Christmas is my favorite time of year. All the festive music, spending time with family, and, of course, binging Christmas movies. From Hallmark and Lifetime to Netflix, there are plenty of movies to watch. But what about when you need a break from all the contemporary romances? Thankfully, there are several Christmas Period Dramas to choose from, as well.
Here are 35 historical Christmas movies and shows that are sure to give you the Christmas spirit, including newer films and specials.
THE TOP 35 CHRISTMAS PERIOD DRAMAS
(In No Particular Order)
#1: The Christmas Candle (2013)
Deep in the heart of the English countryside lies the enchanting village of Gladbury. Legend has it every 25 years an angel visits the village candlemaker and touches a single candle. Whoever lights this candle receives a miracle on Christmas Eve. But in 1890, at the dawn of the electric age, this centuries old legend may come to an end.
When David Richmond (Hans Matheson), a progressive young minister, arrives in Gladbury, the villagers discover a new formula for miracles: good deeds and acts of kindness. While David’s quest to modernize Gladbury sets him at odds with the old world candlemaker, he finds an unlikely ally in the lovely skeptic, Emily Barstow (Samantha Barks).
Now, the fiery candlemaker must fight to preserve the legacy of the Christmas Candle. But when the candle goes missing, the miraculous and human collide in the most astonishing Christmas the village of Gladbury has ever seen.
Why You Should Watch: This sweet Christmas period drama makes you feel good inside. It’s very uplifting with an excellent British cast.
#2: An Old-Fashioned Christmas (2010)
The story of An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, based on a short story by American novelist Louisa May Alcott, continues with An Old-Fashioned Christmas. Isabella and Tilly pay a visit to Ireland, hoping Isabella’s long-ago suitor, the Earl of Shannon, can assist Tilly in getting her writing published.
Why You Should Watch: Watch this one if you like Louisa May Alcott’s The Inheritance.
#3: Call the Midwife Christmas Specials
PBS 2019 Holiday Synopsis:
Mother Mildred and the Nonnatus House team go to the Outer Hebrides in response to a nursing shortage. Navigating the terrain, they strive to keep up with the needs of the locals.
Why You Should Watch: Whether a Christmas special or a regular episode, Call the Midwife always brings tears in a good way.
#4: A Victoria Christmas: Victoria Christmas Special (2017)
It’s Christmastime at the palace and Albert is intent on recreating the holiday joy he remembers from his youth.
Why You Should Watch: The Victoria Christmas special is another fantastic episode that showcases the beautiful love story between Victoria and Albert.
Furthermore, the story reveals just how much influence Albert had on transforming Christmas traditions into what we know today.
#5: Little Women (1994)
Winona Ryder (in an Oscar-nominated role) and Academy Award(r) winner Susan Sarandon (1995 Best Actress, Dead Man Walking) star in this “affectionate, superbly acted” (Los Angeles Times) family favorite. With her husband off at war, Marmee (Sarandon) is left alone to raise their four daughters, her Little Women.
There is the spirited Jo (Ryder); conservative Meg (Trini Alvarado, Paulie); fragile Beth (Claire Danes, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet); and romantic Amy (played at different ages by Kristen Dunst, Wag the Dog and Samantha Mathis, Broken Arrow).
As the years pass, the sisters share some of the most cherished and painful memories of self-discovery, as Marmee and Aunt March (Mary Wickes, The Man Who Came to Dinner) guide them through issues of independence, romance, and virtue. Gabriel Byrne (End of Days), Eric Stoltz (TV’s Chicago Hope) and Christian Bale (The Portrait of a Lady) co-star in this “handcrafted valentine” (Newsweek) of a film.
Why You Should Watch: It just doesn’t quite feel like Christmas without the 1994 adaptation of Little Women. The film captures the spirit of the novel, making it one of my favorite Christmas period dramas on the list. Not to mention, the film perfectly executes all the Christmas scenes.
For a different take, you can also check out the 2017 Little Women. However, I don’t feel like the TV mini-series grasps the Christmas opening of the book very well at all.
#6: Little Women (2019)
Writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has crafted a Little Women that draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life.
In Gerwig’s take, the beloved story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on her own terms — is both timeless and timely. Portraying Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth March, the film stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, with Timothée Chalamet as their neighbor Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.
Why You Should Watch: Aside from the fantastic casting, the new film offers a unique feminist interpretation Louisa May Alcott herself would appreciate!
See our review: Little Women (2019) – The Truest Adaptation to Louisa May Alcott
#7: The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
A medieval knight is transported to the present day, where he falls for a high school science teacher who’s disillusioned by love.
Why You Should Watch: Because the premise is adorable, starring an actor from Poldark. Oh, and who doesn’t want a chivalrous knight for Christmas?
#8: A Little Princess (1939, 1986, and 1995)
In this sumptuous adaptation of the beloved children’s classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a young girl reared in the jungles of India lives an enchanted life filled with wealth, exotic adventures and a father’s love. But when tragedy strikes, she must rely on her will and imagination to relive the joy of her wondrous childhood.
Why You Should Watch: All three films are excellent adaptations with essential scenes that take place during Christmas. I grew up watching Shirley Temple movies, so I loved them despite the changes from the book.
From an artistic perspective, the 1995 film is the best though it seems influenced by the Shirley Temple film. However, the 1986 interpretation of the classic novel is the most accurate. I suggest all three!
#9: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
Prepare to enter another world when Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media present C.S. Lewis’ timeless and beloved adventure. With the stunningly realistic special effects, you’ll experience the exploits of Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, four siblings who find the world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing a game of “hide-and-seek” at the country estate of a mysterious professor.
Once there, the children discover a charming, once peaceful land inhabited by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs, and giants that has been turned into a world of eternal winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis. Aided by the wise and magnificent lion Aslan, the children lead Narnia into a spectacular climactic battle to be free of the Witch’s glacial powers forever!
Why You Should Watch: Father Christmas makes an appearance in this beautiful adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic. It’s a terrific fantasy period drama to watch with the whole family.
#10: Doctor Who Christmas Episodes
Why You Should Watch: Doctor Who has released several Christmas specials, some that take place in the past (or include characters from the past).
While almost all the Christmas (and New Year’s) specials are great, I love it when the Doctor and his companions travel to different times in history. Here’s to hoping there’s a new Christmas special in our future!
These episodes are all enchanting period dramas (with a touch of fantasy) to watch every Christmas:
- “The Unquiet Dead” (A Charles Dickens Christmas-themed episode).
- “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” (Set in 1941)
- “The Snowmen” (Set in Victorian Era England)
- “Twice Upon A Time” (Includes scenes from WWI)
#11: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994)
POIROT PLANS A QUIET Christmas in London until learning that it will also be a cold one, owing to his flat’s broken boiler. When a wealthy old man calls for the detective’s help, Poirot opts for a working holiday at the man’s well-heated country estate. No warmth exudes from the home’s occupants, however, and Poirot winds up with a murder to solve, family politics to unravel and shocking revelations from the past to sort out.
For help, he turns to Chief Inspector Japp, who is grateful to be rescued from Christmas with the in-laws. ANGELIC CHOIR VOICES and English Christmas cheer punctuate this special movie-length version of the popular TV series seen on PBS and A&E. DAVID SUCHET stars as the quintessential Poirot, perfect from his distinctive moustache to his spotless spats. Crime solving was never so tidy or so much fun!
Why You Should Watch: We need mysteries over Christmas as well! Plus, who doesn’t love a good Poirot episode?
#12: Under the Greenwood Tree (2006)
In a small village in the south of England, Dick Dewy, a handsome working man, falls in love with Fancy Day, a newly arrived schoolteacher from a wealthy family who happens to be the village beauty. But other, richer men also want to win the hand of Fancy.
There’s Farmer Shiner, a wealthy landowner, and Reverend Maybold, the decent young vicar. Who will win Fancy’s hand? And even if she agrees to marry Dick, will her father consent to the marriage?
This charming, timeless story of rural life gave Thomas Hardy his first real taste of success, and with its rustic setting and moving tale of young love, it weaves a spell that still entrances today.
Why You Should Watch: I recommend Under the Greenwood Tree for those seeking romantic Christmas period dramas, even if it isn’t technically about Christmas.
#13: Cranford: Return to Cranford (2009)
Cranford, where everything changes and all remains the same, and Miss Matty’s house is full of bustle when her maid Martha gives birth to a daughter.
Elsewhere the shadow of the new railway still looms. Miss Matty is concerned about a young girl who lives in an isolated cottage with her mother and domineering brother. Her worries open a Pandora’s box and fears that Cranford will never recover.
Why You Should Watch: Who doesn’t love the characters of Cranford? While not as amazing as the first season, you’ll still like everything the sequel has to offer.
Then there’s the fact that it all ends with a massive Christmas Party! And who doesn’t want to see the Doctor and Loki in a period drama together?
#14: Love’s Christmas Journey (2011)
While still mourning the loss of her husband and daughter, recently widowed Ellie King (Natalie Hall) visits her brother Aaron Davis (Greg Vaughan) and his children for Christmas. Ellie does her best to enjoy the holidays, even making new friends with Mrs. Thompson (JoBeth Williams), a local shop keeper, and handsome admirer Deputy Strode (Dylan Bruce).
Settling in nicely with her brother’s family, Ellie also meets Erik (Bobby Campo), a young man abandoned by his outlaw father whom Aaron has taken in as one of his own. When Aaron travels out of town to purchase adjacent land for farming, Ellie agrees to watch his children, but the season’s festivities are threatened when Aaron goes missing.
Why You Should Watch: If you love the sweet and wholesome Love Comes Softly series of period drama movies, you’ll likely enjoy the Christmas movie too.
#15: An Avonlea Christmas (AKA Happy Christmas, Miss King) (1998)
The award-winning cast of “Road to Avonlea” returns for this touching King Family reunion. As they prepare for their traditional Christmas dinner, their gathering is marred by the news that one of their youngest members, Felix, is missing in action on the battlefields of Europe.
To make matters worse, the indomitable Hetty King collapses with an unexpected health emergency. “An Avonlea Christmas” is an uplifting drama that reinforces the power of family love in times of crisis.
Why You Should Watch: I could go on for days about Avonlea and the brilliance of the Christmas special (namely, the characterization of Hetty King).
However, if you love Anne of Green Gables, then An Avonlea Christmas should be at the top of your list of Christmas period dramas to watch. I still miss this heartwarming show.
#16: A Christmas Carol (1938; 1951; 1970; 1984; 1999; 2005 & More)
Patrick Stewart stars as Scrooge, the mean-spirited miser who gets his terrifying comeuppance when he imagines he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past.
Why You Should Watch: A Christmas Carol is one of the best Christmas stories ever written. It’s so iconic the famous Charles Dickens story has been adapted again and again. I decided to list some of the best. Do you have a favorite version of A Christmas Carol?
#17: Joyeux Noel (2006)
Based on the true story of three armies in the bloody trenches of World War I – and the miraculous Christmas Eve truce they unexpectedly forge.
Why You Should Watch: Joyeux Noel is an underrated period drama that will touch your heart because it’s a true story. I also liked the subtle romance.
#18: Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986)
The colorful holiday classic is finally brought to the big screen, designed by famed children’s story author and artist Maurice Sendak, and written for the first time to be as close as possible to the original story. A lavish, exciting and heart-warming celebration of dance, of music, and of life. Based upon the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s original production.
Why You Should Watch: Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without The Nutcracker. And this version is considered the most faithful adaptation of the original tale.
However, I’m still waiting for a completely faithful take on the story.
#19: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key—which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world.
It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.
Starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Disney’s new holiday feature film “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, and inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale.
Why You Should Watch: This one’s worth watching for the cast alone. The production values are also impressive.
#20: The Nativity Story (2006)
In a story of profound faith, one young woman struggles with the destiny as she is chosen to give birth to the Son of God and to become the object of salvation for billions of souls.
Why You Should Watch: I believe it’s important to remember what Christmas is all about: the birth of Christ.
Overall, I found this movie to be a beautiful depiction of the Christmas story with an all-star cast. Others seeking Christmas dramas about the first Christmas should seek this one out.
#21: Babes in Toyland (1961)
All roads lead to magical, merry Toyland as Mary Contrary and Tom Piper prepare for their wedding! But villainous Barnaby wants Mary for himself, so he kidnaps Tom, setting off a series of comic chases, searches, and double-crosses!
Why You Should Watch: Okay, so I haven’t seen this musical fantasy film since I was a kid. However, I remember loving it! Maybe it’s time for a revisit?
#22: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol.
Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) mixed real-life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.
Why You Should Watch: Watch this excellent period drama for two reasons! One: Dan Stevens in the title role of Charles Dickens. Two: Christopher Plummer is seriously an excellent Scrooge.
#23: Christmas at Downton Abbey (2011)
Christmas 1919. Downton Abbey is hosting a lavish Christmas party, yet despite being the season of goodwill, tensions are rife and Bates’s arrest has cast a shadow over the festivities.
Why You Should Watch: What Downton Abbey fan doesn’t want to re-watch that swoony romantic proposal scene between Mary and Matthew?
#24: Christmas Oranges
Rose was shipped to Irongates and the strict headmaster, Mr. Crampton (Edward Herrmann), immediately seems to dislike Rose — and makes sure all children are punished for any infractions of his rules.
Why You Should Watch: Every once in a while, we all need a good orphan story about a young girl bringing hope to those who have lost it.
Additionally, Gilmore Girls fans will love watching Edward Herrmann in this sweet family movie.
#25: Dickensian (2016)
Set within the fictional realms of Charles Dickens’ critically acclaimed novels, Dickensian brings together some of literature’s most iconic characters, including Scrooge, Fagin and Miss Havisham, as their lives intertwine in 19th century London.
Why You Should Watch: It’s like Once Upon A Time but with Dickens characters.
See our review: Dickensian (2015) – A Gothic Dickens Prequel
#26: Emma (2009)
This BBC WGBH/Boston Co-Production features an all-star cast including Romola Garai (Atonement) as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone) as Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Book of Eli) as Mr. Woodhouse.
Beautiful, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse is convinced she is good at matchmaking after her older sister and her governess both marry suitable husbands. Certain of her talents, Emma plays a dangerous game as she persuades her new friend, the young, pretty and socially inferior Harriet to reject an advantageous marriage proposal to a local farmer in favour of dashing Mr Elton.
So begins a story which challenges Emma’s naivety and her social preconceptions. Fresh and funny, this perceptive adaptation brings Jane Austen’s comic masterpiece to life.
Why You Should Watch: If you need a good dose of Jane Austen during Christmas, Emma is a good bet because of the beautiful Christmas scenes.
#27: Lark Rise to Candleford Christmas Episode (2008)
The series opens with a wonderfully captivating seasonal tale that unites the past and the present. When Dorcas and Emma each want to give Laura the same gift for Christmas, an old family wound is opened up and Laura finds herself torn between two mothers. As the inhabitants of Lark Rise and Candleford prepare for the festivities, loyalties are tested and, amid the gift-giving and carol singing, tensions are building.
Why You Should Watch: Lark Rise to Candleford has an infectious ability to make you feel warm and pleasant on the inside.
So, of course, watching their Christmas Special (Season 2, Episode 1) should be a top priority for those seeking Christmas period dramas with a touch of warmth.
#28: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
The well-off Smith family has four beautiful daughters, including Esther and little Tootie. 17-year old Esther has fallen in love with the boy next door who has just moved in, John.
Why You Should Watch: While the film as a whole is superb, you should at least tune in for Judy Garland’s gorgeous rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
#29: Mrs. Parkington (1944)
Story of a social-climbing woman who marries a wealthy-but-homespun man and forces her way into high society.
Why You Should Watch: This underrated classic film goes back and forth between Christmas 1938 and a woman’s past. While not perfect, Mrs. Parkington is a must-see for all Greer Garson fans.
#30: Silent Night (2002)
Based on a true story. In 1944, as American soldiers are making their way through Europe, a platoon find themselves lost behind enemy lines. On Christmas Eve, with little hope remaining in their hearts, they discover a refuge, a small cabin inhabited by a German woman and her young son.
Why You Should Watch: A beautiful period drama about finding hope in the darkest of times, the film will make you believe in the goodness of others.
Overall, Silent Night is an inspirational story about the true meaning of Christmas.
#31: The Dead (1987)
His wife’s nostalgia gives a man pause after a party in 1904 Dublin. Directed by John Huston. From the James Joyce story.
Why You Should Watch: If you’re looking for a poetic period drama that’s quiet and elegant with brilliant direction and an excellent script, then watch The Dead.
However, I should note the film isn’t your typical Christmas movie but rather a masterful work of art.
#32: The Nativity (2010)
The greatest story ever told as you’ve never seen it before. Writer Tony Jordan transforms a classic tale with familiar characters into a gripping human drama with an all-star cast. Starring Tatiana Maslany, Andrew Buchan, Peter Capaldi and Claudie Blakely.
Why You Should Watch: If you ever wanted to see a more humanized version of the Nativity, then take a look at this series. The Nativity has a fantastic cast too.
#33: When Calls the Heart Christmas Episodes
Why You Should Watch: When Calls the Heart is always a cheery watch full of nostalgic charm.
#34: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (2007)
“The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” is a story of love, redemption and above all, hope. When a broken-hearted boy loses the treasured wooden nativity set that links him to his dead father, his worried mother persuades a reclusive, ill-tempered woodcarver to create a replacement and to allow her son to watch him carve it.
The commission takes their relationship to unexpected places as the young boy makes greater and more difficult demands of the woodcarver’s ability, and as Christmas approaches, the three of them struggle to come to terms with each other, their painful memories and the process of putting their unhappiness behind them.
Why You Should Watch: This period drama is a great choice for the entire family!
BONUS #35: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
An uncommonly gentle young man, who happens to have scissors for hands, falls in love with a beautiful teenage girl.
Why You Should Watch: While not technically a period drama, there’s just something period-like about Edward Scissorhands. So, I wanted to add Tim Burton’s best film (and arguably most romantic) to the list.
Plus, Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder were simply magic together.
Furthermore, Edward’s ice sculptures were gorgeous. I love this Gothic fairy tale, even if it’s a little on the dark side.
What Christmas Period Dramas are your personal favorites? What will you be watching over the holiday season? Sound off below…
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