French Costume Drama of the 1950s (Book)

Fashioning Politics in Film

When political and civil unrest threatened France’s social order in the 1950s, French cinema provided audiences a seemingly unique form of escapism from such troubled times: a nostalgic look back to the France of the nineteenth and earlier centuries, with costume dramas set in the age of Napoleon, the Belle Époque, the Revolution and further back still to seventeenth-century swashbuckler adventures and tales of mystery and revenge. Film critics, have routinely dismissed this period and this genre of French cinema, overlooking its importance  in terms  of political cultural history. French Costume Drama of the 1950s redresses this balance, exploring a diverse range of films including Guitry’s Napoléon (1955), Vernay’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1953), and Le Chanois’ Les Misérables (1958) to expose the political cultural paradox between nostalgia for a lost past and the drive for modernization.


Susan Hayward is chair of cinema studies and director of film studies at the University of Exeter. She is the author of numerous books on French Cinema including Les Diaboliques (2006), French National Cinema (2005), Simone Signoret: The Star as Cultural Sign (2004) and Luc Besson (1998). She is also the author of the successful Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (2005).

Part One
Setting out the terrain: Genre and history
Setting out the terrain: Technologies, technicians and stars
Part Two
Belle Epoque Mania: Paris, the Provinces and Biopics
Belle Epoque films: An overview
Parisian society of the Belle Epoque through film
Truth and lies and the pursuit of marriage: Love-intrigues outside Paris
Making li(v)es: Belle Epoque biopics
Part Three
Representing History: Epics, Courtesans and Master Narratives 1796-1888
Setting the terrain: France 1796-1888
Representing History: 1796-1814 Napoléon Bonaparte/Napoleon
Restoration-July Monarchy: 1814-1848
Epic Grandeur: Part One, Philanthropists
Epic Grandeur: Part Two, Avengers
From the Second and the Third Republic: Innovation, Corruption and New Identities
The Second Empire in the Pink
The Second Empire in the Raw
From Empire to Republic: A Modernised France Emerging
Censoring the Classics: Bel-Ami Louis Daquin (1954; released 1957)
Part Four
Fairytales, Foxy Women and Swashbuckling Heroes
Costume Drama from late-Medieval to the Eighteenth Century: An Overview
Mysterious Microcosms: Three Fairytales
Foxy Women: Queens, Mistresses and Minxes
Swashbuckling Heroes
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