Period drama is the genre of guilty pleasure for the hopeless romantic, the person who can quote “Pride & Prejudice” by heart and dreams of finding a Mr. Darcy. Romantic comedies and dramas set in the late 18th to mid-19th century became a cult in the last decade.
Netflix stays aware of current trends and keeps a category of these flicks on hand when you’ve worn down every Jane Austen adaptation you can get your hands on. So, if you can’t shake your itch for a period drama, check out one of these seven titles.
1. “North & South”
Set over a series of four one-hour episodes, “North & South” tells the story of Margaret Hale, an independent, sensitive, naïve young woman who moves from the open-country South to the gritty, confined North.
She encounters a rather “Pride & Prejudice” predicament with John Thornton, a cotton-mill owner. Insisting the Thorntons are proud and cruel, she is unaware of her own shortcomings of pride and close-mindedness as she goes about giving charity to the poor and judging the North openly with distaste.
For anyone obsessed with “Pride & Prejudice,” “North & South” plays out quite closely, complete with a scorned proposal, a brooding, handsome romantic interest and revelations of one’s character previously miscalculated.
2. “The Paradise”
“The Paradise” gives off a “Downton Abbey” vibe, following the lives of a domestic workforce and their wealthy employers. The story focuses on Denise, a clever and spirited young woman who gets a job at The Paradise, England’s first department store.
She is full of ingenious ideas, which captures the attention of the store’s owner, John Moray. He applies her ideas, which helps the store flourish, much to the chagrin of the other shop girls and Denise’s supervisor. Eventually the attention gives way to flirting, which leads to a budding secret romance.
“The Paradise” is wrought with theatrics, complete with a fervent romance, a woman scorned, financial obscurity and sneaky underhand dealings. It puts the drama in period drama.
3. “Call the Midwife”
Though a little later in the period spectrum, in the ’40s and ’50s, “Call the Midwife” remains a relevant title in the period-drama genre. The story follows Jenny Lee, a young midwife, along with her fellow midwives of Nonnatus House, who work at providing safe delivery and health to the poor district in East End, London.
There’s romance, naturally, but the show dives into so much more: racism, poverty, abortion, homosexuality, religion and medicine, to name just a few topics. It’s the right fit for the fan who isn’t just there to watch people fall in love, but to see social, cultural and economic issues of the time discussed. Regardless, “Call the Midwife” has everything a period drama can offer.
4. “Alias Grace”
This is a great show for those who also enjoy a little darkness and mystery in their period dramas. The story is told through a process of flashbacks, as Grace Marks is interviewed by psychiatrist Simon Jordan about her conviction of murder 15 years ago.
It has the romance, as well as an exploration of abortion, mental health, law, class equality and feminism. Not only based on true events, it’s also based on a novel by Margaret Atwood, an author who has proven just as much a superior in the period-drama genre as Jane Austen. Composed of six 45-minute episodes, “Alias Grace” has plenty of material to get by without requiring a long-winded commitment.
5. “When Calls the Heart”
With this show, coming from books by Christian Romance author Janette Oak, and created by Hallmark, you can be prepared for lots of cheesiness. This is on the list for that very reason, because sometimes you need a break from the dark intensity of a typical period drama.
As lighthearted as they come, “When Calls the Heart” gives just enough intrigue to keep a hopeless romantic involved. One gets a “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” vibe, set in the Wild West. Well, not so wild, but it does follow an independent woman who moves from the fashionable city life of the East to a rugged western country town to pursue her profession.
In “When Calls the Heart,” that independent woman is the spunky and fierce Elizabeth Thatcher, who’s just starting out in her career as a teacher. A fearless heroine, a romance with a handsome Mountie who doesn’t seem to have a flaw about him, a quaint little town of hoity-toity matrons and a scheming mayor sounds perfect for the period-drama lover.
6. “Death Comes to Pemberley”
To the ever fervent “Pride & Prejudice” lovers, “Death Comes to Pemberley” will satisfy your desire for more Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. A novel written as a sequel to the original Austen tale, it follows Elizabeth Darcy’s life after marriage as the mistress of Pemberley, which is interrupted by a visit from her impassioned baby sister Lydia and news of a murder.
Lizzy and Darcy attempt to maintain the reputation of their family as it becomes an integral part of the investigation. The accusation against Lydia’s husband, Wickham, doesn’t help matters. Austen’s beloved tale gets an extensive twist in a direction you wouldn’t have expected, and it’s thrilling. Period drama is never complete without a little murder.
7. “The Crown”
More than likely everyone has heard of this award-winning Netflix original series by now. If you haven’t watched it yet, however, then you are certainly missing out. Phenomenal in every aspect, “The Crown” unveils the lives of the British monarchy.
Claire Foy’s portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II is otherworldly. Seeing the queen as a young woman, as a mother, as a devoted wife in a precarious marriage, as a big sister to an audacious sibling, as a woman finding her place amongst older prominent men of government, as a relatable woman, shines a new perspective.
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