Period dramas are a favourite genre; they take us to different times and help us put into perspective what life looked like back in time. As we live in the new millennium, any drama from the past millennium is considered a period drama. These dramas take us to different timelines and put us in the middle of mysteries, among distraught lovers and adventurers who seek to make monetary gains or simply choose to repent for their sins.
In this article, we’ve taken the term BBC period dramas loosely to bring you different shows that were either produced by the BBC, aired on different BBC channels, or picked up by any BBC creative teams. So, here are our recommendations for the top BBC period dramas to watch.
BBC Period Dramas
Some of these selected BBC period dramas take place in different countries, universes and sometimes in fictional spheres.
Around the World in 80 Days
This BBC period drama is called after the novel of the same name, where we follow David Tennant as he plays Phileas Fogg. Phileas pursues to fulfil a bet that he can travel around the world in just 80 days. He seeks to win the bet using train and ship as his means of transport. Tennant plays an excellent Fogg that the producers renewed the series for a second season.
Historical era: 1873.
Ashes to Ashes
In this BBC period drama, Keeley Hawes plays police officer Alex Drake, who was chasing a criminal named Arthur Layton. When Drake wakes up in the hospital, she finds herself back in 1981. The show is interlinked with events from another show, Life on Mars, where three officers from the show mysteriously appear in Drake’s 1981 world. Drake clashes with one of the officers Gene Hunt due to differences in investigative styles and because Hunt suspects Drake and doesn’t trust her.
Historical era: the 1980s.
Life on Mars
Sam Tyler, a police officer at the Greater Manchester Police, gets hit by a car and ends up in a coma. When Sam wakes up, he finds himself set back in time to 1973 and works as a police officer in the Manchester and Salford Police. This BBC period drama takes us through the confusion Sam is going through as he finds himself a rank lower than he was in 2006. Sam then feels unsure whether he time-travelled, died or is in a coma. Additionally, Sam discovers he’s under suspicion from his fellow police officers in 1973.
Historical era: 1973 – 2006
A Suitable Boy
A Suitable Boy is a BBC period drama that narrates our favourite Indian matchmaking story. We are in post-independent India, where four interlinked families seek suitable matches for their loved ones. The show then highlights the story of Lata and the unending quarrel with her mother, who won’t stop until she finds Lata a suitable husband, the traditional way. Lata, on the other hand, desires to add some spice to her encounters with the applying suitors.
Historical era: 1951.
When Jason ventures deep into the sea to investigate the reason his father disappeared when he was a child, he is dragged into the mythological realm of Atlantis. The BBC period drama explores how Jason arrived at the wrong time in Atlantis, during the reign of King Minos and his deceiving wife, Queen Pasiphae. Jason meets two locals who shelter him, and together they live through the Ancient Greek myths, battling monsters, meeting gods and demigods, and picking up a few allies along the way.
Historical era: Ancient Greece and the modern day.
Hilary Mantel wrote two novels about Thomas Cromwell, and this BBC period drama brings them to the silver screen. Crowell was a cunning and deceiving man who swiftly ascended from one rank to another in the court of King Henry VIII. Thomas acted behind the scenes during the auspicious time when Henry sought to annul his marriage to the queen to marry Anne Boleyn. However, Anne allegedly breaks her promise of providing a male heir to the throne, which wears Henry down. Thomas plays with Henry’s vulnerable feelings and persuades him to get rid of Anne.
Historical era: the 1520s.
A Very British Scandal
Based upon the infamous divorce battle of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, this BBC period drama is full of love, betrayal, backstabbing, and greed. When the 11th Duke of Argyll, Ian Campbell, meets and falls in love with Margaret Sweeny, he soon asks her to marry him. After their marriage, Ian announces that his eldest son will get his estate when he’s dead, which means Margaret will gain nothing from Ian’s death. In an attempt to maximise her gains, Margaret starts rumours that Ian’s children are illegitimate. A gruelling legal battle ensues.
Historical era: the 1960s.
Euphemia Gray, or Effie, is a beautiful woman who falls in love with an aspiring artist John Ruskin. When John finally notices Effie, they get married, and Effie dreams of their romantic days together. However, John neglects his wife and nearly abandons her after they move to live with his parents. Over the days, the harsh manner her parents-in-law treat her pushes her into further isolation and depression. One day, as the distraught couple attend a prestigious dinner, they meet the Eastlakes, and Effie’s emotional state harrows Elizabeth Eastlake.
Historical era: the Victorian era.
Father Brown is a BBC period drama that’s—surprisingly—about solving crimes. The show takes us back to after WWI, to the life of Father Brown, a Catholic priest in the Church of St Mary in the fictional village of Cotswolds. Father Brown is an avid crime solver and jumps on the cases that grip his attention. However, Father Brown often clashes with the local police, who feel his wits and skills put law enforcement in a tight spot.
Historical era: early 1950s.
This BBC period drama follows the lives of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The pair worked together professionally and were romantically involved. During the mid-20th century, Fosse and Verdon continuously work on their relationship, inside and outside work. Through back-and-forth flashbacks, we get a glimpse of their past struggles and how they affect their present. Bob became an acclaimed director and choreographer, and Gwen succeeded as an actress and dancer and earned four Tony awards. Throughout the show, we can see how Fosse and Verdon have affected the entertainment industry until today.
Historical era: mid-20th century.
Eleanor Catton details in her best-selling novel and the script of The Luminaries how history is full of gruelling tales of human greed and the frivolous race to exploit every opportunity to accumulate a fortune. This BBC period drama follows the story of Anna Wetherell. Anna is an adventurous young woman who leaves the United Kingdom to start a new life in New Zealand. Although it appears Anna sought adventure, she was blinded by the shining news of newly discovered gold during the Gold Rush in the 1960s. The race for gold is brutal, and Anna has to face one hardship after another as she deals with society’s impression of women at the time.
Historical era: the 1860s.
Young Merlin shows promising skills as a wizard, prompting his mother to send him to the Kingdom of Camelot. This BBC period drama depicts this dangerous journey to Camelot, where Merlin is to hone his skills under the guidance of Gaius, the court’s physician, in a kingdom where the King forbade the practice of magic. As Merlin is practising his skills, he saves Prince Arthur’s life, which he later discovers is the purpose of his life.
Historical era: the Middle Ages.
This bone-thrilling BBC period drama narrates the harrowing Mr Williams goes through as a university art museum curator. One day, a trusted art dealer informs Mr Williams that he will send him an interesting piece of art, a mezzotint. When Mr Williams uncovers the mezzotint, he’s fascinated at first glance and invites his colleagues to study its captivating beauty. However, every time Mr Williams or any of his colleagues examined the mezzotint, they found it changed until one day, a savage poacher reached through the mezzotint to spark horror in their hearts. As Mr Williams works to uncover the mystery behind the poacher, his family is dragged into a harrowing series of events.
Historical era: 1904.
We’ve watched every television and film adaptation of the story of our favourite three musketeers, Aramis, Athos, and Porthos. This BBC period drama is another intricate work to add to our list. As The Three Musketeers work to protect the French people, France, and King Louis XIII, they run into a reckless young man, D’Artagnan. Young D’Artagnan’s bravery and wit will help him succeed in joining the musketeers, despite continuously getting him into trouble. The Three Musketeers secretly agree to test the D’Artagnan’s wits before accepting him as one of their own.
Historical era: the 1630s, Paris.
The North Water
Patrick Sumner is a military surgeon in the Irish army who was discharged on disciplinary charges. As redemption, he joins an expedition ship to The Arctic called Volunteer as its surgeon. After Sumner meets the crew, he soon finds out about Captain Brownlee’s plot with the ship’s owner Baxter to sink the ship to get the insurance money from the insurance company. This BBC period drama brings Sumner’s confusion through the screen, with a backdrop of the whaling industry and the failure of the insurance scam by Brownlee and Baxter.
Historical era: mid-19th century.
Our World War
This BBC period drama takes us deep into British soldiers’ trials during the First World War, based on factual stories from soldiers who served on the front line. Over the drama’s three episodes, we meet different actors portraying different characters, and the modern camera technology helps put us in the middle of the battlefield. Our World War differs from any previous recount of the events of WWI; it’s emotional and heartbreaking and puts you at the frontline during the war; there’s no escaping how horrific the soldiers suffered back then.
Historical era: 1914.
Paris Police 1900
The French Third Republic is in crisis again as royalists, nationalists, anti-Semites, and anarchists fight for their part of the cake; the gruesome murder of a young woman shrouds the Parisian streets with darkness. The authorities give little attention to the murder, so they put a young detective, Antoine Jouin, in charge of solving it. As Jouin faces one stumbling block after another, three brilliant minds cross his path. A retired policeman, a police informant, and the second female lawyer in France show interest in the savage murder. The quartet is unaware that a member of a wealthy French family and a corrupt police officer is behind the gruesome murder.
Historical era: 1899, Paris.
The Pursuit of Love
Linda and Fanny are two cousins with contrasting personalities and goals in life. The BBC period drama follows both ladies pursuing their goals and Linda’s neverending search for Mr Right. Fanny grew deprived of motherly love after her mother abandoned her to pursue various relationships. In contrast, Linda grew up under her father’s steel grip on their household and dislike of strangers. The Pursuit of Love is more of a soapy and lightweight drama, which is a nice change from all the heart-pacing dramas on our list.
Historical era: between WWI and WWII.
During the 1960s, a period of British fascism, Vivien lives with her Jewish family in Manchester. Her father, David, derives her from leaving home when he seeks to marry her to a man of his choosing, so Vivien leaves for London. To feel safe, Vivien seeks a relative to host her in London but ends up renting a room from a non-Jewish person. Vivien succeeds in getting a job as a hairdresser, and just as she is about to settle into her new life, a relative asks her to join their anti-fascist group. After much contemplation, Vivien joins the anti-fascist group and starts training to work undercover.
Historical era: the 1960s.
Since the 1960s, waves of West Indian immigrants began to settle in London. However, these immigrants faced unexpected turbulence at every corner. This historical BBC period drama mirrors these people’s real-life events and experiences as they attempt to find harmony in their new life. During their gatherings, they would use the slogan that if the authorities were the big axe, the struggling people were the small axe, which harmonises with Bob Marley’s hit song “Small Axe”.
Historical era: the 1960s to the 1980s.
Our list of BBC period dramas is balanced and exciting; we hope it will add brightness, love, romance, and a sprinkle of thrill and suspense to your days.