The 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of All Time

romantic period dramas

#31

Title: Moulin Rouge

Year: 2001

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Our Take: Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, this film is about a writer that unfortunately falls in love with a dying courtesan, all in the midst of Paris at turn of the century in a place called the Moulin Rouge. This is epic romance at its best! Plus, you get to sing along to familiar songs as well.

Content Note: PG-13.


romantic period dramas

#32

Title: Much Ado About Nothing

Year: 1993

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Our Take: In the funniest Shakespeare adaptation to date, Much Ado includes one of the best all-star ensemble casts ever in a Shakespeare production made for the big screen. The film includes Branagh, Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Robert Sean Leonard, and Kate Beckinsale, telling the story of a man hater (Thompson) and the ultimate bachelor (Branagh) that come together when their friends and family convince the two of the other’s secret, undying devotion.

With laugh out loud moments and at least one romance to root for, Much Ado About Nothing is an enjoyable riotous affair, even for those not too keen on Shakespeare.

Content Note: PG-13.


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#33

Title: Nicholas Nickleby

Year: 2002

Director: Douglas McGrath

Our Take: Based on a Dickens novel, the film follows idealistic Nickleby as he fights against his corrupt Uncle and also the injustices of a corrupt school, all in order to protect his family and friends. In the process, he falls in love with a sweet young woman who is under her father’s terrible thumb. A wonderful character story with an even more wonderful cast (Charlie Hunnam, Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, Jamie Bell, Juliet Stevenson, Jim Broadbent, etc.), especially because of the outstanding performance by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as the severe Uncle.

Content Note: PG.


 #34romantic period dramas

Title: North & South

Year: 2004 (TV Mini-Series)

Director/Writer: Directed by Brian Percival (The Book Thief) and Adapted by Sandy Welch.

Our Take: Part Dickens, part Jane Austen, North & South, is a TV Mini-Series for the romantic and non-romantic alike. The story follows a pampered, yet compassionate young woman from the South whose family moves to the Northern and industrial town, Milton.

In this new unwelcome world, Margaret Hale crosses paths with Mr. Thornton (the gorgeous Richard Armitage), a cotton mill owner, and fails to understand him and their differences. The passionate Thornton soon falls for Margaret, but can she overcome her first impressions of this hardened man? One of the most romantic period dramas ever and extremely recommended.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#35

Title: Northanger Abbey

Year: 2007

Director/Writer: Directed by Jon Jones and Adapted by Andrew Davies.

Our Take: Not every romantic period drama needs to be serious. Sometimes, you just want to have a good time. If that’s what you’re looking for, then look no further than this adaptation of Austen’s satirical look at Gothic novels. With the perfect cast (J.J. Feild, Felicity Jones, and Carey Mulligan), don’t miss out on this enjoyable period drama. Note: If possible, don’t watch the American version since they cut out a couple of scenes.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#36

Title: Our Mutual Friend

Year: 1998 (TV Mini-Series)

Director/Writer: Directed by Julian Farino and Adapted by Sandy Welch.

Our Take: In another Dickens story about class and love, a dead man is found, a man who was meant to receive a large inheritance if he married a girl named Bella (Anne Friel), a woman he never met. As the money falls to the poor, yet kind Boffins, they take in Bella as she begins falling in love with a mysterious man. In the midst of inheritances and romance, is another fabulous love story featuring Paul McGann (Doctor Who) and Keeley Hawes.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#37

Title: Outlander

Year: 2014-

Creator: Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica)

Our Take: Only 8 episodes in, and Outlander has already made quite the impression. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular book series, Outlander follows Claire as she accidentally time travels from the 1940s to 1740s in the Scottish Highlands. As she tries to get back to her husband Frank, she must marry a Highlander to survive, falling for him in the process. Excellent writing, spellbinding stories, and performances that bring these famous characters to life, all make for a fabulous period drama and slight fantasy production.

Content Note: TV-MA. There are definite adult situations since this airs on a cable network. 


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#38

Title: The Paradise

Year: 2012- (TV Series)

Creator: Bill Gallagher

Our Take: From the same man that brought us Lark Rise to Candleford, comes another wonderful and uplifting period drama based on a much grittier novel by Emile Zola (the show didn’t really take the gritty route from the book). This time, the story follows a young and ambitious shop girl who falls in love with the head of the department store, Mr. Moray.

Once again, Gallagher writes some of the best character work on TV, reminiscent of Avonlea (though a little darker). The chemistry between the leads is dynamic and about as romantic as you can possibly get. While this show, unfortunately, got canceled after the second season, the ending definitely works as a finale.

Content Note: There are some semi sensual scenes but this is essentially TV-PG.


romantic period dramas

#39

Title: Persuasion

Year: 2007

Director: Adrian Shergold

Our Take: While I also love the ’95 version of Austen’s classic love story, I decided to select this one chiefly because of the brilliant casting of Rupert Penry-Jones as one of my favorite romantic heroes, Captain Wentworth. He is the epitome of the Austen hero and creates with his intense stares several swoon-worthy moments for the audience to savor. Don’t miss this romantic story about love given a second chance.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#40

Title: The Phantom of the Opera
Year: 2004
Director: Joel Shumacher

Our Take: The costumes, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brilliant music, and of course the cast all come together in my favorite version of The Phantom of the Opera about a disfigured master magician who haunts an Opera House. As his obsession for soprano Christine grows, she gets torn between her innocent love for Raoul and her passion/empathy for the Phantom in this Beauty and the Beast type tale. While the love story is amazing, I also liked the rock essence of the Phantom! This is a wonderful adaptation all around.

Content Note: PG-13.


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#41

Title: Populaire

Year: 2012

Director: Régis Roinsard

Our Take: This French film came as an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Set in 1958, the story is about a young woman named Rose with a natural gift for typing. When she becomes the secretary of a man named Luis, he takes her under his wing to train her for competitions. Along the way, she falls for him, but does he feel the same? An adorable film with charismatic leads that make you fall in love with this movie just as much as they do with each other.

Content Note: Rated for one scene of sexuality (very easily skipped over).


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#42

Title: Pride and Prejudice

Year: 1995 (TV Mini-Series)

Director/Writer: Directed by Simon Langton and Adapted by Andrew Davies.

Our Take: What is better than Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet? A romantic period drama list wouldn’t be complete without the arguably best adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! In this story about bad first impressions, marriage, and family during the Regency Era, you will laugh and swoon with each and every (very detailed) scene. A must see for all Period Drama lovers.

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#42 (TIE)

Title: Pride & Prejudice (TIE)

Year: 2005
Director/Writers: Directed by Joe Wright and Written by Deborah Moggach and Emma Thompson (extra dialogue).

Our Take: While I adore the ’95 mini-series, I just didn’t feel right not including the 2005 adaptation as well. It is much harder to adapt a beloved classic novel with ‘sacred’ scenes into a 2-hour film, but these writers and director did a fabulous job. Joe Wright has an artistic flair with the atmosphere of the time that is just beautiful. Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightly also do a great job of bringing the characters to life with different interpretations of the characters. Each adaptation of the classic novel really brings something new to the table; this definitely ties for my favorite of the bunch. Plus, anyone else just love Mr. Darcy’s long walk towards Elizabeth at the end before he proposes again?

Content Note: PG.


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#43

Title: The Remains of the Day

Year: 1993

Director/Writer: Directed by James Ivory and Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Our Take: This story follows a butler (Anthony Hopkins) and his loyalty to the house he serves. When a housekeeper (Emma Thompson) falls in love with him, he gets torn between duty and his own romantic feelings. Set during WWII, Ivory once again proves he is a master of capturing different eras with a magical sense of realism. A beautiful subtle love story!

Content Note: TV-PG.


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#44

Title: Road to Avonlea

Year: 1990- (TV Series
Creator: Kevin Sullivan

Our Take: My favorite show growing up, there is just something about the world of L.M. Montgomery and the way Kevin Sullivan adapts them for the small screen. The writing captures emotion effortlessly.

Set in the fictional town of Avonlea once more, the show follows Sara Stanley when she is forced to live with her mother’s relatives after her father is sent to prison. The ensemble of characters and actors are fantastic (including the return of Marilla and Rachel Lynde), but the real standout of the show is Hetty King. Hetty remains one of the best female characters ever written.

For those who love clean and well written (non-cheesy) period drama, with several stories about romance (I love Gus and Felicity for instance), then this show is definitely for you.

Content Note: TV-G.


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#45

Title: Sense and Sensibility

Year: 1995

Director/Writer: Directed by Ang Lee and Adapted by Emma Thompson.

Our Take: An Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay, Emma Thompson knows how to adapt Jane Austen for theatrical productions like a pro. While I also really liked the 2008 mini-series, there is just something about this version that speaks to the heart, whether that is because of the genuine performances (including Alan Rickman as the perfect Colonel Brandon) or the vivid way Ang Lee visually created the Regency Era.

The story itself follows two sisters (opposite from one another) that attempt to survive after their father dies, leaving their family without an inheritance. In the meantime, romance enters the picture, one sister leaving her heart on her sleeve, and the other keeping her feelings in check. This is truly a wonderful film with several romantic moments that will leave you wishing for more. One of the better quality romantic period dramas.

Content Note: PG.


romantic period dramas

#46

Title: The Sound of Music

Year: 1965

Director: Robert Wise

Our Take: Soon before WWII erupted in 1930s Austria, a nun in training (Maria) leaves her convent to become a governess for a rich and very large, musical family (and decide which life suits her best). The father, a widower, is gruff, strict, and rude at first until Maria softens his heart through her own music and positive attitude. The Sound of Music is a classic love story that never gets old.

Content Note: G.


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#47

Title: Titanic

Year: 1997

Director: James Cameron

Our Take: For those people living under a rock, Titanic is about the Titanic sinking in 1912. Before and after the ship starts sinking, a star-crossed romance ensues when a poor painter falls in love with an engaged, young woman from first class.

Epic, entertaining, and most definitely romantic, Titanic made me believe in going to the movies again (I went 7 times). While some have grown tired of the film’s popularity, I don’t think this list would have been complete without one of the biggest grossing films of all time. Plus, Leonardo Dicaprio’s and Kate Winslet’s chemistry was insanely tangible.

Content Note: PG-13 (Some nudity in this one).


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#48

Title: The Way We Live Now

Year: 2001

Director/Writer: Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter) and Adapted by Andrew Davies.

Our Take: Another Anthony Trollope adaptation that proves why BBC knows how to do Period Drama right. The story follows an ensemble of interesting characters but centers around a businessman (David Suchet) whose ambition takes high society London by storm. His naïve daughter, unfortunately, falls for the despicable Felix, Sir Felix only into Marie for her dowry (played by Matthew Macfadyen in a decidedly non-romantic role). For those wanting a good love story to get sucked into, the romance between Paul (Cillian Murphy) and Hetta is rather addictive.

Content Note: Somewhere between TV-PG and TV-14.


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#49

Title: Wives and Daughters

Year: 1999 (TV Mini-Series)

Director/Writer: Directed by Nicholas Renton and Adapted by Andrew Davies.

Our Take: Based on an Elizabeth Gaskell classic, the film is about a young, sweet woman named Molly who must deal with unrequited love for a close friend that falls in love with her stepsister. With an amazing ensemble cast (including Michael Gambon), well drawn out characters, and a love story to root for, you can’t go wrong with Wives and Daughters.

Content Note: TV-PG.


romantic period dramas

#50

Title: Wuthering Heights

Year: 1939
Director: William Wyler.

Our Take: While this interpretation of Emily Bronte’s brilliant classic cuts out the second half of the book from the film, this version still stands as a romantic masterpiece in its own way. Even today, it remains my favorite in the midst of mediocre adaptations, though the likeable Ralph Fiennes one would come in second.

The emphasis of Bronte’s original novel on revenge loses out to focus only on the love story between Cathy and Heathcliff. Laurence Olivier in the title role is memorable and romantic. I believe the love Cathy and Heathcliff have for one another, and in a great period drama released in 1939, what more could I ask for?

Content Note: If rated, would be between G and PG.

What are your favorite romantic period dramas? Sound off in the comments…


Featured image at top: Pride and Prejudice (2005)/Photo: Focus Features

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The 50 Best Romantic Period Dramas of All Time (2014). These were our favorite period dramas with romance. 
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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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