Recently I have been searching for well-made period dramas to watch. While I have found a few recommendation lists, after researching the films, I found that the majority are not the type of movies that I would watch. So, being a girl with a blog, I decided to create my own list of clean period drama recommendations.
I do not claim to be an expert on the genre or to have seen every good film (if I had I wouldn’t be searching for more). And I leave the analysis of plots, characters, and filming devices to Jerome Weiselberry. This is simply a list of movies that I like.
Period drama is one of those murky things that I know when I see it, but is a struggle to define with words. Here are my qualifications for this list.
- The events of the film must take place in a time period before the movie was made.
- The film must include some sort of love story
- It must be a clean film. PG-13 is my limit.
- The film cannot be a musical, western, or primarily a war film. As much as I love The Sound of Music, you will not find it on this list.
- For this list, the plot must be fictional. Which is another reason why The Sound of Music is not on this list. Perhaps someday I will write a list of my favorite historical period dramas.
Remember, this is a list of movies that I have seen and enjoy. If a period drama you particularly like isn’t on this list, I either haven’t seen it or didn’t care for it. For example, I am still waiting for a film version of Persuasion that can capture the essence of Anne’s character and the pining beauty of the story. Despite the fact that it is my favorite Austen novel, none of the adaptions are on this list.
Also, these are in no particular order.
Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow): The greatest compliment that I can give any film is that is it better than the book. If I were stuck on an island and strangely given the choice of having one period drama to watch, it would be this one.
Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet): Secret engagements, unrequited love, plot twisting scandal, strong heroine, annoying supporting cast, this film checks all the boxes.
Pride and Prejudice (1995 BBC): I think enough has been written on the strengths of this film that I do not have to add anything.
If you are in need of a quick Pride and Prejudice fix and don’t have time to watch the entire mini-series, the 2005 adaption with Keira Knightley is ok. I personally do not like it because of the changes they made to the story, the camera effects make me dizzy, and I find Keira Knightley annoying. However, I do enjoy the performance of the actors who play Jane, Mrs. Bennet, and Mr. Collins better in this version than the mini-series.
North and South (Daniela Denby-Ashe, Richard Armitage): Imagine living in the English countryside that poets have idealized and suddenly being transported to a dirty early industrial town. That’s what happens to Margaret Hale in this Jane Austen meets Charles Dickens tale. But John Thornton (aka Richard Armitage) is there so everything is ok–except Margaret doesn’t like him.
Wives and Daughters (1999 BBC – lovers of BBC drama will recognize nearly everyone in the cast): I will admit that this film starts out slow and a little jumpy. But you won’t regret watching it through. The plot reminds me a little of Mansfield Park in that while the heroine is in love with the hero, he thinks of her as a sister and chases after a pretty face. I enjoy the way we see Molly’s love develop. The last scene between Mr. Gibson and Roger is one of my favorites. Also the squire has a great insult that I can’t wait for an opportunity to use.
“I’m not saying your wife is very silly. But one of us was very silly and it wasn’t me.”
Little Women (June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor): This 1949 adaption is my favorite, however; it is not the most faithful version. Book purists probably won’t enjoy it. This version excludes many of the March sisters’ faults. Jo still has a temper and Amy is still vain, but Meg doesn’t behave so shockingly at the party. Amy doesn’t burn Jo’s writings therefore she doesn’t almost drown either. They are a loving bunch in the book, but even more so in this adaption.
The Inheritance (Meredith Baxter, Thomas Gibson): This Alcott story is cheesy like a Hallmark movie, but with a little more plot depth. (Although it has the weakest plot of any of the films on this list.) There are two versions of this TV movie available: the full version and the edited version. When Feature Films for Families edited the movie they cut out all the times characters call each other stupid and the scene where a male character tries to kiss an unwilling female character. They also added extra fabric to dresses that were low.
Anne of Green Gables and Avonlea (Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie): What can I say beyond I love these movies? I read the book once a long time ago. As far as I can remember, the first film is faithful. Megan Follows is exactly how I pictured Anne. As a child, I wished that Anne Shirley was real and that she could be my bosom friend.
Friendly Persuasion (Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire): This story revolves around a Quaker family during the Civil War. It’s not easy. The older son wants to join the army. The daughter wants to be pretty and go dancing. The younger son wants to wring the evil goose’s neck. The father wants win a horse race with his neighbor and also an organ. And the mother, she is a Quaker minister and is trying to keep her family in check. Even with the menace of the Civil War in the background, this is still a lighthearted movie.
Doctor Thorne (Tom Hollander): Mary Thorne has been raised by her respectable uncle, but that doesn’t overcome the rumors surrounding her birth. The only way that Frank can save his family’s home is to marry a woman of great wealth. Doctor Thorne knows everyone’s secrets and the circumstances of the story might force him to tell a few. One thing I will say about this adaption is that there are a few times when the facts don’t quite fit. It turns out that this is the result of changes from the book.
I would love to hear about your favorite period dramas.