A Voice Too Much: performance, authenticity and nostalgia in biographical television drama

Andrews, Hannah and Weston, Leanne (2023) A Voice Too Much: performance, authenticity and nostalgia in biographical television drama. In: Singing Out: The Musical Voice in Audiovisual Media. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN UNSPECIFIED

A Voice Too Much: Performance, Authenticity and Nostalgia in Biographical Television Drama
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In 1978, Jean-Louis Comolli proposed the problem of ‘a body too much’: that viewers of historical fiction have to contend conceptually with not only the body of the actor and the character, but also of the real individual being portrayed. This insight has been much applied in discussions of performance in biographical dramatisation (Cantrell and Luckhurst, 2010; Fife Donaldson, 2014; Kennedy-Karpat 2020). But what of the performer’s voice? In what ways might one of the signature signifiers of identity be incorporated into the performance of real lives?

We explore the significance of the singing voice in constructions of authenticity in three biographical television dramas Shirley (BBC Two, 2011), and miniseries Cilla (ITV, 2014). We focus on the promotion and reception of each drama, with specific reference to how the vocal performances of Ruth Negga and Sheridan Smith are understood as successful embodied mimicry or uncanny failure in their incarnations of Shirley Bassey and Cilla Black. We will examine these performances in relation to a developing truism in the study of pop music biopics (Marshall and Kongsgaard, 2012): the greater authenticity of a vocal performance by the actor – however unlike the voice of their subject – over a lip-synced rendition. Through close analysis of paratextual material such as interviews and reviews, we will demonstrate the centrality of vocal impersonation in their promotion and reception.

Finally, we will explore the role of nostalgia in constructing discourses of authenticity by examining the ‘nostalgic frames’ (Holdsworth, 2011) these dramas appear within. Their complimentary scheduling alongside archive programming emphasises the cultural position of Bassey and Black as mediated and mediating voices, whose relationship with the public is typically defined or redefined through their association with cinema and television.

Keywords:biographical drama, television drama, singing, impersonation
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film, Media & Journalism > Lincoln School of Film, Media & Journalism (Film)
ID Code:52978
Deposited On:16 Jan 2023 14:57

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