In today’s fast paced, technology filled life it is easy to forget that the world in which we live in was not always this way. It is hard to remind ourselves that at one point in our history, there was no electricity, women always wore dresses, and men were, without a doubt, on a higher status level than women. Heritage films or costume dramas help to remind audiences what life was once like and what the everyday thoughts and ideals were that surrounded communities.
Heritage films not only serve as a visually pleasing treat to audiences, but also serves as a reminder to where we have been as a society and as individuals before us. When looking at heritage films, the obviously are a nodd to a community’s history, but most importantly they remind the audience of past views held by people. It allows for the audience to take a look back in time and analysis the different ideologies that were shared among people and asses how such ideas have carried over into current society.
They allow the audience to make a connection to the impact past thoughts and social constructs have on today’s society. As described by Susan Hayward, “ideology is the the discourse that invests a nation or society with meaning”(212). Essentially, ideology is a grouping of ideas that give meaning and understanding to a society that is being examined (213). Hayward goes on to explain that these groupings of ideas were often decided upon by the ruling class–i. e upper middle class, lourds, ect. — and what was to be the common thoughts of the community (213).
One example of this “practice” is the idea that women were second class to men. In this situation the “ruling class”,being men, were the one’s who held the power and able to institute a specific way of life for women. According to Karl Marx’s definition, he states that ideology “is the practice of reproducing social relations of inequality” (213). This definition perfectly explains many of the relationships that are present throughout heritage films. To further understand ideology, an analysis of the two main female characters in The Remains of the day” by James Ivory, and Jane Eyre by Cary Jaji Fukunaga are key.
Heritage films are well, and often exclusively, known for representing and portraying English, high society life. They often are adaptations of books or accounts from actual people. Both The Remains of the Day and Jane Eyre are adaptations from books. Through the films, the audience is given a look into what life was like in the 18 and 19th century. What was a theme in both films, was the treatment and expectation of women. In Jane Eyre, Jane is orphaned at a young arge and forced to move in with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and abusive cousin.
After a physical fight between John and Jane, Mrs. Reed sends Jane off to a boarding school. Once again, she is put in a situation of abuse and neglect by the owner of the school and the headmistress who has no qualms with beating the girls with a stick when they misbehave. Jane eventually becomes a governess to a young orphaned girl who is living with a one Mr. Rochester. Throughout the story, Jane is subjected to abuse, both verbal and physical, and often treated as second rate not only because she is a woman but also because of her financial statues.
Despite what she had been through, Jane still came out on top in practically all of the situations. To me, Jane’s overall attitude and personality throughout the story reflects the social-cultural atmosphere. Because she was so quickly written off from a young age by those around her, she developed a sense of, what i would consider–sarcasm and wit. She might not be able to physically battle with the people in her life, but she is able to use her intelligence and tongue as a means of expressing her frustration with how she has been treated.
I have found that not only with The Remains of the Day, and Jane Eyre, but with other heritage films, the women often use their intelligence and insight as a way to fight their way through the society that is so quick to write them off as less than and second rate to men. The personality and character of Sally/Miss Keaton in The Remains of the Day is very similar in this regard. Even though she is not meet with as much guff from men as Jane, and that her storyline does not include as much history as Jane’s, the audience still sees Sally using her frankness to establish her place within Darlington manner and with Stevens.
I think that the candidness that so many female characters have within heritage films says something about the struggle women had to put forth in order to be even remotely considered to be capable of their social standing. Both films appear to be about love and romance, but underneath the layers of ideology that is present throughout both films, i think it is safe to say that the films are not about love but rather take a closer look and call into question the treatment of women during that time period.
The ideas of the past have not only influenced the films made about that time, but have also influenced the voices of the female characters. The treatment of women seems to have played a part with both The Remains of the Day and Jane Eyre, allowing the female characters to fight back inequality with their candid insights of the people and world around them. The ideologies present in heritage films serve as not only an reminder of how things once were, but also as a warning as to not go down the same path again.