Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reality Check

This might seem a bit off the wall (that's the trouble with us writers, we're always off inside our own heads), but as a writer and also as a normal (or slightly less off-her-head) punter something's bugging me.

Last night I belatedly saw Mike Leigh's film Vera Drake (on DVD), and a couple of weeks ago I watched an acting friend take a small role in ITV's Sunday night soap-slush The Royal. Now both of these period pieces set in the fifties shocked me for the following reason: from the design point of view (the costumes, settings and cars etc), they seemed to confuse the fifties and the thirties. Well now, I know that in any era there are still cars knocking around from previous eras and people, especially middle-aged people like Vera Drake, still wearing the clothes of their youth, the way many people's grannies tend to do, and sitting on furniture they bought twenty years ago, but in these two productions the air of the thirties definitely won out.

Up till now in the popular imagination the fifties has been a bright-coloured era, with sharp edges and a modern, rock-and-roll air which I've always thought must have given a true sense of the mood of the times, and very much opposed to the muted soft-focus sepia idea we have of the thirties. Now however, it seems, a new generation of designers has eroded this distinction, and in view of the power of image and film, I wonder if we are in danger of losing the the truth about the tone of those times?

But then, what do we know? I remember the seventies as bright and hard-edged too, and was pretty shaken up by the TV footage of the Silver Jubilee rolled out on the Queen's 80th birthday recently: how quaint everyone looked, and how muted, and I wasn't at all sure it was simply due to the deterioration of the film!

Scary. What does it mean about memory and historical truth?
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