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.
Romantic 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.
Our particular list of the Top 50 Romantic Period Dramas ranges 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:
(Update: The list was created in 2014 and represent personal favorites based on what we’d seen at the time.)
Top 50 Romantic Period Dramas
(in alphabetical order)
Title: A Room with a View
Director: James Ivory
Our Take: No one does romantic period dramas 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.
Title: A Tale of Two Cities
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.
Title: The Abduction Club
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.
Title: The Age of Innocence
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 especially if you love romantic period dramas.
Content Note: PG.
Title: Amazing Grace
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.
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 come 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! This is one of the best romantic period dramas in existence.
Content Note: PG.
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.
Title: Becoming Jane
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?
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.
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.
Title: Bright Star
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.
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.
Title: Cold Mountain
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.
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.
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 dislike 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.
Go to Page 2 for more romantic period dramas!