As Downton Abbey is gone and we are all missing the engaging period drama that filled our lives for the last six years, I thought I’d try to help fill that void for you by offering up some of the 10 best period films. Mind you—this list does not include all the heavier period films that can make us cry or bring on a bout of depression. Films such as Atonement, The English Patient, and The Remains of the Day are not on this list.
Instead, this list encompasses the lighter period films similar to Downton Abbey whereby a little bit of drama blends with a lot of light fun. All of these are appropriate for families, so if your family enjoyed watching Downton together, perhaps you can snuggle in with some of these wonderful period flicks.
I’ll be counting down to my favorite, starting with number ten:
10. A Month By the Lake, 1995
A light, romantic comedy starring Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox, and Uma Thurman. In 1913, a spinster named Miss Bentley (Vanessa Redgrave) enjoyed spending her summer holiday in Lake Como, Italy, with her father before World War I. In 1937, she decides to return to Lake Como after the death of her father for a month’s holiday where she meets a bachelor named Major Wilshaw (Edward Fox) and becomes enamored with him until a young American girl arrives (Uma Thurman).
9. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 2008
This sweet story of governess Guinevere Pettigrew, played by Frances McDormand, will pull at your heartstrings. Miss Pettigrew is middle-aged and out of work, seeking food from the bread line. When she initiates a quality job out of desperation, things begin to change and happen for Miss Pettigrew, including a little bit of romance.
8. Miss Potter, 2006
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I adore this film about author Beatrix Potter. It’s a fast-paced film that allows you to quickly get to know this writer, philanthropist, environmentalist, and independent woman. Acted beautifully by Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, the sweeping scenery and romance of the film will quickly take you into the charming world of Beatrix Potter.
7. Ladies in Lavendar, 2004
When two spinster ladies find a young man near death on the beach and realize he is a famous violinist from Poland, a bit of melancholy and infatuation take place. If you are missing Violet from Downton Abbey, look no further. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench play the sisters in this lovely, sweet drama that takes place in a fishing village in Cornish.
6. Anne of Green Gables, 1985
Shame on you if you haven’t enjoyed this adorable period piece based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book of the same name. You’ll follow Anne, played by Megan Follows, and crew as she gets into all sorts of trouble, blaming it all on her red “carrot” hair and the fact that she is an orphan. You will be touched, laugh, and enjoy all of Anne’s antics. Set on Prince Edward Island, some of the scenery shots will take your breath away.
5. Ever After, 1998
Somehow, I never grow tired of this film. Drew Barrymore portrays the kind of Cinderella I’d like to have been, giving her some gumption, grit, and hard-core determination. The relationship between Cinderella and her evil stepmother, played by Anjelica Huston, is quirky, yes, but Huston does a magnificent job of portraying a stepmother full of resentment. In the end, you’ll love the Prince, who has a few things to learn on his own. We are even treated to the character of Leonardo di Vinci, as he is a part of the story as an added bonus.
4. The Young Victoria, 2009
Emily Blunt is fantastic as Queen Victoria. While this one is not as lighthearted as the others, it is a well-done film that depicts the extraordinary loving relationship between Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, of Belgium, played by Rupert Friend. This film moves quickly, and I remember wanting more of it when it was all over.
(Blogger’s Note: Here come the Jane Austen films…)
3. Emma, 1996
I know many people think this is Austen’s best work—and I do like it very much—but it would be my third favorite of the films. Emma is a matchmaker who wants the best for her friend, Harriet, until she realizes that maybe the friend is in love with the man she, herself, is in love with. This adorable movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Toni Collette as Harriett.
2. Sense and Sensibility, 1995
What could be better than Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, and Greg Wise? Not much. In this Jane Austen adaptation, we find two sisters, along with their mother and other sister, after the loss of their father and left with no inheritance. The story follows Elinor and Marianne Dashwood as they triumph in love…with a few bumps along the way. Greg Wise plays a fantastic Willoughby.
1. Pride and Prejudice, 2005 OR, Pride and Prejudice, 1995, Mini-series
I give you two choices with this one, and both are excellent. If you love Colin Firth and want to spend many nights with him, pick up the mini-series. If you want a beautiful, shorter version and are fans of Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, then watch that version. Both follow the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy well. You will be engaged and besotted with both versions as I am—I find it difficult to pick a favorite between the two because I think they both do Austen proud.
Or maybe, just watch them both.
I know I’ve probably missed some of your favorites, so if I have, please let me know. I’ll orchestrate a list at some point of my favorite DRAMATIC period pieces, as opposed to these that are a little lighter. But if I know Downton fans as I think I do, we don’t really want to be sobbing for hours at the end of the films.