Featuring pirates and slaves, powdered wigs and bejeweled gowns, and plenty of steamy romance, stories of eighteenth-century life continue to inspire and entertain us on the large and small screens.
Wagner English professor Steven Thomas has co-edited a collection of essays about this phenomenon, The Cinematic Eighteenth Century: History, Culture, and Adaptation (Routledge, 2018), with Srividhya Swaminathan, professor of English at Long Island University.
Topics range from adaptations of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to historical fiction on the subjects of slavery (Belle), piracy (Crossbones and Black Sails), monarchy (The Madness of King George and The Libertine), and the role of women (Marie Antoinette, The Duchess, and Outlander).
Thomas’s chapter, “Cinematic Slavery and the Romance of Belle,” considers how we represent the troubling history of slavery on the screen. Surveying a range of movies produced across the world, from Ceddo (Senegal) and Burn! (Italy) to Amazing Grace (England), Amistad (USA) and Sankofa (USA, Ethiopia, and Ghana), Thomas works through the history of narrative and cinematic strategies taken by filmmakers for various political goals. He concludes with a detailed analysis of the movie Belle (directed by Amma Asante in 2013) as an example of the innovative directions in which a new generation of filmmakers are taking the subject.