Period dramas are not only for history lovers. They are rarely for history lovers because they don’t usually tend to abide by facts or historical truths. On the other hand, most period dramas exaggerate history, dramatise events and make things that were probably boring and normal feel exciting and perfect (no matter how far that is from the truth).
People watch period dramas to escape. They don’t believe life was better back then, but it’s nice to pretend it was. It’s nice to pretend that girls loved wearing corsets and men were all chivalry and poetic love confessions. We can’t blame anyone for being enamoured by period dramas because we all want to escape and believe that sometimes, somewhere, life is magical.
So if you’re a lover of epic love stories, big family dramas, political wars and clothes no one wears anymore (because they’re super impractical in our world), then take a seat and get comfortable because we’re about to introduce to the best top 10 list of period dramas that will sweep you off your feet to a whole other time.
Top 10 List of Period Dramas
Period dramas can be movies or TV shows, and depending on your free time and how invested you want to be in those characters and events, you can choose to watch either. Our list will contain five TV shows and five movies we believe are the best and most enjoyable period dramas.
Top 5 Period Drama TV Shows to Watch
From Regency Era Britain to 18th century Russia, there is a period drama TV show for everyone. Whether you like sweeping romances, royal family drama, ambitious queens or liberal time travel, we have a TV show for you below. These shows are well-loved, well received and have had people talk about them for years! Let’s start!
These days, you cannot think of period dramas and not think about Netflix’s spicey, sexy romantic take on the Regency Era’s wealthiest families. Bridgerton, which gave us its first season in 2020, has captured the heart of hopeless romantics everywhere. Its take on the drama of Regency Era London’s marriage market has left viewers swooning and a little scandalised.
Where most period dramas tend to be reserved and closed off regarding physical love, Bridgerton had no qualms about being open and as sexy as they could be. But don’t let that fool you; the show is full of heartfelt emotions, romances and family dramas. Each family we meet in Grover Square, including our main family, the Bridgerton, have their own challenges and personal problems to deal with besides romance, with makes Bridgerton a significant period drama.
Bridgerton follows the romantic lives of the seven Bridgerton siblings. So far, we have two seasons following Daphne and Anthony Bridgerton’s stories. In 2023, we also got a spinoff series about Queen Charlotte and her love. Now is a perfect time to binge on Bridgerton before the third season comes out.
Downton Abbey (ITV/ Prime Video)
Downton Abbey is another British period drama that needs no introduction. The first season came out in 2010, and the show aired on Tv until 2015. With six highly successful seasons, Downton Abbey didn’t stop there. The cast came back for two feature films in 2019 and 2022. If that doesn’t show you how loved Downton Abbey was, we don’t know what will!
Downton Abbey takes place in the early 20th-century English countryside. Downton Abbey is a vast estate that belongs to the aristocratic Crawley family, our main characters. The show follows the life of the Crawley family and their domestic servants as they navigate the most significant events in British history during the post-Edwardian Era. Through six seasons and fifty-two episodes, we watch the family and their servants as their dynamic and personal lives are affected by huge events such as the drawing of the Titanic, the First World War, the break of the Spanish Influenza, and more.
The best thing about Downton Abbey is that, unlike most period dramas, we don’t only follow the wealthy people’s stories but also the working class and how the events of the time affect them. Downton Abbey has won 27 Primetime Emmy Awards, among numerous other awards. If you’re looking for a complete show to binge, pack your bags and head to Yorkshire.
The Great (Hulu)
From Britain all the way to Russia! If you are looking for another kind of white people period drama, then The Great is precisely what you are looking for! With absolutely minimal regard to historical accuracy, the Great is a satiric-comedy period drama that aims to entertain and not to educate in any capacity.
The Great dropped its first season back in 2020, then a second in 2021, and a third in 2022. The period drama follows the story of Catherin the Great, the Empress of Russia. Throughout the show, we see Catherin (played by Ella Fanning) as she rises from being an outsider to the Russian court who marries the heir to the throne to scheming her way into killing her deranged husband and becoming the empress and sole ruler of Russia.
The Great has been a successful period drama since the release of its first season. It has received various awards, including six Primetime Emmy Awards and has been critically acclaimed. With a high possibility of The Great being renewed for a fourth season, you want to start binging this hilarious period drama today!
Outlander (Starz/ Netflix)
Someone out there has been living the literal dream of every period drama fan that has even existed. We’re talking about time travel and falling in love with a dashing historical warrior! Based on a novel series, Outlander is a period drama lover’s fantasy come true.
The seven-season period drama follows Claire Randall, a former Scottish nurse in 1945, who accidentally touches an enchanted stone that transfers her to 1743 Scotland. Through the seven seasons, Claire meets, falls in love and marries the dashing Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser (now the object of ultimate fantasy to every period drama girl). History-wise, the show follows the Jacobite movement and its failure. But Outlander is really for the hopeless romantics who dream of living in a time other than their own.
As a multiple Critic’s Choice Awards-winning period drama, Outlander is a highly loved and acclaimed series. The show garnered a very dedicated fanbase and is coming back for an eighth and final season soon. If you’re the kind to read historical romances and fan fiction, trust us, Outlander is the show you’ve been looking for.
Dickinson (Apple TV+)
Finally, we end this excellent list of TV Shows with Dickinson, a period drama based on the life of Emily Dickinson, the most mysterious and exciting American poet ever to exist. Dickinson is a period drama that is both historical and comical. It’s for literature lovers and poets enamoured by Emily Dickinson and her outstanding work.
The period drama follows the life of young Emily Dickinson and her relationship with her family, society and the world around her. Historically, Emily was known as a highly introverted individual who spent most of her time locked in her bedroom. Her fantastic body of work wasn’t discovered until after her death, and that was when the world got a glimpse at her interesting life.
The Peabody Award-winning period drama is highly acclaimed and loved by its fans. Mixing comedy, romance and drama, Hailee Steinfeld perfectly portrayed Emily Dickinson. If all of this isn’t enough for you to binge Dickinson, let us give you this final fun fact about the show: Wiz Khalifa plays Death!
Top 5 Period Drama Movies to Watch
Now for the ones with the short attention span. Not everyone has the patience to watch a multiple-season TV show, but that is no reason for anyone to miss the awesomeness of period dramas. If you prefer movies over TV shows, we’ve got you! Here is a list of our favourite period drama movies!
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
A classic period drama for the ages, Pride and Prejudice, based on Jane Austen’s classic novel, is must watch for every period drama lover. Nothing beats a Regency Era romance, and this masterful adaptation reflected the best of Austen’s magic.
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy’s love story takes place in the complicated social life of the middle and upper-class English countryside, following a headstrong heroine -Elizabeth- and her journey to learning to leave her judgement aside and a proud Mr Darcy who learns to give his heart to the woman he loves despite her family’s “shortcomings”.
Pride and Prejudice is one of the best period dramas of all time. It’s safe to say that the novel and its numerous adaptions never miss. However, we have a soft spot for Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen’s portrayal of this formidable couple.
Yes, another Jane Austen adaptation! If we are honest, this entire list can be Jane Austen adaptations, and we still won’t run out. The most recent adaptation of Austen’s beloved novel Emma has captured the heart of fans everywhere.
Need a blind date? Call Emma. They say that we didn’t make it up! Emma Woodhouse is a rich, charming and slightly selfish young woman who just can’t help herself when meddling in her friends’ love lives. All with the best intentions. This period drama follows Emma as she learns that meddling in someone else’s life brings nothing but trouble. And in her busy time meddling in other lives, she was missing her love right before her.
Just like Pride and Prejudice, this adaptation of Emma is not the only one, but it is definitely one of the best. Anya Taylor-Joy does a fantastic job portraying Emma as a person who does everything wrong, but you still, for some reason, cannot hate her.
Keira Knightley is the Queen of period dramas. She gave many fantastic performances over her career, but Atonement is a special one that no one will ever forget. The love story of star-crossed lovers always captures hearts. Everlasting love is beautiful, but there is something special about doomed love too.
Atonement follows the story of Briony Tallis, who ruins all their lives due to a misunderstanding situation between her sister Cecelia and her lover Robbie. The story takes place in two different timelines, one where we see the past events unfolding and the misunderstanding taking place and another where we witness the consequences of Briony’s lies on her and her sister’s lives.
This heartbreaking story of love, betrayal and sisterhood is one of the best period dramas you will ever watch. Just make sure you have a big box of tissues beside you as you do.
The Favourite (2018)
Back to the scheming of the British royal courts, The Favourite is one of the best portrayals of how far some people are willing to go for power. This period drama takes place during the 18th century, sometime during the short reign of Queen Anne.
Queen Anne’s mental health is deteriorating, and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country. As England and France are waging war against each other, Queen Anne is busy tending to her rabbit and screaming at servants while Lady Sarah is in control. The atmosphere shifts when a new Lady arrives at court and begins to get close to the Queen, trying to take Lady Sarah’s place.
A power game, a drama and an attempt at fake love, The Favourite is a period drama you do not want to miss! The movie has amazing performances by formidable actresses such as Olivia Cloman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.
Little Women (2019)
On the other side of the pond, an adaption of one of the most famous American novels ever took the world by storm. Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women is a lovely look into girlhood and growing up among sisters learning to love, care and chase your dreams.
Little Women is a story of four sisters: Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth March. The story follows the sisters as they grow up in a loving home with their mother. They experience first love, friendship and the unbreakable bond of sisterhood as life throws each of them in a different direction.
Little Women is a classic that Greta Gerwig rebirthed in a new light while keeping its original heart beating. This period drama with Saoirse Ronan, Emma Stone, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlena and Timothee Chalamet will bring back childhood memories and bask you in a loving, warm light that you will forever cherish.
Period dramas are an escape from our everyday life. They take us to a world that existed long ago and has affected how we live today, even if we don’t live the same way anymore. Watching period dramas will transport you to times and events long forgotten but, at the same time, help you reflect on your own life today. Whether you want to do this via TV shows or movies, we hope this list has what you want.