Five Excellent Period Dramas Everyone Should Watch

Downton Abbey Movie

There’s something about period dramas that make them so bingeable. Immersing yourself in the past and witnessing the lavish costumes, castles, and drama that unfold in the lives of the characters is quite addictive. Thankfully, there are a lot of period dramas available on TV and several streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and PBS Masterpiece. So if you are looking for a new historical period drama to binge on, here are five of our recommendations.

Downton Abbey

The British historical drama Downton Abbey set in the early 20th century was created and co-written by Julian Fellowes. The series centers on the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants set in the fictional country estate of Downton Abbey. The series begins in 1912 with the news of the Titanic sinking which leaves Lord Grantham to search for a new male heir and progresses until 1926. As the lives of the Crawley family unfold, the series also portrays important events between 1912 and 1926 such as the First World War, Spanish Influenza, Irish War of Independence, British general election, and decline of the British aristocracy. The series beautifully portrays not only the lives of the aristocratic family (upstairs people) of Downton Abbey but also their servants (downstairs people) which gives insight into class and position. The series ran for six seasons from 2010 to 2015 and released a movie in 2019 to be followed by another feature film this year. The main cast of the Crawley family includes Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. The three daughters are played by Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley, and Jessica Brown Findlay as Lady Sybil Crawley. Maggie Smith is Robert Crawley’s mother Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. Dan Stevens portrays Matthew Crawley, the new heir, and his mother Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley. Allen Leech plays Tom Branson as the family’s chauffeur, and David Robb portrays Dr. Richard Clarkson, the town doctor. Downton Abbey has received several accolades, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. It earned the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards. In The Guardian’s review of the period drama, they wrote, “At home, the show has always played like a posh pantomime – a fantasy vision of a Britain that never really existed, where everyone from kitchen maid to second footman is happy with their lot because the people at the top are such bally decent chaps. It’s also ended up being a place where both the staff grinding away downstairs and the toffs in ball gowns upstairs have been gifted with a peculiar sense of foresight, a tangible sense of their place in history and how “things” will never be the same again, once they’re off the screen.”

Bridgerton

The Netflix original period drama Bridgerton is based on Julia Quinn’s historical romance novels of the same name and created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. The series premiered on December 25, 2020, and is Shonda Rhimes’ first show on Netflix. Set during the Regency era in England, the series follows the Bridgerton siblings as they try to find love in London’s competitive matchmaking scene. The show centers on the eldest daughter of the Bridgerton family, Daphne Bridgerton, who makes her debut in Regency London’s matchmaking to find her true love. The series tackles romance, family, and friendship with some humor. The main cast of Bridgerton features Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton, Claudia Jessie as Eloise Bridgerton, Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton, Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton, Ruby Stokes as Francesca Bridgerton, Will Tilston as Gregory Bridgerton, Florence Hunt as Hyacinth Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, Polly Walker as Lady Portia Featherington, Bessie Carter as Prudence Featherington, Ben Miller as Lord Featherington, and Harriet Cains as Philipa Featherington. Indie Wire reviewed the Netflix series and described the lavish outfits featured in the show. “The giddy upheaval extends to the aesthetics, which are reason alone to watch the show. Each dress, accessory, and bejeweled accoutrement of the costumes is handmade, and based on the classic Jane Austen-y empire waist cut that’s instantly familiar from shows set in the Regency period.” In the same article they wrote, “But again, showrunner Chris Van Dusen has insured that this isn’t your typical Regency romance. The race-blind casting is a much-needed shift from traditional white-washed period storytelling. It’s a laudatory development and more than a gimmick, as the society’s diversity is explained by a storyline within the show.”

The Crown

The Netflix-original drama The Crown is based on an award-winning play, “The Audience,” by showrunner Peter Morgan. The series narrates the life of Queen Elizabeth II from the 1940s to modern times. The first season focuses on the Queen’s early reign after the death of her father, King George VI and her marriage to Philip Duke of Edinburgh. The second season includes the Suez Crisis, the retirement of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and the birth of Prince Edward. The third season features Harold Wilson’s as prime minister, and depiction of salient events such as the Aberfan disaster and the Apollo 11 moon landing. The fourth season features the storyline of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s marriage and Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister while the upcoming fifth and sixth seasons will cover the Queen’s reign into the 21st century. For each season, different actors are cast as the timeline changes. For the first four seasons, the main cast includes Claire Foy and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary, Jeremy Northam as Anthony Eden, Victoria Hamilton and Marion Bailey as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Jared Harris as King George VI, John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Josh O’Connor as Charles, Prince of Wales, Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, Emma Corrin as Diana, Princess of Wales, Stephen Boxer as Denis Thatcher, and Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles. The show has received several awards including a total of sixty-three Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and winning twenty-one, which includes Outstanding Drama Series for its fourth season, and seven awards for the cast. The Crown also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama, twice at the 74th and 78th ceremonies. In a review published by Variety, they praised the drama and hailed the fourth season as the best so far. “For four seasons now, Morgan has written a remarkably addictive, stealthily silly royal soap opera that only occasionally understands just how obvious it can be. And yet, complemented with razor-sharp performances and furnished with the most luxurious set design that Netflix money can buy, “The Crown” has successfully sold itself as one of TV’s most serious dramas. The fourth season, in all its shameless glory, may be its most successful yet even as it puts that prestigious perception to bed.”

Poldark

Poldark is a British historical drama television series based on the novels of the same title by Winston Graham. Set between 1781 and 1801, the series follows the story of Captain Ross Vennor Poldark, played by Aidan Turner, and his return from the American War of Independence to his home of Nampara in Cornwall. With five seasons, Poldark focuses on the lives of Ross and his partner Demelza, Elizabeth, Ross’s childhood sweetheart, and Francis, his cousin who is engaged to Elizabeth, and George Warleggan, the ruthless banker who plays the primary antagonist of the series. The main cast also stars Eleanor Tomlinson, Heida Reed, Kyle Soller, Jack Farthing, and Ralph Bates. New York Times published a review of the film saying, “ It’s the kind of show in which every plot twist appears to require a shot of someone pounding on horseback along the Cornish coast, close to the cliffs and outlined against the sun.” In the same article, they described how addictive it is to watch the series. “The virtue of “Poldark,” penned by the playwright and TV writer Debbie Horsfield (“Sex, Chips & Rock n’ Roll”), is that it never gives you time to stop and think, and it avoids predictability through its abundance of plot. Nothing stands out (including the blandly pretty cinematography and insistent music), but it’s saucier than the sum of its parts.”

Call The Midwife

The BBC period drama Call the Midwife, created by Heidi Thomas, follows a group of midwife nurses and their daily struggles and experiences in their local neighbourhood of Poplar in the East End of London in the late 1950s and 1960s. It stars Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Helen George, Bryony Hannah, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt, Cliff Parisi, Stephen McGann, Ben Caplan, Emerald Fennell, Victoria Yeates, Jack Ashton, Linda Bassett, Charlotte Ritchie, Kate Lamb, Jennifer Kirby, Annabelle Apsion and Leonie Elliott. New York Times published an article about how the series “deserves more respect for Its Depth and Daring”. “Concerned with choice in the most universal sense, its portrait of women navigating a world that’s rapidly opening up yet still frustratingly restrictive — plotlines about back-street abortion and the difficulty of celibacy are as relevant today as in the 1950s — feels disarmingly honest and real.” The Guardian also reviewed the series, saying,”It is easy to be complacent about Call the Midwife. It’s a Christmas staple, it looks likely to run forever and it has seen plenty of stars come and go through the convent doors, from Oscar nominees (Emerald Fennell) to comedy stars (Charlotte Ritchie) and sitcom legends (Miranda Hart). But its soft socialism, community spirit and furious sense of what is right and wrong means it still shines after all these years, and we should not take it for granted.”

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