of these on the programme’s representation of the past. Chapter 2’s case study is Dancing on the Edge (BBC, 2013), the interwar narrative of which allows the part’s themes of identity and culture to be explored. The project’s second part analyses televisual form, assessing the increasing hybridity between series and serial forms in twenty-first century television. The theoretical focus of part II is narratives of trauma, influenced by the dichotomy between Cathy Caruth and Dominick LaCapra’s concepts of the traumatic experience. Chapter 3’s analysis of The Crown (Netflix, 2016-present) reveals a Caruthian approach to trauma, its narrative impact recurring endlessly and allowing the British monarchy’s tenuous position from the 1950s to reflect upon the present day. Chapter 4, meanwhile, considers the LaCaprian trauma expressed in The Living and the Dead (BBC/BBC America, 2016), suggesting a process of ‘working through’ that can find a resolution. These diverse approaches to trauma are connected to The Crown and The Living and the Dead’s grounding in serial and series form respectively, asserting the continued importance of this distinction. The third and final part of the project turns to the analysis of television genre, with innovative works of literary adaptation used to explore the relationship between generic hybridity and a post-heritage approach to depictions of the past. The introduction to part III outlines the history of ‘classic serial’ adaptations on the BBC and the innovations to the genre apparent since the 1990s. Following this, chapter 5 uses the case study of Dickensian (BBC, 2015-16) to identify the potential of soap opera characteristics in establishing a work of adaptation. Dickensian takes advantage of the soap genre’s economies of scale, while also establishing the difficulties this creates at a narrative level. Lastly, chapter 6 analyses the generic features of comedy within Parade’s End (BBC/HBO, 2012), asserting its use of televisual features to offer both a revised reading of Ford Madox Ford’s novels and a realisation of their literary characteristics on screen. The thesis concludes by placing the post-heritage critical framework in the context of broader trends in television drama of the 2010s, justifying its place in the field of television studies.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Media Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Dunleavy, Trisha; Ricketts, Harry