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I've been under the impression that a historical drama is non-fiction whereas a period drama is fiction.

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"Drama" is usually meant to indicate fiction.

I've generally understood historical/period drama as:

  • Historical drama - a drama based on historical events
  • Period drama - a drama based in a particular time or period, not obviously based on real events

So, The Crown would be a historical drama

Follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II's reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.

and Downton Abbey would be a period drama

A chronicle of the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th Century.

(the Crawleys being a fictional family where Queen Elizabeth II obviously isn't)

However, the term is somewhat ambiguous and commentators may use them interchangeably, so don't expect my opinion to be rigidly observed by all.

I'd expect a historical non-fiction programme to be called a "historical documentary" rather than a "drama", even though the event(s) portrayed might be dramatic in nature.

  • That makes sense. What, then, is a "costume drama"? The same as a period drama, I think. – HemiPoweredDrone Jul 2 at 0:53
  • @HemiPoweredDrone I'd say both types could be considered costume dramas, depending on the time period. Costume drama implies a certain elaborateness of costuming, usually pre-early-20th century, IMO, but I doubt there's a firm definition. – Wossname Jul 2 at 2:36
  • @Wossname agreed. I did see "Mad Men" called a costume drama at least once. – HemiPoweredDrone Jul 2 at 3:03
  • This is pretty much how I understand it. I've always felt that historic dramas are about historic events, where period dramas can take place during them while not primarily about them (like the difference between something like Darkest Hour and something like Home Fires). – DoctorPenguin Jul 2 at 7:40
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    Good answer, except for the opening comment about the use of the word "drama" in this context. Drama can be either fictional or non-fictional. When describing films or television series as "drama," what's meant isn't that they're fiction, but that they're primarily intended seriously. Contrast with "comedy," which is primarily intended humourously. – T.J. Crowder Jul 2 at 9:22

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