Love Bridgerton? Here are 11 Other Period Pieces to Tickle Your Fancy
Pray tell, have you already binged all of Bridgerton?
Shonda Rhimes’ new hit Netflix show is the talk of the ton these days, soothing a collective need for romantic escapism brought on by the pandemic-induced lack of, well, romance and escapism.
The eight-episode first season delivers on scandal, style and sexual tension, following the wealthy Bridgerton family as they navigate British high-society’s marriage market and one Lady Whistledown’s anonymous gossip column. Think Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen.
I dare say the show, set in Regency-era England, is prompting something of a renaissance for British period pieces. Below, we’ve rounded up a selection of TV series and films that are designed to transport you back in time — to the days of promenading for suitors, sipping champagne at balls and securing the future of England’s monarchy with powerful marriage alliances.
Whether the subjects in these pieces are losing their heads to war or their minds to love, they’re sure to capture your imagination. While this list is far from comprehensive (the genre is rather robust), consider it a point of departure for some of the best British period pieces available to stream online — forthwith!
PBS’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s final, unfinished manuscript of the same name has developed a cult-following since the eight-episode drama’s first season premiered in 2019. Rose Williams and Theo James take the lead as (spoiler alert, although it’s a classic Austen trope) bemused strangers whose initial disdain for each other becomes the basis of their attraction, à la Pride and Prejudice (we’ll get to that!). Set in a seaside fishing town that is rapidly rebranding as a luxury wellness destination, this show serves up a different kind of Austen story, one less focused on marriage and high-society and more on the holistic development of the town and its inhabitants.
Gwyneth Paltrow steals the spotlight as the eponymous leading lady in this 1996 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s famous novel, which follows the hilariously bungled matchmaking attempts of a well-meaning yet incredibly snobbish young socialite with commitment issues. Bridgerton fans will notice a certain Mrs. Featherington (Polly Walker) in the role of the enviable Miss Jane Fairfax.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy (of The Queen’s Gambit fame), this 2020 adaptation takes a slightly more modern and satirical approach to the frivolous goings-on of high society than the ‘90s version. Less steeped in sentimentality and vintage visuals, this version is instead flooded with bright, dazzling colors and tackles intimacy and interiority more directly while still staying true to the classic text.
If you love period pieces and somehow missed this British series, you’re in for a treat. With six sprawling seasons and a movie, there’s plenty of family drama, scandal and intrigue to keep you steeped in the Edwardian-era exploits of the Crawley family and their servants at their beloved estate. Maggie Smith’s acerbic quips as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley are worth watching for alone.
Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a long way from Downton in this juicy Hulu original series. While the rules of propriety are certainly different in a brothel, they’re no fewer or less strict than in high society. After establishing in the first episode that one in every five women were sex workers in mid-18th century London, the show focuses on two rival brothels, offering insight into the oft-overlooked counterpoint of life in the upper echelons. Sexy and still ostentatious when it comes to the flamboyant costumes and drama, the series blends the best (and worst) of both worlds.
The Young Victoria
Emily Blunt is radiantly royal in this 2009 movie, which sees her — as the title suggests — as a young Queen Victoria, chronicling the particularly petite royal’s early ascension to the throne at age 18 in 1837, as well as her renowned romance with Prince Albert. The love match between the pair is a delight to watch, as is seeing Blunt coronated in full regalia.
A few years after Blunt’s spin on the young royal, Jenna Coleman brought Queen Victoria to life in this PBS British series. Elaborating on the life of the coddled-young-Princess-turned-fiercely-independent Queen, Victoria shines a light on the monarch’s duties and her love life with Prince Albert and is ornamented with ample palace intrigue. With three seasons out and a fourth underway, this popular — although admittedly slightly less sexy — series will likely be a favorite among Bridgerton fans.
While the Golden Globe Award-winning series takes place squarely in the 20th century (thus far), no period piece list could be complete without it. An intimate behind-the-scenes portrait of the British monarchy, the lavish Netflix show follows Queen Elizabeth II’s life and reign, from the 1940s through modern day. Currently in its fourth season, which focuses on the relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the series is famous for rotating its cast every two seasons, bringing in new actors to take over the roles of the royal family as they age.
The 2013 movie stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate daughter of a young Black woman and a Royal Navy Captain, who is born into slavery and later raised by her father’s aristocratic family members. While she is beloved by the family, her station is complicated by her race, making it “improper” for her to dine with her white family, and equally improper for her to dine with the servants. Harry Potter fans will notice Tom Felton playing a racist bigot who doesn’t approve of his friend’s affections for her. Based on a true story, Belle ultimately plays a key role in England’s campaign to abolish slavery.
The Spanish Princess
The third in a trilogy of Starz shows based on books by Philippa Gregory (prefaced by The White Queen and The White Princess), this series is set a few centuries back from the others on this list, at the dawn of the Tudor period. The title character, Catherine of Aragon (brilliantly played by Charlotte Hope), is betrothed to Prince Arthur of England from birth, forging a powerful marriage alliance meant to strengthen both Spain and England. After his (spoiler alert — although perhaps that doesn’t apply to historic fact?) untimely death, the feisty, strong-willed princess marries his charismatic young brother, Prince Harry (later King Henry VIII). The show is ravishingly shot, with stunning costumes, scenery and poignant sexual tension between the princess and Prince Harry.
Pride & Prejudice
Based on the 1813 novel of the same name by Jane Austen, this classic tale is brought to life by Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen as the outspoken Elizabeth Bennet and reserved, wealthy Mr. Darcy in this 2005 film. The slow build of tension between the two is bound to bewitch you, body and soul.
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