UNDERRATED AND OBSCURE PERIOD DRAMAS TO WATCH
Charles Dickens is another classic author whose novels are commonly adapted (by companies like the BBC) into beautiful period pieces.
Or perhaps your guilty pleasure is more in the realm of BBC’s Poldark. While re-watching all of our favorites time and again never goes out of style, there is something to be said for discovering new period gems.
I find discoveries most often after a lengthy online browsing session that started out as a quick search and leads to an epic “window shopping” session.
Seeking out new period dramas that look of interest is, after all, a vital and healthy antidote to keeping one’s fan girl propensities under control. Or that’s what I tell myself. This is an example of how just one such session would go.
Oh, that cover looks beautiful. *clicks link*
Wait, does that one star… *clicks link*
I remember watching that years ago… but I need to see it again. *clicks link*
Lydia Wilson and Linus Roache in The Making of a Lady │ Photo: ITV/PBS
Today I’ve put together a list that spotlights a mere few of the underrated historical movies lost in obscurity. Or if you’re anything like me, they are simply forgotten.
Some I’ve seen, others I haven’t but they are on my watchlist. Cataloged below is a wide and varying list of dramas.
There are comedies and romances, dark atmospheric dramas, and tragedies. All of which take place in a variety of time periods.
Perhaps you’ll find a new discovery that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for or maybe you’ll rediscover a classic you had long forgotten.
(Note: The availability of where to watch these dramas was last updated in April 2023. Availability is subject to change at any time.)
20 UNDERRATED AND OBSCURE PERIOD DRAMAS
(Listed Alphabetically From A-Z)
1. The 39 Steps
A remake of an oldie, The 39 Steps stars British actor Rupert Penry-Jones. It’s, surprisingly, more of a comic “cozy mystery” than anything, and because of this, overplays the ending a bit.
Still, the promise of what might come is sweet (and I do adore the romance).
Availability: The 39 Steps is available on DVD, Hoopla, and Vudu video (for purchase).
2. Ballet Shoes
Ballet Shoes is an underrated coming-of-age story about three orphans being raised by their benefactor (played by Emilia Fox).
Based on the classic children’s novel of the same name, the story weaves in a sweet romantic subplot and ends with a surprisingly bittersweet feeling. The film also stars Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson.
Availability: Ballet Shoes is available to stream on Peacock, Roku, Plex, Crackle, Tubi, and Amazon’s Freevee. You can also rent/buy it on Amazon Digital and on DVD.
3. Berkeley Square
Short-lived though it was, this miniseries is scrumptious. It’s a look at the 1800s through the life of the women who took care of the gentry’s children.
Given its cancelation, the ending leaves some loose ends. Still worth a watch though.
Availability: Berkeley Square is available to buy on DVD.
4. Bertie and Elizabeth
Sweet and romantic, this ITV film tells the story of King George I, the shy royal with a stutter who ascended to the throne following his brother’s abdication.
Though The King’s Speech takes a more serious approach to the same material, this film looks more closely at Bertie and his wife, Elizabeth’s relationship in a more whimsical, romantic nature, which is lovely.
Availability: Bertie and Elizabeth is available to stream on Peacock, Roku, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Freevee. You can also purchase it on DVD.
Part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame collection, this one is set in Ireland. It involves a cattle drive and a kind of forbidden romance plot.
As a girl, it was one of my favorite films. It’s been years since I saw it, but if memory serves, it’s quite a charming little unknown.
Availability: You can stream Durango on Hallmark Movies Now, Plex, and Pluto TV or buy it on VHS.
6. Falling for a Dancer
Starring Collin Farrell, this Irish film tells the story of a young woman who finds herself unwed and pregnant. Shunned by the people in her village, she’s married off to a man many years her senior.
I’ve not personally seen this though it looks like an interesting drama that deals with some harsh truths, yet promises a happy ending (unusual since Collin Farrell stars – his films are notorious for tragic ends). What I have skipped through looked gorgeous. The film has a European rating of “15.”
Availability: Falling for a Dancer is available on DVD.
7. A Good Woman
One of Oscar Wilde’s more obscure stories, this one is also known as Lady Windemere’s Fan. The most recent adaptation stars Scarlett Johansson and Helen Hunt, and it is really, quite an amusing story about secrets and of course, plenty of romance!
Availability: A Good Woman is available to rent/buy on Digital and DVD or to stream on Freevee, Tubi, and Kanopy.
8. The Inheritance
Based on a novel by Louisa May Alcott, this is often overlooked by her most popular work, Little Women. Though it’s a little dated, the television film inspired by the book is a unique entity on its own.
The story is about a young orphan raised by a wealthy family to be their only daughter’s companion. It’s very sweet and romantic.
Availability: The Inheritance is available to stream on Freevee, Tubi, Pluto TV, and FilmRise. You can also buy it on DVD (extremely inexpensive).
9. In Love and War (Hallmark)
Another Hallmark Hall of Fame title, not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock film of the same name, this one is based on a true story.
Essentially, it’s the love story of two people who came from opposing sides in the war; him British, her Italian. Their fight to be together and find one another again comes alive quite beautifully in this poignant made-for-TV production.
Availability: In Love and War is available on DVD and to stream on Hallmark Movies Now.
10. The Lady Vanishes
A woman on a train entangles herself in a mystery and follows her hunches, investigating it throughout a train journey she’s on while aided by a fellow passenger.
With its stellar cast, anyone wanting a cozy kind of mystery with a twist or two will find a charmer in The Lady Vanishes.
Availability: The Lady Vanishes is available to stream on Prime Video and Britbox. You can also buy it on Digital and DVD.
11. Land Girls
Though not as serious as some of its British counterparts in the same era, this three-season series is compelling enough to hold viewers’ interest.
The primary story follows the women who became “land girls” during the WWII efforts. Characters come and go as the cast interchanges, but the stories remain interesting.
Availability: Land Girls is available to stream on Britbox and Acorn TV. You can also buy it on Digital and DVD.
12. The Making of a Lady
Mysterious and unique are two words to describe this. Centering on a young bride who is soon abandoned by her husband when he leaves to rejoin his regiment.
We watch her settle into her new role as mistress of a new home and the increasing danger presented by her husband’s bizarre relatives. Each complex layer that is peeled back darkens the story, but it’s ultimately an utterly romantic drama with a touch of macabre.
Availability: The Making of a Lady is available to stream on the PBS Masterpiece Amazon Channel and to buy on Amazon (digitally) or on DVD.
This 1994 adaptation of Middlemarch is one of the best BBC period dramas, and though not as compelling or romantic as something like North and South, it still tells a good story set during the Industrial Revolution.
The miniseries stars a young Rufus Sewall.
Availability: Middlemarch is available to stream on Britbox or buy on DVD.
14. Miss Rose White
This Hallmark film stars Kyra Sedgewick as a Polish woman living in America, having fled prior to Hilter’s invasion.
Now, years later, she lives a promising life until her sister (who did not escape the realities of war) immigrates to America, forcing Rose and her father to confront horrific memories. Sadly, this one isn’t readily available.
Availability: Miss Rose White is available on VHS.
15. A Month in the Country
Who knew Colin Firth had a number of films to his credit prior to his breakout role as Darcy in A&E’s Pride and Prejudice!? This 1987 film involves a painting and somehow figures in WWI veterans.
Though the budget was limited and the filming time was limited, the stellar cast was in no short supply and includes, Natasha Richardson, Jim Carter, and Kenneth Branagh.
Availability: Stream on Peacock, Roku, Vudu, Tubi, Freevee, Kanopy, and Plex. You can also rent/buy it on Digital and DVD.
16. THE Portrait of a Lady
It’s been years since I saw this one. I remember next to nothing about it other than coming across it randomly on the rental store shelves.
Considering its cast (Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Viggo Mortensen, Christian Bale, and more) and genre, I walked out of the video store with it among my rentals.
It’s about a young American woman who moves to England only to find her way of living and that of the older, more staid British society much different.
Jane Campion directed this period romance based on the Henry James novel.
Availability: The Portrait of a Lady is available to stream on Paramount+ or to buy on DVD.
17. The Return of the Native
Starring a young Catherine Zeta-Jones, this is also a part of the Hallmark family. Based on a novel by Thomas Hardy, it’s about a young woman fellow villagers accuse of being a witch.
In hopes of escaping, she winds up marrying a newly returned neighbor’s son, whose plans are to remain in England rather than return to Paris.
Though atmospheric, the story isn’t the brightest ray of sunshine, although it’s heavy on the angsty romance. (Does anyone else notice how similar Hardy’s works seem to be?)
Watch this if you’re in the mood for sad period dramas.
Availability: Return of the Native is available to stream on Hallmark Movies Now or buy on DVD.
18. The Ruby in the Smoke
Based on a novel by Phillip Pullman, this Masterpiece Mystery is about a recently orphaned young woman. She sets about solving a mystery that involves her father and a valuable ruby.
The cast is quite impressive; Billie Piper, Matt Smith, Hayley Atwell, and JJ Feild. Plus this was directed by the genius behind North and South, Brian Percival. There’s a sequel too: The Shadow in the North.
19. Under the Greenwood Tree
If you didn’t see his name in the description or credits, you’d never guess this was based on a Thomas Hardy novel.
Instead of doom, this period drama romance is a happier story about an educated woman who returns to her humble roots and begins teaching the children in the village.
It has a star-crossed lover scenario when the woman’s father wishes her to marry well and instead, she falls for a poor local boy.
Availability: Under the Greenwood Tree is available to stream on Prime Video, Roku, Tubi, and Plex. You can also buy it on DVD.
20. War and Peace (2007)
I saw this one thanks to the recommendation of a friend, and it took me a year to finally get around to watching it.
Originally filmed in Russian, it was later dubbed and released in English. You can watch it with subtitles or as the dubbed version.
The story follows the classic piece of literature, is beautifully romantic, and has one of the prettiest ballroom scenes I’ve ever seen.
Availability: War and Peace is available on Hoopla, Acorn TV, and on DVD.
Have you seen any of these or were you ever curious about them? What are some of your favorite underrated period dramas? Comment down below with your thoughts!
Featured image credit: A Good Woman. Photo: Lions Gate Films.