Masterpiece: America’s 50 Year Old Love Affair with British Television Drama (2020)

Masterpiece: America's 50-Year-Old Love Affair with British Television Drama

Book: Masterpiece: America’s 50 Year Old Love Affair with British Television Drama
Author: Nancy West
Publication Info: 2020, Rowan and Littlefield
Genres: Nonfiction, Pop Culture/Essays, Historical, Cultural/Literary, Media Studies
My Rating: 3.5-4 stars

Quick Summary

This book explores the world of “Masterpiece” that you see on PBS — the author uses a lot of info drawn from scripts, interviews, books, television, travel documents, etc. There is a lot of ground covered by this book, with the essential theme elements being: “aspiration, nostalgia, Anglophilia, conventionality, and sentimentality.”

Full Summary

On a wintry night in 1971, Masterpiece Theatre debuted on PBS. Fifty years later, America’s appetite for British drama has never been bigger. The classic television program has brought its fans protagonists such as The Dowager Countess and Ross Poldark and series that include Downton Abbey and Prime Suspect. In Masterpiece: America’s 50-Year-Old Love Affair with British Television Drama, Nancy West provides a fascinating history of the acclaimed program. West combines excerpts from original interviews, thoughtful commentary, and lush photography to deliver a deep exploration of the television drama. Vibrant stories and anecdotes about Masterpiece’s most colorful shows are peppered throughout, such as why Benedict Cumberbatch hates Downton Abbey and how screenwriter Daisy Goodwin created a teenage portrait of Queen Victoria after fighting with her daughter about homework. Featuring an array of color photos from Masterpiece’s best-loved dramas, this book offers a penetrating look into the program’s influence on television, publishing, fashion, and its millions of fans.


Content: The book is rather short for its aims, at around 150 pages plus end notes. It reads like a dissertation in my view. It is written by an academic, but does not contain overly academic language. It is informative and entertaining.

What you can expect to find: the history of the program (Masterpiece Theatre), Downton Abbey/Upstairs, Downstairs, politics and culture, literature adaptations / period dramas, Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austen, history, Queen Victoria, adapting history to screen, mystery shows/detectives, Agatha Christie, Miss Marple, Poirot, modern shows and popular characters, areas popularized by shows or scenes, an appendix of Masterpiece shows by year.

Who needs to read this? — Anglophiles, lovers of British tv / culture, and definitely most of Bookstagram who loves anything I’ve listed above. It’s short, concise and rather interesting. It reads like a dissertation, but avoids academic jargon or boring walls of text. It’s not something I’d really think would be a “instant buy” but if your library has it, I’d give it a go. 3.75/4 stars for achieving its aims and providing an interesting collection of insights about the program.



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