This project explores the biographical drama (sometimes called 'biopic') across television and film, but with a primary focus on the work of British broadcasters. It looks at the dramatization of real lives in terms of ethical frameworks; institutional policy; performance, aesthetics and representation; narrative strategies and authorship; and other pertinent theoretical areas.
The research represents a novel synthesis between biography studies and television studies, highlighting commonalities of interest including: intersections between public and private life; blurrings of fact and fiction; a complex dynamic of ephemerality, ahistoricity and historical importance; and the position of the self and individuals in relation to broader society.
How can we account for the enormous popularity of ITV’s Victoria? Or the critical acclaim of Netflix’s The Crown? Or for the publicity surrounding A Very English Scandal, on BBC One? We could look in the beauty of the costumes and sets, in the sparkle and crackle of the dialogue, or in the compelling way in which the story is woven from episode to episode. In other words, we can analyse them for their visual and aural properties, their television-ness. But there is something more here. Our investment in these programmes goes beyond the momentary engagement with plot and aesthetics. As we watch, we bring to bear shared memories, assumptions and knowledge about the person dramatized before us. These programmes carry cultural baggage. This is the nature of the biographical drama.
The project combines insights from the fields of television studies and biography studies, a new synthesis which highlights surprising parallels between the two forms. These include shared theoretical angles from which both biography and television can be approached, such as questions of fact and fiction, accuracy and realism, public and private, the role of authorship and institutions, and the cultural value of representations of well-known real lives.