The 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of All Time

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Pride and Prejudice (2005) Photo: Focus Features
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Photo: Focus Features

One of our greatest passions here at The Silver Petticoat Review is period dramas, especially those period dramas with strong romantic elements. I dare anyone not to fall for Mr. Darcy as he awkwardly and unsuccessfully proposes to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, or smile when Anne finally admits that the one thing she wants in the entire world is Gilbert Blythe. There is just something about the touch of a hand, a passionate look across the ballroom, a selfless gesture (or even selfish, considering all those Byronic Heroes) that speaks volumes in these gripping love stories.

Period Dramas do more than make us swoon. The various time periods also welcome their audiences into wonderful new worlds. Old-fashioned customs, elegantly designed costumes and set designs all transport you into the private worlds of royalty, the Regency Era of Jane Austen, and even into the world of a poor governess enmeshed in a Gothic Victorian mystery. The possibilities of period dramas are endless.

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Our particular list of the Top 50 Romantic Period Dramas range anywhere from 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities to recent releases in the past couple of years. Because there are so many period dramas available and eliminating down to only 50 nigh impossible, we only included films/TV shows, and mini-series we believed were truly romantic and also personal favorites we would recommend to a close friend. In the process, several great period dramas were either cut due to an unfortunate lack of epic romance (such as DiCaprio’s phenomenal Great Gatsby – but let’s face it, Daisy was terrible) or mainly because the film just wasn’t as beloved as the next (and trust me, some were very, very close).

Whether you’re watching curled up with a nice hot cup of cocoa with your significant other, marathoning with your close friends, or binging on Netflix with a blanket and a pillow, these are the 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of all time:

Top 50 Romantic Period Dramas

(in alphabetical order)

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Title: A Room with a View

Year: 1985

Director: James Ivory

Our Take: No one does period drama quite like Merchant-Ivory, their adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel definitely one of (if not) their best. They bring to life the story of Lucy and her growing attraction to an eccentric man named George whom she meets in Italy. But can she follow her heart when she’s engaged to someone else? Overall, the costumes, the script by the late and amazing Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (The Remains of the Day), the brilliant visual atmosphere of a different era since gone, and the phenomenal acting all fall fully into place. While the two leads fit their roles like a glove (Helena Bonham-Carter and Julian Sands), the supporting players were just as great with memorable performances by Maggie Smith as Lucy’s prim chaperone and Daniel Day Lewis as the stuffy, priggish fiancée. Basically, with this period drama you can’t go wrong.

Content Note: This is essentially G/PG with the exception of one nudity scene when the men go skinny dipping.


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Title: A Tale of Two Cities

Year: 1935

Directors: Jack Conway and Robert Z. Leonard

Our Take: The reason this adaptation of Dickens’ classic about the French Revolution is worth watching, comes mostly down to the emotional  performance and charisma of Ronald Colman as the lead character Sydney. You feel what he feels right down to his eyes, including the pain of unrequited love. One of the best films I have ever seen.

Content Note: Nothing to really fret about except for some adult and violent themes related to the French Revolution.


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#3

Title: The Abduction Club

Year: 2002

Director: Stefan Schwartz

Our Take: An adorable period comedy featuring Alice Evans, Daniel Lapaine, Sophia Myles and Matthew Rhys about a group of noblemen who kidnap rich girls in order to marry into their fortunes. But what happens when the kidnapped girls fall for their handsome captors? While certainly not one of the most amazing films of all time, it is definitely one of the most enjoyable if you watch with the right attitude (as in don’t take it seriously). If you’re looking for something light-hearted and charming, look no further than The Abduction Club (that is if you can get your hands on a copy). The chemistry between all the four leads is also note-worthy!

Content Note: PG-13.


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#4

Title: The Age of Innocence

Year: 1993

Director: Martin Scorsese

Our Take: Based on Edith Wharton’s classic novel, Scorsese’s adaptation is a visual masterpiece. Most importantly, however is the intense chemistry between Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. In a world where being different is looked down upon, these two souls find each other, but can they be happy, especially since Newland is already engaged to Ellen’s cousin May (Winona Ryder)? A romantic and breathtaking film I recommend to all.

Content Note: PG.


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Title: Amazing Grace

Year: 2006

Director: Michael Apted

Our Take: An underrated and emotional film about William Wilberforce and his attempt to end the slave trade. Starring the always amazing Ioan Gruffudd and Romola Garai (should we count how many of her movies made the list?), everything works in this period drama: from the moving script, the top notch acting (Benedict Cumberbatch is in this too), down to the entertaining romance between William and Barbara. The passionate relationship between Barbara and William based on both their desire for social change truly felt real. This is an ‘amazing’ film not to be missed.

Content Note: PG.


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#6

Title: Anne of Green Gables and The Continuing Story

Year: 1985; 1987

Director: Kevin Sullivan

Our Take: As a huge fan of everything L.M. Montgomery, I always go back to the mini-series that first introduced me into the world of Prince Edward Island and the orphan Anne who wins everyone’s hearts. Who can’t help but love Anne (with an ‘e’) and all her shenanigans? This is period drama at its very best. The writing and characterization comes alive immediately and the romance between Anne and Gilbert definitely rivals the greatest love stories in literature and film that will most definitely make you swoon. For those who haven’t seen this yet, go immediately and find a copy! Seriously!

Content Note: PG.


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#7

Title: Atonement

Year: 2007

Director: Joe Wright

Our Take: Director Joe Wright is an artist and Atonement shows off his artistry magnificently. Within this tale of a lie gone terribly wrong, 13 year old Briony separates her sister (Keira Knightley) from her love Robbie (James McAvoy) when she accuses him of a crime he didn’t commit. When war breaks out, the thwarted lovers are once again separated by new obstacles. A story about redemption and love, this is a visual treat I highly recommend.

Content Note: R. There is definitely adult content in this, including sexuality and war images.


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#8

Title: Becoming Jane

Year: 2007

Director: Julian Jarrold

Our Take: While the love story in this film is mostly based on speculation, who cares? I loved the romance between Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) and Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy makes the list again). Even if the story isn’t exactly what happened, the romance is so believable that you walk away almost wishing everything transpired just like this. A great movie for Austen lovers everywhere!

Content Note: PG. We wouldn’t want anything but a clean romance for Jane Austen, right?


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  • #9

Title: Belle

Year: 2014

Director: Amma Asante

Our Take: In the style of a Jane Austen novel, Belle is inspired by a true story about a mixed-race woman raised by her white father’s wealthy family in England. Growing up with love, but also made to feel very different because of her skin color, this is a movie not only about marriage and finding a husband, but also one about social change (a good mix between Austen and Amazing Grace). Most notable is the lovely romance between Belle (played by the beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and lawyer John Davinier. A great film all around with fabulous directing, acting, and even a bit of humor from a mother and son played by Miranda Richardson and Tom Felton.

Content Note: PG. This is a clean love story.


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#10

Title: Bleak House

Year: 2005 (TV Mini-Series)

Director: Justin Chadwick and Susanna White

Our Take: Based on a Dickens novel (about a lawsuit that destroys lives) and adapted by period screenwriter Andrew Davies, Bleak House is a phenomenal production on all levels right down to the grittiest detail. With more than one love story to delve into and characterization as deep as an ocean, you can’t go wrong with Bleak House. Worthy of note: Gillan Anderson’s brilliant performance.

Content Note: Clean, but does reveal injustices of the time period.


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#11

Title: Bright Star

Year: 2009

Director: Jane Campion

Our Take: A true love story based on the lives of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Ben Whishaw as poet Keats is a revelation. I believed every line and I felt every emotion or look he directed at Fanny (played by Abbie Cornish). This is truly a love story that tugs at the heartstrings, but without any of that swelling music. Campion’s film is all about subtlety and the quiet poetic nature of love.

Content Note: PG.


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#12

Title: Call the Midwife

Year: 2012- (TV Series)

Creator: Heidi Thomas

Our Take: This just may be one of the best written shows of all time with performances from an ensemble cast to match the writing at every turn. A show with authentic emotion and substance, Call the Midwife celebrates women, friendship, family, and love. Although the show focuses on midwifery and the people these women meet, romance definitely seeps in. You’ll laugh, cry, and just really get invested in the characters’ lives.

Content Note: While a wholesome show, there is disturbing content and also realistic portrayals of births.


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#13

Title: Cold Mountain

Year: 2003

Director: Anthony Minghella

Our Take: Adapted from a fantastic book by Charles Frazier, Minghella captures the time of the American Civil War and atmosphere of North Caroline beautifully. As these two shy characters, Ada and Inman, come together (awkwardly), the romance really jumps off the screen and you can’t help but become invested in their survival.

Content Note: Rated R for sexuality and war.


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#14

Title: Cranford

Year: 2007 (TV Mini-Series)

Creator: Sue Birtwhistle and Susie Conklin; all episodes written by Heidi Thomas.

Our Take: Aside from Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery Period Dramas, adaptations of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels also rank high as personal favorites. Cranford tells the story of a town on the brink of the Industrial Revolution. With change coming, the women in town wonder how it will affect their lives. Romance and gossip of course ensues!  Not only is Cranford uplifting, funny, and sad, it is also absorbing from beginning to end. I particularly adored the love story between Judi Dench’s character and Michael Gambon’s (Dumbledore). Love isn’t just for the young after all.

Content Note: TV PG.


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#15

Title: Daniel Deronda

Year: 2002 (TV Mini-Series)

Creators: Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech).

Our Take: In a time when women had very few options, Gwendolen must decide if she should marry the terrible Grandcourt to be secure in life or become a governess. Then there is also her attraction towards the kind young man Daniel Deronda, a man of unknown birth. What can I say other than that the chemistry between Romola Garai and Hugh Dancy as the title leads is just incredible? Their looks are intense, every touch tender and believable. While a love triangle takes over when the story adds in the insipid Mirah into the mix (sorry but I sort of hate her), this is still one Period romance you don’t want to miss. Extra points rewarded for the superb performance by Hugh Bonneville as the wickedly awful Grandcourt.

Content Note: TV PG.

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Autumn Topping

CO-FOUNDER & EDITOR

"Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile," L.M. Montgomery. In second grade, Autumn wrote her first story, “The Spinach Monster,” and hasn't stopped writing since. Intrigued by the tales her grandmother told of vampires, witches, and ghosts as a girl, she's always been drawn to the fantastic. Later, Autumn studied English and Creative Writing (continuing her love for classic literature and everything old-fashioned) and also graduated with an MA in Children’s Literature and an MS in Library & Information Science from Simmons College. Currently, she co-runs this lovely blog and works at The New York Public Library as a YA Librarian.

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  • sk

    North and South should be #1 on the list. Hands down—the best romantic scene I have ever scene! I have watched this movie so many times, and yet, I still cannot swallow when the train scene happens. I just become giddy happy. It’s perfect!

    • Lakeisha Ellis

      I agree North and South should be #1 I find myself watching the train scene multiple times, not wanting it end.

      • North and South would definitely be at the top of the list if this wasn’t in alphabetical order.

      • ana cara-linda

        North & South is an obsession. I watch it & re-watch it often… I prefer Mr.Thornton to Mr.Darcy any day, anytime! He’s smouldering hot, tries to look severe but has a heart of gold and when he looks at Margaret or when they shake hands… oh my… every moment between them is like an electric current. I like the book but nothing beats that movie ending at the train station. My heart alters between racing and stopping all at once when that scene starts… It’s one of the most beautiful miniseries ever made.

        • kk

          Yesh!!!!!!!!

    • Brenda Reeves

      I watch that movie almost everyday.

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  • Mara

    While it’s not a British period drama, I would highly recommend Grand Hotel. It is a Spanish period drama TV series with English subtitles set in the early 1900s in a luxury hotel. It follows the “upstairs/downstairs” theme from Downton Abbey, and the main love story is so sweet and swoon-worthy! Netflix only has season 1 and 2, though I’ve heard season 3 (the final season) will be available in Summer 2015 on Netflix.

    • We’ve added a review of Grand Hotel on our site. I love it! Hopefully, season 3 will be up soon on Netflix like you said. I can’t wait.

  • Vicki_L_Hale

    Ditto A Room With A View. I think I would replace Becoming Jane with Miss Austen Regrets. Also, I loved Toby Stephens as Gatsby in the version starring Mira Sorvino. Heck I love Toby Stephens in EVERYTHING. He’s my favorite Mr. Rochester ever (he was in the 2006 adaptation), and Photographing Fairies is also a terrific post-WW1 period drama he was in, along with Ben Kingsley. I don’t think Toby Stephens gets nearly enough credit/attention/accolades etc. Maybe he keeps a low profile because his mother is so famous (Maggie Smith), but I think he smoulders like no one else, and is just fantastically good looking. Definitely prefer his Rochester to Fassbender’s – no contest!! Would love to see Toby Stephens in *more* period dramas, but I’m not really into the whole pirates thing, so I haven’t really seen much of Black Sails.

    • ana cara-linda

      Have you seen him in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? I adored him there (favorite of mine) and I do like him as Mr.Rochester but I’m addicted to Jane Eyre so I love all Mr.Rochester’s versions…

      • lfw57

        Completely agree about Toby Stephens. His Rochester is my favorite (with Timothy Dalton a close second). Has been criticized as too sexual, but certainly isn’t tough to watch him. The chemistry with Ruth Wilson is amazing…and she epitomized Jane Eyre.

  • kk

    North & South is the best!!!!! I also watched Foyle’s war When i was little and enjoyed it a lot!!
    Thank you for this list!!!
    ~ i have got some watchin to do

  • ana cara-linda

    Finally saw The Abduction Club and I must confess that I enjoyed it. Interesting way of getting wives, not any kind (of course!), they should be heiresses… lol… the part at the beginning when that older lady says all excited that she was once (almost) taken but alas! it was a mistake… ahahah… it’s a relaxed, funny film. Thank you for putting it up on your list.

  • lesley_williams

    If you’re going to include The Abduction Club, then you need “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Also, can’t believe you left off classics like Gigi, My Fair Lady, Laura, and Rebecca. Interesting list, but several of these have little romantic content.

    • Well, this is a subjective list. So each person may pick differently. Though the film Rebecca is more a classic than a period drama. At the time it was filmed, the fashion in the film seemed more current. But yes, it is an amazing film! That all said, going through the list all of these choices have more than a little romantic content even if they aren’t “romances.” So which ones are you referring to?

  • lfw57

    The Forsyte Saga should be here…a glaring omission (IMHO)

  • rosie1843

    I don’t know if I would include “Amazing Grace” on this list. It seemed more like a movie about the British slave trade than a romance between William and Barbara Wilberforce. Oh well, to each her own.

    • I love many aspects of the film, “Amazing Grace.” Romance was one such element that made the film wonderful. Not all of these have to technically be a romance to be romantic. A great romance is usually about something more! But yes, this is a subjective personal favorites list from Autumn. Both of us happen to love the romance in “Amazing Grace” as well as the chemistry between the actors. But not everyone will agree. That’s fine with us! 🙂

  • rosie1843

    Personally, I don’t think I would not have included “The Hour”, “Moulin Rouge” or “Downton Abbey” on this list.

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