In today’s post: Find 12 FANTASTIC movies and mini series like Downton Abbey!
It’s been a few years since Downton Abbey finished airing and it’s still one of my absolute favorite shows. The characters, the costumes, the drama – I loved it all! Period pieces of my favorite and Downton is one of the best. If you’re a Downton fan like me, today I’m sharing 12 more movies and series like Downton Abbey. You’re going to love them!
NOTE: Click here for a huge list of 101 period movies!
Series like Downton Abbey
NOTE: the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links if you’d to purchase the movies. However, check first to see if you can find them for free on Netflix or Amazon instant video (with Prime membership).
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. There are six seasons available so far, and at least some episodes are available on Netflix.
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. The best part? There are FOUR full seasons – so plenty of hours of watch time here.
This is another recent offering from Masterpiece Theater (season 1 aired a few months ago, season 2 will be coming fall 2014). It’s based on a novel by Emile Zola about a country girl named Denise who comes to London and ends up landing a job in the Londond’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. (Storyline sounding familiar but you’re sure you haven’t seen this one yet? It’s surprisingly similar in a few plot lines to Mr. Selfridge, another recent Masterpiece Theater miniseries. I far prefer The Paradise, however.)
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.
Another series similar to Downton Abbey is Upstairs Downstairs. Not to be confused with the television show from the 70’s, this new spin 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 are currently available – season 1 has just 3 episodes, but season 2 has 6.
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.
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 love story 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 straitforward 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. You get the picture. I love it. It’s just plain good. Plus the leading man – Richard Armitage – is described as “smoldering” on the back of the DVD, which I laughed at when I first read, but yup, he is.
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 subject matter is a little more adult than the other two I’ve mentioned so far – I’d rate it PG-13 – but the acting is top-notch and the story’s compelling. This is a long one, so get ready to clear your schedule for a few afternoons once you get started. (There’s also a Series 2 about the next Forsyte generation, which is worth watching, but doesn’t hold a candle to the original.)
From IMDB: “In the 1840s, Cranford is ruled by the ladies. They adore good gossip; and romance and change is in the air, as the unwelcome grasp of the Industrial Revolution rapidly approaches their beloved rural market-town.” If I told you Cranford was about a group of old ladies 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.
The Scarlet Pimpernell
I’ve loved this movie since I saw it as a ten year old – the Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews version – and subsequently read the book (which is fantastic!). This story has absolute EVERYTHING – action, romance, history, mystery, mistakes that cost lives, hidden identities, disguises, gorgeous dresses, swoon-worthy sentiments, plus two fabulous actors in the role of leading man and leading lady. It’s a romance mixed up with a spy novel, all set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. The 1982 version is my favorite, but the BBC has also released a more recent version (2000) – and get this – there’s three parts! That’s right, they’ve created two more movies based on subsequent books, and what’s not to love there?
Movies like Downton Abbey
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. It’s a movie that keeps you wrapped up in knots the entire time – not letting you relax until the very end, when you let out a big sigh and sit in your chair realize you’ve been completely transported from your fantastically ordinary life. Or maybe that only happens if you’re as big of a dork as I am (my sisters are all laughing at me right now). Anyway, it’s another one not to be missed.
Persuasion (1995 version is my fave, 2007 version also good, but less true to the book)
Alright Jane, I apologize for not putting one of your novels at the top of my Period Piece list, but at least you get to be number two. It might suprise some that P&P isn’t my favorite Jane Austen novel – it’s fantastic, and I truly enjoy a couple of the movie versions that have been made, but Persuasion (which is Austen’s last novel) is just a better story. Anne Elliot lost her chance at love years ago when a close family friend persuaded her to break of 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 (the dialogue involving the father and sisters is true Jane Austen – a hilarious and scathing commentary on people who’s most pressing worries involve their appearance and status in the world). When the now Captain Wentworth reappears, Anne has to decide whether to risk embarrassment and rejection to try to rekindle the old flame. I love watching Anne’s transformation from a girl who’s easily swayed by the concerns of others into a woman who can choose to take a risk for love. My favorite part of the movie (and we’re talking the 1995 version here) is how much a simple touch or look can convey.
Did I miss any of your favorite movies, shows, or series like Downton Abbey? Tell me in the comments!