In today’s post: If you love a good period movie, this post is for you! Find 120+ period dramas, including films, TV shows, and miniseries.
You know how sometimes you just crave chocolate? Or tacos? Well, sometimes I just crave a good period drama. Something that will transport me out of normal life and into some other place and time. I want a window into another world, complete with costumes and witty dialogue and maybe a love story to round it all out. I’ve compiled a GIANT list of period movies, tv shows, and miniseries with well over 100 shows for your viewing pleasure.
Where can I Watch period movies and shows?
You’ll be able to find most of these period dramas online. Some will be free to watch while others may require a subscription to a streaming service. However, one of the BEST places to find period movies is at your local library. Because many of these shows are based on books, libraries tend to carry the DVDs which you can usually check out for free! If your library doesn’t carry one you’re interested in, ask if they’ll order it, because they probably will.
Here’s a list of the best places to stream period dramas and historical romance movies online:
- Amazon: If you are a Prime member (affiliate link), you will be able to watch many of the shows listed below for free, plus a lot of other movies and TV shows too! Note that some of the shows will require an additional subscription, such as Acorn or Masterpiece, which you can add to your prime membership for about $5/mo.
- Netflix: Netflix changes their offerings regularly, so it’s worth searching different movies/shows at different times to see what’s available.
- Acorn TV: This streaming service offers lots of British and Australian shows that you can’t find elsewhere. You can sign up directly from acorn.com OR add an Acorn subscription to your Prime account
- PBS: Many of the shows listed below are Masterpiece Classics. To view them online through PBS.org you will need to sign up for PBS passport, which requires a $60/year donation to PBS. You can also get many of the same shows through Amazon by adding the Masterpiece subscription to your Prime account.
And finally, a note about content. I have watched most of the shows on this list, but not all of them, so I cannot vouch for content. Additionally, everyone’s idea of appropriate viewing is different, so please do you own research to decide if the movies and tv shows on this list meet the viewing criteria for your family. Thanks!
120+ period movies, tv shows, and miniseries
All Creatures Great and Small: Based on the classic books by James Herriot, this miniseries follows a young veterinarian starting out his professional career in the Yorkshire Dales. Great acting, beautiful scenery, and sweet storytelling means this show will appeal even if you’re not an animal lover.
An Ideal Husband: It’s rare that period movies are truly funny, but this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play is witty and thoroughly enjoyable and has plenty of plot twists. Rupert Everett and Minnie Driver are fantastic in this feature length movie!
An Inspector Calls: This drama/mystery is set in Britain in 1912. A wealthy family is sitting down to dinner when an inspector calls to tell them a local girl has committed suicide. As the inspector questions each member of the family, we realize each of them has a connection to the tragic event.
A Place to Call Home: This 6-season series has been referred to as the “Australian Downton Abbey.” Set in the 1950’s, it chronicles the story of Sarah Nordman, a nurse whose life changed drastically during the war, and her relationship with the wealthy Bligh clan. Twists, turns, and drama galore, along with lots of fun 50’s clothes!
Anzac Girls: Another Australian import, Anzac Girls is based on true stories of Australian and New Zealander nurses during WWI, and it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s one of the best period pieces based in WWI that I know of. Six episodes.
Aristocrats This is based on the true story of the Lennox sisters, four women in upper class 18th century England and Ireland. They lived in splendor and held significant political influence through the men in their lives, but that doesn’t mean life was easy…
Atlantic Crossing: Fascinating retelling of the early days of WWII from the perspective of the Norwegian Crown Princess, who becomes an influential figure in world politics and a good friend of US President Roosevelt.
Austenland: This movie is a must-watch if you’re a Jane Austen fan, even though it’s not technically a period piece since it’s set in modern day. A single girl with a Darcy fixation heads off to “Austenland”, a recreation of Jane Austen’s England. If it sounds goofy, you’re right: it’s the most hilarious parody of everything you’ve come to expect from a period piece that I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I was crying laughing the whole way through.
Becoming Jane: This feature length period movie shows us Jane Austen as a young woman. She dreams of writing for a living and just might be falling in love. It’s fun to see a little more about the woman behind so many of the stories we love (and it’s especially fun to hear some of the most famous lines from her books said by various characters in the movie).
Beecham House: John Beecham is a former soldier in the East India Company who is ready to start a new life in a grand house in India, but his past isn’t done with him yet. Set in 1795, this miniseries shows a slice of the complex history of British colonialism.
Belfast: This sweet, semi-autobiographical movie made by Kenneth Branagh chronicles a few months in the life of a boy growing up in Belfast during “the troubles”. A nice window to a point in history you may not know much about combined with lovely human interactions amongst the family.
Belle: This Hollywood release tells the fascinating true story of a young black woman who is adopted into an aristocratic English household before slavery is outlawed. The movie is very well done and I highly recommend watching it – both for the historical value and for the great love story!
Berkeley Square: Set at the turn of the century in London, this lesser-known mini-series is a delight. It’s about three girls with different backgrounds, each of whom gets a job as a nanny for a different wealthy family living on Berkeley Square. Matty grew up in the tough East End and has worked her way up the domestic ladder, Lydia’s fresh off the farm, and Hannah has to leave her own child with another caretaker in order to earn money to survive. 10 one hour episodes chronicle their friendship, struggles, and romantic interests, and you’ll want to watch the entire thing in a weekend. The only problem is there’s not much resolution at the end of the series – it almost feels like the writers were planning on another season. But it’s well worth watching regardless.
Birdsong A young soldier fights in the trenches in France and is haunted by memories of his past. (Note: one of the few Masterpiece Theatre productions rated TV-MA.)
Bleak House Adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Look for the 2005 version starring Gillian Anderson.
Bomb Girls This Canadian drama is set in the 1940s and tells the story of local women who work in a munitions factory building bombs for the war effort. It’s a time of great change for the woman, many of whom have never worked outside the home before.
Bramwell A young woman in the late 1800’s is determined to work as a doctor in a man’s world. An interesting (and often saddening) look at the dawn of modern medicine.
Breathe: This is one of my favorite recently released period movies. It tells the story of Robin Cavendish, a man who contracts polio and faces the devastating future of life spent in an iron lung, and his wife Diana, who defies everyone to help Robin live his life to the fullest. It’s a beautiful, tenacious love story, and even better – it’s a true story!
Breathless: This miniseries, set in a London hospital in the 1960’s, tells the story of Dr. Otto Powell, a handsome obstetrician with a secret past, as well as two sisters who are both nurses in his department. It’s fascinating to see this time period; it’s amazing to see how times have changed in 50 years. Good writing and acting, enough mystery to keep you hooked, and lots of fun clothes!
Brooklyn: This feature length period film tells the story of a young Irish woman who emigrates to Brooklyn in the 1950’s. The plot is a little light, but the scenery, costuming, and witty dialogue more than make up for it. It was a fun view into a different world.
Call the Midwife:This gem from the geniuses at BBC chronicles the experiences of Jenny, a young nurse in London’s East End in the 1950’s. She goes to work (and live) at Nonnatus House, a convent where the nuns and nurses work together as midwives to deliver the babies born in the community. In a time when the lack of birth control meant large families for everyone and a place of wide-spread poverty, the midwives were busy day and night doing their best to support the community. Based on a true story, this series is an INCREDIBLE look at a time that feels much further away than just 60 years. It’s fascinating and touching, and you’re going to need your hanky.
Castles in the Sky: World War II looms on the horizon, and advisors in the British defense ministry are looking for someone to build a death ray that could kill Nazi pilots before they make it across the channel. Robert Wattson-Watt, an engineer, tells them what they’re looking for is purely science fiction, but offers an alternative: a way to detect incoming German planes early enough to give the British time to scramble their own planes. This true story shows how radar was invented in the nick of time to prevent Germany from invading Britain.
Churchhill’s Secret: It’s 1953 and Nurse Appleyard has just been rushed to a secret location to help a patient who has just suffered a stroke. Turns out the patient is none other than Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister. Interesting look at the life of Churchill after the war.
Cranford: If I told you Cranford was about a group of old ladies in the 1840’s you’d probably think: BORING. But it’s not. It’s about the ladies, yes (Judi Dench is just one of the amazing actresses here), but stories of the entire town are woven together in this very funny and touching miniseries. There’s gossip and romance, the old battling the new, love lost and opportunities missed, as well as hope for a happier tomorrow. I’ll admit that I loved the dialogue here even more than the storyline, so if you’re more interested in a great plot than witty repartee you might be disappointed. But the beauty of the English countryside and the skills of these great British actors (many of whom you’ll recognize from other movies) just can’t be beat. Look for the second season, which is titled “Return to Cranford.”
Daniel Deronda Victorian melodrama based on George Eliot’s novel about a love triangle gone awry.
Death Comes to Pemberley Set six years after Lizzy and Darcy marry, this 3-episode Pride and Prejudice “sequel” centers around a mysterious death committed on the grounds of Pemberly.
Doc Martin: Set in the modern day, this TV series about a surgeon turned GP in a seaside town in Britain feels like a period piece due to the eccentric characters. Many, many seasons.
Doctor Blake Mysteries: After decades away from his native Australia, including time spent as a POW during WWII, Dr. Blake returns home to take over his father’s medical practice. But it turns out that this doctor is as good at solving crimes as he is at healing the wounded, and soon he’s helping the local police. Five seasons seasons.
Downton Abbey: If you haven’t seen the show that started the period piece revolution, you’d better clear your schedule and get watching. This binge-worthy series chronicles the aristocratic Crawley family from 1912 to 1926, following the changes in the lives of both the family and servants. Six seasons, a feature length movie, and a sequel movie coming soon. One of the most famous costume dramas ever produced.
Emma A Jane Austen classic about a wealthy young woman you loves matchmaking. Both the 2009 Masterpiece miniseries and the 1996 feature length movie are worth watching, but the 2020 theatrical release is SO. MUCH. FUN.
Endeavour: This Masterpiece Mystery series follows Endeavour Morse, a serious young officer on the Oxford police force in the 1950’s. Morse isn’t sure he even wants to be a police officer, but soon realizes he is uniquely good at solving crimes. I think this is police drama at its finest – back before DNA evidence could help solve the crime, and when the lack of cell phones and easy communication made for truly suspenseful situations. Plus the characters and acting are absolutely fantastic.
Enola Holmes: This delightful Netflix movie centers around Enola Holmes, the little sister of famous Sherlock Holmes, and her search for her missing mother. A second installment is coming soon.
Far From the Madding Crowd: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery, costumes, and music are just lovely. The story is a bit unusual for it’s time period in that it’s about an independent woman who, instead of searching for a husband, isn’t sure she wants to be tied down. Of course, romance is headed her way whether she wants it or not, though she travels a rocky road (and frustrates all of us watching a few times) before being united with her true love.
Father Brown A kindly priest (who looks familiar who anyone who’s watched Harry Potter) catches criminals in the large country houses and secret gardens of 1920s England.
Finding Neverland: Based on the true story of J.M. Barry, who wrote Peter Pan, this feature length movie chronicles the friendship that inspired the play. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are absolutely fantastic in this entertaining and poignant tale.
Foyle’s War: Detective Foyle is devastated when he’s told he’s too old to serve in the military on the eve of World War II. He soon realizes, however, that he’s fighting his own war keeping the peace on the homefront. Although this 8 series show can feel a little dated now, it’s really very good, and it’s interesting to see how major events in WWII are woven into the crimes investigated in each episode.
Gosford Park A critically acclaimed 1930’s whodunnit (by the screenwriter of Downton Abbey) set at a lavish English estate.
Grantchester: Sidney Grantchester lives a quiet life as the vicar in a small English village in the 1950’s, at least until a murder comes his way.
Great Expectations An adaptation of Charles Dicken’s classic novel about Pip, Miss Havisham, and Estella. Look for the 2012 Masterpiece Classic version starring Gillian Anderson and David Suchet.
He Knew He Was Right An idyllic romance turns sour due to all-encompassing jealousy in this adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel. Set in Victorian England.
Her Majesty, Mrs Brown A true life story about Queen Victoria and the servant with whom she develops a passionate friendship.
Home Fires: This engaging Masterpiece drama follows the lives on women in a rural English village on the eve of World War II. The show does a great job depicting the variety of ways the impending war affects the women in the community. Two seasons.
Howards End: This adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel follows the unconventional Schlegel sisters in early 20th century London. The 2018 Starz miniseries is the better version (IMO) but the 1992 movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson is also worth a watch!
Jane Eyre This beloved book has resulted in so many movie remakes I can’t even count them all. I loved the 2006 BBC miniseries, but the more recent (2011) Hollywood release has brought new life to this classic story. A poor, orphaned girl graduates from an austere charity school and goes to work as a governess for the young ward of the grim, confusing, but oocasionally warm Mister Rochester. The house is large, gothic, and frightening, as is Rochester at times, but Jane settles in to teaching her young pupil and feels she is growing to understand Rochester’s softer side – until it’s revealed that nothing is as it seems. The scenery is gorgeous, the music is filled with longing, the actors all do a great job, and the story is told a little differently than it has been before, making this version worth seeing even if you’ve seen others.
Land Girls Set in England during WWII, this series chronicles the stories of 4 young women who leave their homes and go to work on a farm as part of the Women’s Land Army.
Lark Rise to Candleford:Set in the 1880’s, this television series introduces us to the inhabitants of the poor hamlet of Lark Rise and more prosperous town of Candleford. The main character is Laura, a Lark Rise girl who’s on her way up in the world as the newest employee in Candleford’s post office. (The series is actually based on memoirs written by Laura’s character.) The show is poetic and picturesque, heartfelt with hints of the grinding poverty so many of the people lived through. I especially appreciate the interactions between Laura’s mother and father, who are obviously very much in love but still struggle with the daily business of marriage and raising a family during hard times. Lark Rise to Candleford follows Laura through her “coming of age” years, including her first experiences with love and loss, and boasts a host of engaging supporting characters and plenty of charm. The best part? There are FOUR full seasons – so plenty of hours of watch time here.
Les Miserables: The 2019 Masterpiece adaptation of this classic story includes details you won’t have seen before in other versions. Superb acting combined with a much richer storyline makes this the version you’ll want to watch.
Little Dorrit: This Dickens adaptation introduces us to Amy Dorrit, a girl born in Marshelsea, a debtor’s prison where her father has lived for years due to unpaid debts. As a young woman she gets a chance to escape the prison during the day by working as a seamstress for a wealthy woman whose very eligible bachelor son has just returned from years at sea (anyone else see where this is going?). However, as with all Dickens’ stories there are plenty of twists and turns and up and downs before all is said and done. This is a simply fantastic adaptation with wonderful acting, gorgeous costumes, amazing scenery, etc.
Little Women: This is another classic that’s been remade multiple times, most recently as a 3 episode mini series on Masterpiece. The four Marsh sisters grow up in a poor but tight-knit family while their father is off fighting in the Civil War.
London Hospital: Set in 1906 London at a charity hospital, this multi-season mini series follows the ups and downs of the nurses as they care for a variety of patients.
Lorna Doone: An action packed adventure set in Old England, this is the tale of the banished Doone clan and John, the man who has sworn revenge on them, but is in love with with the daughter of the family.
Lost in Austen: In this lighthearted take on Pride and Prejudice, a modern girl accidentally ends up switching places with Lizzy Bennet. A bit silly, but fun.
Mansfield Park: One of Jane Austen’s lesser known novels is very loosely adapted in the 1999 Hollywood release, and more faithfully told in the 2008 Masterpiece version.
Merlin: This 5 season television series chronicles the adventures of a young Merlin who has to hide his magical powers from his master, Prince Arthur. The first season is a bit slow to start, but things go up from there, with dragons, knights, witches, romance, adventures, and more. Great viewing for families.
Misbehaviour: Based on true events, this movie tells the story of a group of Womens Liberation activists who plan to disrupt the Miss World pageant in London in 1970.
Miss Austen Regrets: It may seem odd that the author so famous for writing about romance and advantageous marriages was never married, but this feature length film from Masterpiece explores what we know (and guess) about Jane Austen’s personal romance.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Set in Australia in the roarin’ 20s, a glamorous and independent woman becomes a leading detective.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day This is the absolutely charming tale of an unemployed governess who is swept into the glamorous world of high society by mistake. Set in London in the 1930s.
Miss Potter: As a woman in the early 1900’s, Beatrix Potter doesn’t find it easy to become a published author. Marrying the man she comes to love turns out to be just as hard. This sweet movie based on the life of the famous author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit is definitely worth a watch.
Monarch of the Glen A young London restauranteur is summer back to high ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands, where he must assume control of his eccentric family. Set in modern times, but with a “period piece-like” setting.
Mr. Selfridge: Fantastic 4-season Masterpiece miniseries chronicling the real-life Harry Selfridge, an American who opened one of Britain’s first department stores. Each season is a little better than the last!
Mrs. Wilson: When Alison Wilson’s husband dies in 1963, she is shocked to meet another woman claiming to be his wife. Knowing her husband was involved in British intelligence, Alison sets out to uncover the true story. Based on the true story of star Ruth Wilson’s grandmother.
Murdoch Mysteries: Sophisticated detective William Murdoch investigates murders in the 1890s. Kind of like an old-fashioned CSI.
News of the World: Based on the best selling novel, this movie follows a Civil War veteran who is tasked with returning a young girl to the only family she knows. The story illuminates portions of the complex relationship between white settlers and Native Americans.
Nicholas Nickleby: Nicholas Nickleby’s father has died and his family has fallen on hard times. It’s up to him to find a way to save them in this tale of intrigue, passion, and revenge by Dickens.
North & South: After Downton Abbey, this has to be my favorite period piece. Ever. My apologies to Jane AND Colin Firth, but North and South is even better than Pride & Prejudice. Why? Because this book (and resulting miniseries) is more than just a love story. Oh, it’s a period romance all right – of course! – but there’s so much real human life mixed in. Set at the cusp of the industrial revolution, the movie deal revolves around a girl from the agricultural, “civilized” South of England who moves with her parents in recently reduced circumstances to the North, where industry, machines, and the battle to earn money have come to the forefront. Margaret struggles to make sense of her new surroundings and family troubles, eventually figuring out that the world isn’t as simple and straightforward as she originally believed. Add in a troubled love story with the owner of the local mill, and there’s romance, mystery, questions of ethics, amusing dialogue, real tragedy, and more.
Northanger Abbey An adaptation of Jane Austen’s least known novel, Northanger Abbey is Jane’s gentle parody of gothic fiction, complete with a heroine who’s imagine runs away from her regularly. Look for the Masterpiece Theatre version released in 2007.
Our Mutual Friend Another adaptation of Dickens. This book is considered his darkest and most romantic, and tells the tale of two sweeping love affairs.
Persuasion Another personal favorite. While less well-known than Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion is generally considered to be Jane Austen’s most accomplished work. Anne Elliot lost her chance at love years ago when a close family friend persuaded her to break off an alliance with the young sailor Wentworth, claiming he’d never make enough to support a wife. Eight years later Anne is lonely and “past her prime” in the eyes of the world, but making the best of life with a foppish father and two self-centered sisters. When the now Captain Wentworth reappears, Anne has to decide whether to risk embarrassment and rejection to try to rekindle the old flame. I prefer the 1995 Hollywood version, but the 2008 Masterpiece miniseries is also very well done.
Place of Execution: In another well-made British mystery, we get the parallel stories of an mysterious disappearance in 1963 and a filmmaker in present day who is trying to sort out the unsolved crime. The filmmaker has been interviewing the man who was the lead detective on the case way back when, until he suddenly tells her “mistakes were made” and refuses to continue talking to her. What really happened that night in 1963?
Poldark: If you’re going to watch one show this year, Poldark should be it! After fighting for England in the American Revolution, Ross Poldark returns home to find his father dead, his fortune vanished, and his sweetheart engaged to his cousin. And that’s just in the first ten minutes. Some moments are tragic, others are heartwarming, but the entire thing is JUST SO GOOD! Four seasons so far from Masterpiece.
Pride & Prejudice This wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous novel is the gold standard when it comes to period movies. P&P purists recommend the 1995 miniseries featuring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but the 2005 Keira Knightly version is also worth watching.
Prime Suspect Tennison: This is a prequel to the popular Masterpiece Mystery seried “Prime Suspect.” Prime Suspect Tennison takes place in the 1970’s when Jane Tennison is just started out as a female police officer in a male dominated world. Very interesting and very well done.
Robin Hood BBC’s three season series is a fun, (mostly) family friendly take on the classic story, with plenty of adventure and some bad guys you’ll love to hate (hello Guy of Gisborne). The first few episodes are a little slow, but things pick up quickly throughout the rest of season 1 and 2.
Sanditon: Based on Jane Austen’s unfinished last novel, this series introduces us to Charlotte, who travels to the seaside town of Sanditon as it is being transformed to a fashionable resort. Plenty of Austen-eque characters and dialogue with some modern liberties in the storyline.
Sense And Sensibility Jane Austen’s second most well-known novel about two sisters and their romantic trials has two great adaptions. The 1995 version with Emma Thompson is most well known. The 2008 Masterpiece version is also wonderful.
Sherlock A contemporary take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, this BBC series takes place in present day London. These stories have been made and remade in numerous fashions in recent years, but this series is clearly the most successful. It’s smart and fast paced with plenty of intrigue and plenty of fun Sherlock/Watson repartee. Four seasons, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
Suffragette: This recent release tells the story of a young women who gets involved with a group of women fighting for voting rights in England in 1912. This amazing historical drama is a must-watch film: we should know what people went through to gain the rights we take for granted today. That said, it’s also a sad film that’s painful to watch at times. Honestly, I had no idea how violent this struggle became and how few rights women at the time had (the main character is thrown out by her husband and as a result has no legal right to see her son ever again!). Compelling and well acted.
Sylvie’s Love: “When a young woman meets an aspiring saxophonist in her father’s record shop in 1950s Harlem, their love ignites a sweeping romance that transcends changing times, geography, and professional success.” – from the Amazon synopsis
Tess of the D’urbervilles: Thomas Hardy’s tragic Victorian novel is brought to life nicely in the 2008 BBC version.
The Aeronauts: Based on true events, this movie chronicles the bravery and ingenuity of a hot air balloon pilot who teams up with an aspiring meteorologist to fly higher than anyone in history and advance the science of weather.
The Bletchley Circle: Four British women who worked together breaking enemy codes during WWII reunite a few years after the war and begin solving crimes together. Great story, but there are some brief yet very disturbing scenes related to the crime in season 1. Two seasons.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Seven elderly Brits decide to spend their retirement in India at a swanky retirement hotel. When they get there the hotel turns out to be a rundown dump. Some of the Brits adjust to life in India immediately, while others struggle. It’s a sweet, funny movie with acting that’s every bit as good as you’d expect from the famous names in the film. The sequels is called The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The Buccaneers Four American heiresses take London by storm in this adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel. They each make brilliant matches and seem set for a lifetime of happiness…until they realize a “good” marriage isn’t the end of the story.
The Collection: It’s after WWII in Paris, and two brothers work together to bring their fashion house to the forefront of the industry. But it seems this house has as many secrets as seamstresses…
The Courier: True story of an ordinary British businessman who is drawn into a world of spies and deception during the Cold War. Absolutely fascinating.
The Crimson Field: Set in a field hospital on the coast of France, this Masterpiece miniseries follows three young nurses who have come to tend the wounded during WWI. Each episode reveals more about the nurses’ pasts and current struggles, as well as giving a picture of a society caught between old rules and a new way of thinking.
The Crown: This Netflix original series currently has two seasons, with season three set to be released in 2019, and is based on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. It begins with her marriage in 1947 and subsequent ascension to the throne. Critically acclaimed.
The Dig: Set just before WWII, this film adapts the true story of a British widow who hires an aspiring archaeologist to excavate mounds of dirt on her property, leading to an unequaled historical discovery.
The Duchess: Georgiana is thrilled to receive a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Devonshire, thinking such a brilliant marriage will guarantee her happiness. She’s quickly disillusioned, however, as her distant, philandering husband blames her for not being able to give him a son. The film, starring Kiera Knightly, paints a bleak picture of what life was like for a woman, even a privileged one, in 18th century England.
The Duchess of Duke Street This 1976 miniseries tells the rags to riches story of a scullery maid turned finest cook in London in Edwardian England.
The Durrells in Corfu: When Louisa Durrell is widowed in the 1930’s, she quickly realizes her meager resources won’t provide much of a life for her family in England. Her funds will stretch much further on the tiny island of Corfu, where she decides to move with her quirky children. There she meets a cast of even quirkier characters and the Durrells try to decide if they can survive their mother’s unconventional decision.
The Escape Artist: This is another riveting mystery/drama set in present day Britain. David Tennant stars as a junior barrister who is so good at defending the accused he has earned the nickname “The Escape Artist.” When he successfully defends a serial killer, however, things get personal and take a very dark turn. This series is brilliantly written, so much that you aren’t sure of the exact truth until the very last scene.
The Forsyte Saga: This series is much like Downton Abbey in that it follows the lives of a number of different people in one family, this time the wealthy Forsytes. The series focuses on two brothers, the straight-laced Soames, a solicitor: proper, unyielding, but in love with artistic Irene, and the free-spirited Jolyon, who early in the series leaves an unhappy marriage (and most of his money) to pursue a life of love. Their stories, as well as stories of others in the family, intertwine in a fascinating look at the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This series is a little like a high-brow soap opera, with problems and romances coming and going, but with the feel of real life instead of the shallowness of today’s soaps.
The Grand In the most opulent hotel in Manchester England in the 1920’s, there is plenty of luxury, elegance, greed, suspense, and scandal.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: This recent big screen adaptation of the much loved book is a delight. Lily James plays a London writer who enters into a chance correspondence with a farmer from the isle of Guernsey after WWII. Guernsey was the only British soil to be occupied by the Germans during the war, and it’s inhabitants have quite the tale that they aren’t quite ready to tell.
The House of Eliott Two sisters born into privilege in 1920’s London must make their own way in the world after their father dies and leaves them penniless. They struggle to the top of the fashion world, opening their own house of haute couture.
The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this movie based on the real life story of Alan Turing, a genius who broke Germany’s famed “Enigma Code” and saved the lives of thousands during WWII. The part of the story set during the war is fascinating, and the part set afterward is heartbreaking. Very, very good movie.
The Indian Doctor: In the 1960’s, Britain was running low on health professionals and recruited doctors from other lands that had once been part of the British empire. This comedy drama follows Dr. Sharma and his wife Kamini when they move from their affluent home in India to a tiny Welsh mining village, where plenty of culture class ensues.
The King’s Speech: This amazing period movie tells the true story of King George VI, who reluctantly assumes the throne after his brother abdicates. It’s 1936 and Britain is reluctantly moving toward another world war; the country desperately needs a strong leader. Unfortunately, King George (Bertie) has had a stutter since he was a child, making it nearly impossible for him to give a speech or gain the confidence of the country. Bertie’s wife hires a speech therapist, and the rest is a truly compelling movie.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: Imagine if Lizzie Bennet lived in the present day and decided to tell her story (and that of her sisters) via a video blog, aka vlog. That’s what you get from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a collection of short episodes that run through the main events of Pride & Prejudice, updated for modern day. The result is smart & funny.
The Long Song: This miniseries tells the story of July, a plantation slave in Jamaica who grows to adulthood just before slavery is abolished. A beautiful, heart rending story.
The Magic of Ordinary Days: This very sweet movie centers around Livvy, an educated young woman who becomes pregnant during WWII. With the father off to war and uninterested in marriage, Livvy’s father arranges a marriage to a lonely farmer in a rural area. As you could expect, the marriage doesn’t begin well, once your see how kind the new husband is you know you’ll get a happy ending. Very sweet, uplifting and clean, without being cheesy.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood An adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel, this novel follows Jasper, who has met the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately, she is engaged to his nephew. What follows is a tale of suspense, intrigue, and mystery.
The Orient Express: Agatha Christie’s most famous novel has been adapted multiple times, but the 2017 theatrical version starring Kenneth Branagh as the famed detective Hercule Poirot is superb! An all star cast fills out this period movie, set on an opulent train that gets snowed in, trapping the passengers with a murderer and victim.
The Paradise A country girl named Denise comes to London and ends up landing a job in London’s new department store: The Paradise. Denise is the kind of character we all want to love – kind and caring, down to earth, and smart as a whip. Then there are the other characters – her stuffy supervisor who doesn’t appreciate being upstaged, the handsome (and somewhat mysterious) owner of the Paradise, the high society heiress who’s trying to snare him, and even a sinister one-armed man. Great dialogue, some romance, and a fun peek into the history of the modern department store make this a miniseries not to be missed. Two seasons.
The Scarlet Pimpernel Set during the French Revolution, this is the story of a dashing English gentleman who swoops into France to rescue doomed nobles, and a beautiful young Frenchwoman who tries to determine his identity. Great show! My personal favorite is the 1988 Hollywood version with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, but the more recent BBC version is wonderful as well, and it has a couple of sequels!
The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton This show tells the story of the real life Mrs. Beeton, author of an 1861 guide to running a household (i.e. the very first lifestyle magazine).
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: In this four part series, Jack Whicher is part of the newly formed Scotland Yard detective department. He’s sent to a large country house to investigate the disappearance of the youngest child, With little evidence and an inept local police force, he does his best to solve the crime. Each of the four installments can be watched as a standalone film.
The Way We Live Now This satire of Victorian society follows the rise and fall of an Austrian jewish financier who tries to become an English gentleman, and his daughter, who is courted for her fortune.
The Woman in White: The 2018 Masterpiece version of Wilkie Collins’ famous mystery novel is an engaging, modern take on the classic tale. Two likeable sisters live with their rather idiotic elderly uncle. A visiting painting master offers a love interest, but the sister he falls for is already engaged to marry a mysterious man, and things quickly turn sinister. Throw in a woman in a white dress who has recently escaped a madhouse and you have a great little mystery on your hands.
Tolkein: A window into the early life of famous author J.R.R. Tolkein. Fans of his work will enjoy this exploration of the way his formative years influenced his later writing.
To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters: This two part period drama is a very interesting look at the three literary Bronte sisters who penned some of the most famous novels in the English language and the difficulty they had working in the male-dominated 19th century world.
Turn: Washington’s Spies: This four season series from AMC tells the story of America’s first spy ring and their massive contributions to the American victory during the Revolutionary War. Some characters have been invented, but the main events have real historical accuracy, making this series absolutely fascinating.
Under the Greenwood Tree A young woman from a wealthy family comes to a small village as the new school teacher and is pursued by three very different men. Charming story of rural English life.
Upstairs Downstairs Not to be confused with the television show from the 70’s, this newer spin (2011) on the classic story chronicles the two groups of people in one posh London house: both the life of the family upstairs and the life of the servants below stairs. This version opens in 1936, not long before England enters the World War II, and the tenuous political atmosphere combined with family secrets and a parade of difficult relatives keeps things interesting. Two seasons.
Vanity Fair: Becky Sharp may be the orphaned daughter of an artist and a dancer, but she’s not going to let that stop her from climbing the social ladder any way she can. She’s beautiful and clever, and she uses both those qualities to her full advantage. When you watch Vanity Fair, you don’t actually like Becky Sharp, but it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed at what she manages to accomplish. The most recent version (2018 Prime Original) is miles better than previous ones.
Viceroy’s House: This feature length period film chronicles the period just before and after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Britain has finally decided to leave India and turn over rule of the country to the local government, but doing so will be no easy task. I really had no understanding of this piece of history before watching this movie and I was blown away by the tragedy of it. Beautifully executed piece of historical story telling.
Victoria: This Masterpiece Classic series chronicles the story of Queen Victoria, from her uneasy ascension to the throne at age 18, on through her inexperienced early rule, her marriage, becoming a mother, and becoming the monarch she is remembered as. Two seasons so far, third season coming in 2019.
Victoria and Abdul: Based on a true story, this period movie shows the unlikely friendship between an elderly Queen Victoria and a young Indian clerk named Abdul.
When Calls the Heart Based on the book series by Janette Oke, this movie tells the story of Elizabeth Thatcher, as teacher who receives her first post in the Western Canadian frontier. Plenty of sequels!
Wives and Daughters: Another Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation, this miniseries follows Molly Gibson, the only daughter of a country doctor, who decides to marry again, bringing both a step other and a step sister into Molly’s home.
World on Fire: This miniseries follows a variety of characters making their way through the early days of WWII in vastly different situations and locations but tied together through the bonds of family.
Wolf Hall: This Masterpiece miniseries charts the reign of Henry VIII through the eyes of his closest advisor, Thomas Cromwell.
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte’s haunting novel has been made into movies perhaps a dozen times, but my favorite version is the 2009 Masterpiece Theater edition, which does a fantastic job bringing the tragic love triangle to life.
Did I miss your favorite period movie or historical romance? Let us know in the comments!