Period dramas are back in fashion, what with Downton Abbey becoming a cultural phenomenon and Saoirse Ronan's upcoming adaptation of Colm Toibin, Brooklyn, looking like a serious Oscar contender.
So, with that in mind, here's ten of the best period dramas. *curtsies*
10. The Duchess (2008)
Keira Knightley must really enjoy getting stitched up in huge gowns, as she features on this list not once, but three times. Playing a distant relative of Princess Diana, Knightley's character, Georgiana, lives a decadent life that is somewhat empty until she meets Charles Grey, played by Dominic Cooper. The two embark on a passionate and whirlwind affair and all looks great. There's just one problem - Knightley's character is married to Ralph Fiennes. The design and costumes are as extravagant as you'd expect, but there are some emotional scenes between Cooper and Knightley and Fiennes' character really comes across as a nasty piece of work.
9. Gosford Park (2001)
Set in the 1930's, Gosford Park follows a multi-layered story involving the residents and servants of an old English country house and their intertwined lives. Sound like Downton Abbey? That's because it was written by the show's executive producer, Julian Fellowes. In fact, there's a good deal of casting crossover, with Maggie Smith being one of the lead actresses in it. Watching this and then following it up with Downton Abbey, it's easy to tell that this was a sort of dry-run for the show. That said, the film stands on its own as a pretty great period drama with no shortage of 'gasp ' moments. That's a thing in period dramas, apparently.
8. Jane Eyre (2011)
Period dramas are, by their very nature, over the top. The costumes, the designs, the acting - everything is supposed to be over-the-top. So to take one of the most famous period novels - namely, Jane Eyre - and strip it back to the bone is pretty ballsy. And yet, this interpretation of Jane Eyre completely works. Michael Fassbender, in an underrated performance, plays Mr. Rochester. Closed off and monosyllabic, he hires a young woman to act as an au pair for his children. The title character, played by Mia Wasikowska, is sent to his draughty, dust-ridden home to see to the children. Fassbender demonstrates here why he's the greatest living Irish actor of our generation, by infusing a scene with genuine emotion with a single look or glance. The director, Cory Fukunaga, previously worked on crime drama Sin Nombre and the first season of True Detective.
7. Sense And Sensibility (1995)
Ang Lee may be better known for making the much-maligned Hulk movie or much-lauded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, before all that, he made Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, based on the popular Jane Austen novel. Thompson plays Elinor Dashwood, the older sister of sorta-flighty Marianne Dashwood, played by Kate Winslet. It's the 18th century and in order to secure their family's futures, they have to be married off. And who are their suitors? Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. Not too shabby, we think. The film currently holds 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and couple that with the fact it received a grand total of seven Academy Award nominations, it's easy to see why this is considered a classic of the genre.
6. Amadeus (1984)
Empire Magazine described Amadeus as "The Dark Knight with powdered wigs." We'd be hard pressed not to top that analogy. F. Murray Abraham plays Salieri, a wizened, half-mad composer who's been locked in a mental asylum following a botched suicide attempt. There, he recounts the story of what led him there, namely a career-spanning rivalry with the greatest composer the world has ever known - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You really don't have to have any knowledge of classical music or even any interest, because the film is really all about the dynamic between Mozart and Salieri. The comparison to The Dark Knight is very apt - Mozart is wild, unpredictable and completely manic whereas Salieri is stolid, immoveable and relentlessly trying to beat Mozart. Don't let the stuffy music or the huge wigs put you off. This is really worth your time.
5. The English Patient (1996)
There's a joke about the English Patient in American Dad, of all places. Stan takes out a firework rocket named after the film, because "it looks really beautiful, but it takes a very long time for an unsatisfying payoff." Well, we'd disagree on the payoff part. But for real, The English Patient is a gorgeous-looking film. Ralph Fiennes, in a weird not-villain role, is the title character. Horrifically scarred and waylaid in a hospital in the final days of World War II, he recounts his story to Juliette Binoche. And what a story it is. Fiennes' character is a Hungarian aristrocrat who works as a cartographer in the deserts of Northern Africa. When Kristin Scott Thomas arrives on the scene, the two have a torrid affair that ends - like all period drama romances - in tragedy. The film really harks back to cinematic classic Lawrence of Arabia, all panoramic shots of the desert and epic soundtracks. But underneath, it's about the cost of obsession and how it can rip whole lives apart. Unsurprisingly, it cleaned up at the Oscars that year and won nine Oscars, including Best Picture.
4. Atonement (2007)
Director Joe Wright really has built his career on period dramas. In fact, he's directed no less than four period dramas, one of which was a hugely succesful TV miniseries. Aside from Pride & Prejudice, Atonement is perhaps his best-known film to date. James McAvoy really made his mark on this film as a potential leading actor and his performance in it is pretty incredible. Saoirse Ronan, likewise, put in a terrific performance. It's hard to believe she was just 12 years old, but not at all hard to believe that she received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The cast overall is terrific - you have Vanessa Redgrave, Keira Knightley (again), Romola Garai and Benedict Cumberbatch all turning in huge performances. But what makes the story resonate so much is how it's told. If you haven't seen it, we don't want to give it away, but it's probably one of the most heartbreaking endings you can see.
3. The Remains Of The Day (1993)
When you put respected British actors like Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson together on screen, you know something special is going to happen. Set a couple of years after World War II, Hopkins plays a level-headed, rule-bound butler in service to an English aristocrat who had some serious links to the Nazi movement. Emma Thompson plays the more free-wheeling housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As with nearly all period dramas, an ill-fated romance develops between the two but is left somewhat ambiguous. Hopkins' restrained, dialled-back performance won him an nomination for Best Actor, however he lost out to Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Watch it for the scenery, the music and Emma Thompson's hair.
2. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
There's a theory that you can't have a real period drama without a shot of a man's hands. And if you watch Pride & Prejudice through, you'll note that there are some weird, lingering shots of Matthew McFadyen's hands. We've no idea. Maybe people get off on hands. Either way, Joe Wright's lush adaptation of Pride & Prejudice is considered the best film version of the famous novel with Colin Firth's BBC-miniseries considered the best TV version. McFadyen's confined and restrained Mr. D'Arcy is solid, as is Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet. However, the film's strength comes from Wright's amazing cinematography, something he recreated in Anna Karenina.
1. Titanic (1997)
"Don't let go, Jack." For people who weren't around in 1997 when Titanic was originally released, it's sort of hard to imagine what this film was like and the impact it had. It was huge. The Celine Dion song, My Heart Will Go On, even had a "talkie" version that was played on radio. We can vividly remember people calling radio stations, specifically asking for the song with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's dialogue interpersed with the song. You might argue that it's not a period drama - trust us, it is. The attention to detail is second to none. In fact, James Cameron even had White Star Line supervise and reconstruct the original decor for the film.