The 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of All Time

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#16

Title: Downton Abbey

Year: 2010- (TV Series)

Creator: Julian Fellowes

Our Take: Just when period dramas started to fade out of production, Downton Abbey thankfully sparked some life into the genre. With an ensemble cast of interesting characters from the upstairs and downstairs, zippy one-liners from Maggie Smith, and several love stories to create intrigue, Downton has something for everyone. If there are any downsides to this fabulously entertaining series, it comes down to actors leaving the show too soon.

Content Note: Typically TV-PG. Perhaps a couple could have been rated TV-14.


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#17

Title: Emma

Year: 2009 (TV Mini-Series)

Writer/Director: Written by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

Our Take: While there are many adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma I love, the 2009 adaptation is by far my favorite. Why? Dream casting occurred with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. Yes, she’s playing younger and he’s playing older. It is still enchantingly romantic, and of course, Michael Gambon as Emma’s father is perfection.

Content Note: Somewhere between TV G and PG.


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#18

Title: Finding Neverland

Year: 2004

Director: Marc Forster

Our Take: I love biopics and Finding Neverland is definitely one of the best. In a film about J.M. Barrie’s inspiration behind Peter Pan, the movie proves you can tell a realistic story without leaving imagination behind.

While the love story between J.M. Barrie and Sylvia is more unspoken, what is unspoken is most assuredly romantic. This is a wonderful film that will make you believe in magic.

Content Note: PG.


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#19

Title: Foyle’s War

Year: 2002- (TV Series)

Creator: Anthony Horowitz

Our Take: A recent discovery of mine (or at least one I finally got around to watching on Netflix), I was pretty much hooked by episode two. With the focus on mysteries in the midst of WWII and Foyle’s crew on the case, there are several interesting ideas the writer can play with. And as for the romance, Samantha Stewart (Foyle’s driver) has plenty of love interests. My favorite is with Foyle’s son. Great writing, intriguing mysteries, and characters you can’t help but love, all make Foyle’s War a great choice to consider for your next period drama binge.

Content Note: Likely rated between TV-PG and TV-14 for violent images.


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#20

Title: Gone with the Wind

Year: 1939

Director: Victor Fleming (2 others are uncredited).

Our Take: An epic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s historical fiction novel about the Civil War with memorable characters that leap off the screen. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh became Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara so completely that no one will ever be able to play the characters again with equal justice. Everything about this film works, right down to the sensual chemistry between the leads and Scarlett’s selfish survivalist attitude. If you haven’t seen this yet, make sure to make it a priority!

Content Note: Would be PG if rated.


romantic period dramas

#21

Title: He Knew He Was Right

Year: 2004 (TV Mini-Series)

Writer/Director: Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Vaughan.

Our Take: During Victorian England, a young couple’s marriage turns to turmoil when the husband’s suspicion of an affair becomes paranoia. With adaptations like He Knew He Was Right, one has to wonder why more of Anthony Trollope’s MANY novels haven’t made it into BBC productions just yet (there are a few others).

Romantic, charming, tragic, and even hilarious, this is one Period Drama that will entertain from beginning to end. The best part is hands down David Tennant’s performance in one of his funniest roles to date.

Content Note: Would be PG if rated.


romantic period dramas#22

Title: The Hour

Year: 2011 (TV Series)

Creator: Abi Morgan

Our Take: Set in 1950s England, The Hour follows a group of characters running an investigative news program. In the process, secrets, vices, and spies come to light. And at the center of it all is a fantastic (and earned) romance between the two leads.

I love Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw, but together in a TV series? Pure gold! Brilliant writing (gives me the shivers at times), an amazing cast (including Dominic West, Anna Chancellor, and Peter Capaldi), atmospheric production design, and tangible chemistry between Whishaw and Garai, The Hour outshines Mad Men in every way. With likeable characters and a romance you can root for (Freddie and Bel are definitely in my top ten); this is a great choice for all you period lovers out there.

Content Note: Depending on the episode, the rating is somewhere between TV-14 and TV MA. Unlike several American cable shows, however, any adult content feels relevant to the plot and is not added in unnecessarily.


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#23

Title: The House of Mirth

Year: 2000

Director: Terence Davies

Our Take: Another adaptation of a Wharton classic, The House of Mirth is an underrated gem. The film is about societal expectations at the turn of the century as Lily gets caught up between her heart and what she thinks she should do. Gillian Anderson’s performance in the title role stands out and her chemistry with Eric Stoltz is off the charts. While this is quite the depressing love story and film, sometimes tragedy can be just as swoon-worthy as a happy ending in romantic period dramas.

Content Note: Rated PG.


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#24

Title: I Capture the Castle

Year: 2003

Director/Writer: Tim Fywell and written by Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife)

Our Take: A coming of age story about 17-year-old Cassandra as she and her sister try to survive in an old castle. Poor, they don’t have any prospects until a couple of brothers become their new landlords. Love of course ensues, but it all gets messed up when Cassandra falls for her sister’s fiancée. A drama, a comedy, and all around great film, with wonderful performances from Romola Garai and especially Bill Nighy as Cassandra’s father, this is a lesser known period drama worth checking out. Also based on one of my favorite novels of all time!

Content Note: Rated R for brief nudity. This is only R because Cassandra’s eccentric stepmother is a nudist.


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#25

Title: Jane Eyre

Year: 2003 (TV Mini-Series)

Director/Writer: Susanna White (Bleak House) and written by Sandy Welch (North and South)

Our Take: There are several fantastic adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (I particularly liked the ’83 and 2011 versions), but this one captures the spirit of the novel the best. Not to mention, the perfect Jane had finally been discovered. Ruth Wilson’s performance as the governess who falls for the Byronic, moody (but also flirty) Mr. Rochester, is astonishing. I’m not sure anyone could ever top Wilson’s portrayal of Jane because she not only gave a good performance, she captured Jane’s spirit.

Toby Stephens as Rochester matches Jane every step of the way. With chemistry so passionate and intense between Jane and Rochester, you will believe Jane’s turmoil once she discovers the secrets he and Thornfield Manor have been hiding.

Content Note: A couple of sensual scenes but nothing too racy.


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#26

Title: Lark Rise to Candleford

Year: 2008- (TV Series)

Creator: Bill Gallagher (The Paradise)

Our Take: Based on a semi-autobiographical book by Flora Thompson, the TV series follows Laura as she moves from Lark Rise to work in Candleford’s post office. Similar to Cranford, Lark Rise is about change at the turn of the century and the lives caught up in these two towns. Uplifting and romantic, I got invested in all the lives of this richly developed ensemble of characters. If characterization and feel good dramas are your thing, look no further than Lark Rise to Candleford.

Content Note: TV-PG


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#27

Title: Little Dorrit

Year: 2008 (TV Mini-Series)

Writer: Andrew Davies

Our Take: In another Dickens adaption, Little Dorrit is about Amy Dorrit, circumstantially obligated to either work or help her father in the debtor’s prison. When she meets Arthur Clennam (Matthew MacFadyen), her boss’s son, their lives interlink as a mystery about her connection to the Clennam family begins to unfold. In the meantime, Amy can’t help but fall for Arthur, the man who shows her so much kindness. Once again, Andrew Davies proves he is a master screenwriter of the period drama.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#28

Title: Little Women

Year: 1994

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Our Take: Based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, this is a heartwarming film for the whole family to enjoy. Nevertheless, I’ll be honest, I almost cut this film from the list just because I despise the ending so much (I loathe the Professor), but I knew that would be a wrong decision. Sometimes, endings don’t work out the way we want, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the journey, and I very much enjoyed the journey of the March sisters (especially Jo) and their next-door neighbor Laurie.

This is a coming of age story set in post-Civil War about family, hardship, friendship, romance, and even unrequited love. A heartwarming story with endearing characters to lift the spirits!

Content Note: PG.


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#29

Title: Mansfield Park

Year: 1999

Writer: Patricia Rozema

Our Take: So this isn’t exactly Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and for some reason that doesn’t bother me all that much. Instead of ‘just’ an exact adaptation of the classic book about shy and poor Fanny Price living with her rich relations, Rozema combined the story with Jane Austen’s own letters and also included themes of the social injustices of the time period.

Witty, well-acted, and just plain engaging (thanks to the sharp dialogue), Mansfield Park is one entertaining film for those who aren’t quite Austen purists. On a side note, I much prefer this Edmond (Jonny Lee Miller), on a romantic level that is, to book Edmond.

Content Note: PG-13.


romantic period dramas

#30

Title: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Year: 2012- (TV Series)

Creator: Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger

Our Take: Set in 1920s Melbourne, Miss Phryne Fisher sleuths her way through a murder mystery or two, all with the help of shy Dot, handsome Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, and her golden pistol. Wit, charm, humor, romance, fabulous characterization, and interesting mysteries, all make for one of the most entertaining TV shows of all time. For those who have Netflix, series 1 is available…

Content Note: Most of the time, it is about TV-14, but there are a few scenes that delve into TV-MA material (not very often though) with some nudity.

Go to Page 3 for more romantic period dramas!

By on October 2nd, 2014

About Autumn Topping

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 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 as a YA Librarian.

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33 thoughts on “The 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of All Time”

  1. 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!

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

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
      • remember the scene…….”look back..look back at me.” all they showed was his face but by that, you knew she didnt look back. ah, i felt his pain. after falling in love w/armitage, i’ll watch anything he is in. did you see robin hood? he plays guy of gisbourne & even though he was a bad guy out to get robin hood…i was rooting for him (not robin hood) to get the heroine & find redemption! haaaaaa!

        Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • 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…

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
    • 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! 🙂

      Reply
  8. I’m simply at a loss as to why “The Last of the Mohicans” starring Daniel Day Lewis and Madeline Stowe is not on this list. Maybe the list is limited to period films in/around the United Kingdom, but really this film is simply not to be missed , esp. since it contains one of the single most romantic moments in all of romantic movie history, when Daniel Day Lewis’ character says to Madeline Stowe’s Cora, “I will find you! No matter what happens, I will find you!” right before he dives off of a cliff into a waterfall.

    Ditto “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Boxer” also starring DDL.

    Moving on, there’s also “The Wide Sargasso Sea,” “Firelight”, “Shakespeare in Love” (maybe I missed?). “Chocolate.” I know I’m forgetting a couple more. If you’re an addict like I am, the list can never be long enough. 🙂

    Reply
    • The list is subjective and was dependent on our mood at the time the list was made. 🙂 So, 6 years ago. That said, I agree, there’s never a list long enough for everything. The Last of the Mohicans is definitely an excellent romantic period drama. I would imagine our list would look different if compiled now. But no list will have everyone’s favorites! There are just too many.

      Reply
  9. I think the point is that there are 50 but not that it’s in a special order. WONDERFUL THAT OUTLANDER IS ON THE LIST, my fave!

    Reply

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