Great Period films

by ladyshkspre | created - 07 Aug 2011 | updated - 07 Aug 2011 | Public

Great costume dramas (both full length features as well as TV series) from the last 30 years.

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1. North and South (1985–1994)

561 min | Drama, History, Romance

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Two friends, one northern and one southern, struggle to maintain their friendship as events build towards the American Civil War.

Stars: Kirstie Alley, Georg Stanford Brown, David Carradine, Philip Casnoff

Votes: 8,005

Fabulous Civil wartime saga. Great costumes, filmed on location, (in the majestic Charleston area where I lived for 8 wonderful years) and wonderful all-star cast that includes performances by Patrick Swayze, Genie Francis, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Lesley-Anne Down, and James Read with cameos by Hal Holbrook, Morgan Fairchild, Liz Taylor, Gene Kelly, Robert Guillame, Robert Mitchum, and Johnny Cash!

2. North & South (2004)

TV-PG | 235 min | Drama, Romance

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North and South is a four part adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's love story of Margaret Hale, a middle class southerner who is forced to move to the northern town of Milton.

Stars: Daniela Denby-Ashe, Richard Armitage, Tim Pigott-Smith, Sinéad Cusack

Votes: 24,479

Actually I came across this accidentally while searching for the American civil war series (seen above). This film was produced by the BBC and based on a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. It follows the story of Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a young woman from southern England who has to move to the North after her father decides to leave the clergy. The family struggles to adjust itself to the industrial town's customs and the story explores the issues of class and gender, as Margaret's sympathy for the town mill workers conflicts with her growing attraction to John Thornton (Richard Armitage).

3. Emma (1996)

PG | 120 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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66 Metascore

In rural 1800s England things go bad for a young matchmaker after she finds a man for another woman.

Director: Douglas McGrath | Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, James Cosmo, Greta Scacchi, Alan Cumming

Votes: 30,549 | Gross: $22.20M

Gwenyth Paltrow stars as the delightful titular character, a Georgian-Regency era, slightly spoiled (but well-meaning) matchmaker who delights in arranging the personal lives of those around her in her rural English community. Fans of Jane Austen (or fans of "Clueless" which was a loosely adapted version of the Austen novel by this name) will enjoy this film.

4. David Copperfield (2000 TV Movie)

180 min | Drama

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A gentle orphan discovers life and love in an indifferent adult world.

Director: Peter Medak | Stars: Hugh Dancy, Michael Richards, Eileen Atkins, Anthony Andrews

Votes: 894

This one starred Hugh Dancy (as the adult DC) Michael Richards (as Micawber), and Sally Field (as dear Aunt Betsey Trotwood). The BBC did an earlier adaptation in 1999 which was also very good (starring a young, pre-Hogwarts Daniel Radcliffe as young Davy) but for some reason, I like this one better.

5. Bleak House (2005)

TV-PG | 510 min | Drama

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A suspenseful tale about the injustices of the 19th Century English legal system.

Stars: Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson, Carey Mulligan, Finn Morrell

Votes: 7,340

"Bleak" is right! This was a great series but a truly dark tone for Dickens. I walked away from this series feeling as though I'd been run through the wringer, very emotional and very well done by BBC video and Masterpiece.

6. The Way We Live Now (2001– )

300 min | Drama, Romance

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At the center of the story is Augustus Melmotte, a European-born city financier, whose origins are as mysterious as his business dealings. Trollope describes him as 'something in the city',... See full summary »

Stars: David Suchet, Matthew Macfadyen, Cillian Murphy, Paloma Baeza

Votes: 2,404

This mini-series was based on the little known Anthony Trollope novel about the manners of "polite society" and lives of several impoverished aristocrats being uprooted by the nouveau riche. It took me a while to withstand Shirley Jackson's voice (Lord bless her) but the performances were entertaining overall. Screenplay by Andrew Davies.

7. Wives and Daughters (1999– )

TV-PG | 301 min | Drama

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The daughter of a country doctor copes with an unwanted stepmother, an impetuous stepsister, burdensome secrets, the town gossips, and the tug on her own heartstrings for a man who thinks of her only as a friend.

Stars: Francesca Annis, Justine Waddell, Bill Paterson, Keeley Hawes

Votes: 5,870

Based on the novel (by the same title) by Elizabeth Gaskell, screenplay by Andrew Davies.

8. Daniel Deronda (2002– )

210 min | Drama, History, Romance

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Set in Victorian London, Gwendolen Harleth is drawn to Daniel Deronda, a selfless and intelligent gentleman of unknown parentage, but her own desperate need for financial security may destroy her chance at happiness.

Stars: Jodhi May, Edward Fox, Amanda Root, David Bamber

Votes: 3,667

adapted from the novel by George Eliot, screenplay by Andrew Davies.

9. He Knew He Was Right (2004– )

240 min | Drama

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Louis Trevelyan's refusal to trust his wife, Emily, destroys their marriage.

Stars: Oliver Dimsdale, Christina Cole, Laura Fraser, Nathan Heath

Votes: 1,406

This one wasn't quite what I was expecting, but as the title suggests, the man character is blinded by his own pride--then again, so is his wife--which ultimately leads to his downfall. Great story, another great screenplay adaptation (from an Anthony Trollope novel) by Andrew Davies. That man is a genius!

10. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1996 TV Movie)

Unrated | 54 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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In her filthy cell in Newgate prison Moll Flanders, dubbed 'the wickedest woman in England' tells her story. Born in the gaol, after her mother is transported Moll is raised by the kindly ... See full summary »

Director: David Attwood | Stars: James Bowers, Alex Kingston, Nicola Kingston, Geoffrey Beevers

Votes: 1,037

based on the novel by Daniel Defoe, screenplay adapted by Andrew Davies. This was my first introduction back in the late 90s to Alex Kingston who plays the titular role. There was another (feature length) production developed that year staring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman but this one is funnier, raunchier, BETTER!

11. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

TV-PG | 327 min | Drama, Romance

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Jane Austen's classic novel about the prejudice that occurred between the 19th century classes and the pride which would keep lovers apart.

Stars: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Julia Sawalha

Votes: 60,849

You know my list would not be complete without a few more Jane Austen mentions particularly this gorgeous BBC series with screenplay adapted by the amazingly talented Andrew Davies. This is actually the series that first made me admire Davies and fall in love with Colin Firth! Anyone can tell you, Pride and Prejudice--beloved Regency tome--has been retold, revised, and revamped several times over but this BBC production IMHO is by far the best interpretation. Please don't even mention to me that 2005 attempt with Keira Knightley, YUCK!

12. Tipping the Velvet (2002)

177 min | Drama, Romance

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Set in the 1890's, tells the lesbian love affair between male impersonator music hall star Kitty Butler and Nan Astley.

Stars: Rachael Stirling, Keeley Hawes, Anna Chancellor, Jodhi May

Votes: 6,545

based on the novel by Sarah Waters, screenplay adapted by Andrew Davies

13. Little Dorrit (2008– )

30 min | Drama, Mystery, Romance

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The series tells the story of Amy Dorrit, who spends her days earning money for the family and looking after her proud father, who is a long term inmate of Marshalsea debtors' prison in ... See full summary »

Stars: Claire Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Emma Pierson

Votes: 6,930

based on the novel by Charles Dickens, screenplay by Andrew Davies.

14. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

PG | 136 min | Drama, Romance

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84 Metascore

Rich Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his second wife and her three daughters poor by the rules of inheritance. The two eldest daughters are the titular opposites.

Director: Ang Lee | Stars: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, James Fleet, Tom Wilkinson

Votes: 85,684 | Gross: $43.18M

screenplay adapted by Emma Thompson who also stars (as Elinor Dashwood) alongside a very young Kate Winslet (as Marianne Dashwood), Hugh Grant (as Edward), and Alan Rickman (as Col. Brandon).

15. Cranford (2007– )

TV-PG | 469 min | Drama

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In the 1840s, Cranford is ruled by the ladies. They adore good gossip; and romance and change is in the air, as the unwelcome grasp of the Industrial Revolution rapidly approaches their beloved rural market-town.

Stars: Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Lisa Dillon

Votes: 7,294

Mini-series based on novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and starring a largely female cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie, and Julia Sawalha.

16. Lark Rise to Candleford (2008–2011)

53 min | Drama, Romance

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An adaptation of Flora Thompson's autobiographical novel "Lark Rise To Candleford", set in 19 century Oxfordshire, in which a young girl moves to the local market town to begin an apprenticeship as a postmistress.

Stars: Olivia Hallinan, Sarah Lancashire, Julia Sawalha, Fergus Drysdale

Votes: 5,203

TV series, adapted by the BBC from Flora Thompson's trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels about the English countryside, published between 1939 and 1943. Funny, sweet, poingnant, and very entertaining.

17. St. Ives (1998)

R | 90 min | Drama, Romance

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In 1813, Capitaine Jacques St. Ives, a Hussar in the Napoleonic wars, is captured and sent to a Scottish prison camp. He's a swashbuckler, so the prison's commander, Major Farquar ... See full summary »

Director: Harry Hook | Stars: Jean-Marc Barr, Miranda Richardson, Richard E. Grant, Anna Friel

Votes: 695

Film based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, I stumbled across this film (which was televised in the UK as "All for Love") several years ago at a video store that was going out of business and had this DVD in the clearance bin. Best $4 bucks I ever spent. It's light and sweet--very funny performances by Richard E. Grant and Miranda Richardson. Also stars Jean-Marc Barr and Anna Friel.

18. Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

PG | 132 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

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71 Metascore

A young, compassionate man struggles to save his family and friends from the abusive exploitation of his cold-heartedly grasping uncle.

Director: Douglas McGrath | Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent

Votes: 10,157 | Gross: $1.59M

Film based on the novel by Charles Dickens, starring Charlie Hunnam (of whom I'd never heard before this film nor since), Romola Garai, Jim Broadbent, Anne Hathaway, and a VERY menacing Christopher Plummer. Definitely worth a watch if you catch it on DVD.

19. The Young Victoria (2009)

PG | 105 min | Biography, Drama, History

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64 Metascore

A dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria's rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée | Stars: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson

Votes: 50,257 | Gross: $11.00M

The accuracies of the historical details are slightly skewed for dramatic effect but absolutely superb performances by Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson (as always) and Emily Blunt (in the title role).

20. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1997– )

314 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama

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A new adaptation of the classic novel by Henry Fielding of the life, loves and adventures of the charming rascal Tom Jones. A foundling child born of a serving wench but allowed to grow up ... See full summary »

Stars: John Sessions, Benjamin Whitrow, Ron Cook, Christopher Fulford

Votes: 656

Hubba hubba, Max Beesley is sexy in this one! Wonder what he's been up to lately. . .

21. Firelight (1997)

R | 103 min | Romance, Drama

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In 1838, lovely governess Elisabeth agrees to bear a child of anonymous English landowner, and he will in return pay her father's debt. At birth she, as agreed, gives up the child. Seven ... See full summary »

Director: William Nicholson | Stars: Sophie Marceau, Stephen Dillane, Dominique Belcourt, Kevin Anderson

Votes: 3,681 | Gross: $0.78M

Admittedly, this is not the best period film I've ever seen but for some strange reason, I like it very much. Starring Sophie Marceau and Stephen Dillane it is the story about a surrogacy arrangement between an wealthy but childless English landowner a beautiful but impoverished governess (aren't they always pretty but poor?) who agrees to bear his child in order to clear her father's debt. The movie is sweet but perhaps a little too sexy for the kiddies (as Marceau's movies tend to be).

22. Angels and Insects (1995)

R | 116 min | Drama, Romance

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In the 1800s a naturalist marries into a family of British country gentry.

Director: Philip Haas | Stars: Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patsy Kensit, Jeremy Kemp

Votes: 4,124 | Gross: $5.30M

Another one that may be a little too sexy for the kiddies. I saw this the first time several years ago on late-night cable. Great performances by Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Patsy Kensit. I enjoyed it enough to check out the works of A. S. Byatt (who wrote the original novel) at my local library.

23. Dangerous Beauty (1998)

R | 111 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

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A Venetian courtesan becomes a hero to her city, but later becomes the target of an inquisition by the Church for witchcraft.

Director: Marshall Herskovitz | Stars: Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Oliver Platt, Fred Ward

Votes: 13,715 | Gross: $4.53M

24. Stage Beauty (2004)

R | 106 min | Drama

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64 Metascore

A female theatre dresser creates a stir and sparks a revolution in seventeenth century London theatre by playing Desdemona in Othello. But what will become of the male actor she once worked for and eventually replaced?

Director: Richard Eyre | Stars: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Derek Hutchinson

Votes: 9,216 | Gross: $0.78M

25. Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

PG | 134 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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Shakespeare's comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves.

Director: Trevor Nunn | Stars: Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Imogen Stubbs, Steven Mackintosh

Votes: 5,051 | Gross: $0.55M

Even those who don't appreciate Shakespeare's genius as much as I do can appreciate this film. Yes, it is done in the original Shakespearean language but the performances are so well executed by all the players that you tend not to notice after the first 20 minutes. An excellent interpretation of my favorite work by the Bard.

26. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

R | 123 min | Comedy, Drama, History

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87 Metascore

A young Shakespeare, out of ideas and short of cash, meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays.

Director: John Madden | Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson

Votes: 189,692 | Gross: $100.32M

27. Cold Comfort Farm (1995 TV Movie)

PG | 105 min | Comedy, Romance

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82 Metascore

In England in the early 1930s, twenty-year-old Flora Poste, recently orphaned, and left with only one hundred pounds a year, goes to stay with distant relatives on Cold Comfort Farm. ... See full summary »

Director: John Schlesinger | Stars: Eileen Atkins, Kate Beckinsale, Sheila Burrell, Stephen Fry

Votes: 5,969 | Gross: $5.60M

28. The Buccaneers (1995– )

212 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

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Four American girls go to England to find husbands.

Stars: Carla Gugino, Alison Elliott, Mira Sorvino, Rya Kihlstedt

Votes: 1,847

29. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)

TV-PG | 58 min | Drama, Romance

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A chronicle of the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th Century.

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Brendan Coyle

Votes: 128,985

30. Impromptu (1991)

PG-13 | 107 min | Biography, Comedy, Music

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In 1830s France, pianist/composer Frédéric Chopin is pursued romantically by the determined, individualistic woman who uses the name George Sand.

Director: James Lapine | Stars: Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters

Votes: 4,113 | Gross: $4.08M

As a film lover who is also a musician, my list would not be complete without these next few titles. . .

31. Immortal Beloved (1994)

R | 121 min | Biography, Drama, Music

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The life and death of the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven. Besides all the work he is known for, the composer once wrote a famous love letter to a nameless beloved, and the movie tries to ... See full summary »

Director: Bernard Rose | Stars: Gary Oldman, Jeroen Krabbé, Isabella Rossellini, Johanna ter Steege

Votes: 20,392 | Gross: $9.91M

32. Amadeus (1984)

R | 160 min | Biography, Drama, History

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93 Metascore

The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told by his peer and secret rival Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum.

Director: Milos Forman | Stars: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice

Votes: 305,202 | Gross: $51.97M

33. The Piano (1993)

R | 121 min | Drama, Music, Romance

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89 Metascore

A mute woman is sent to 1850s New Zealand along with her young daughter and prized piano for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, but is soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.

Director: Jane Campion | Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin

Votes: 68,916 | Gross: $40.16M

34. Lost in Austen (2008– )

180 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

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Amanda, an ardent Jane Austen fan, lives in present day London with her boyfriend Michael, until she finds she's swapped places with Austen's fictional creation Elizabeth Bennet.

Stars: Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan, Hugh Bonneville, Florence Hoath

Votes: 9,178

Lastly, I had to include this one although I suppose some may argue that it isn't a "Period Piece" in it's truest form. The idea of getting lost in Pride & Prejudice (my favorite period film and novel) is paradise to me. Regency manners? Check! Empire-waist gowns? You betcha! A romantic dalliance with the sexy yet aloof Mr. Darcy? Thank you, I'll take two!