The costume drama can be distinguished from other variants of the historical film by virtue of its fictional basis. Its plot is most often based on a fictional literary source, and it does not depend on actual historical events as its main focus or framing material. Nevertheless, the costume drama provides many pleasures for viewers, for it often features a sumptuous recreation of a historical period and setting, with the density of detail in the costumes and décor providing a source of sensual pleasure that equates history with emotion and passion. The Gainsborough Studio in the 1940s produced a number of notable costume dramas, including adaptations of literary works such as The Man in Grey (1943), Fanny by Gaslight (1944), and The Wicked Lady (1945).
Costume dramas such as The Mask of Zorro (1998) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) employ historical settings for their aesthetic value, allowing the viewer to become a voyeur of the past. Historical films in general appeal to this emotional, voyeuristic interest on the part of the spectator, but the costume film allows its fullest expression, untrammeled by the sociopolitical conflicts that dominate the plots of films that deal with actual historical events.