10 Best British TV Period Dramas
Drama, scandal and romance with Pride & Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Vanity Fair, War & Peace and more
British TV at its very best: no one in the world can compete when it comes to the lavish thrills of period drama on television. Drawing on the world's most revered authors – Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and beyond – for tales of love, loss and scandal across the ages, there's still no shortage of source material for such classic TV. As those winter nights on the couch approach, here are our 10 favourite British period dramas of all time.
Jeremy Irons reminisces about the time he spent at stately home Brideshead with the Flyte family. A grand tale of dysfunctional family life set between 1922 and 1944 based on Evelyn Waugh's novel, the magnificent cast also includes Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud.
Buy Brideshead Revisited on DVD.
OK so we might be stretching the term 'drama' but Blackadder offers a wonderfully witty run through British history from 1485 through the Elizabethan and Regency eras to its poignant World War I finale. Rowan Atkinson has never been on better form, working with a fantastic script from Ben Elton and Richard Curtis.
Download Blackadder from the BBC Store.
One of many Dickens adaptations that have graced our screens. 2005's gothic thriller Bleak House might just be the best, adapted and written for television by Andrew Davies and starring Gillian Anderson, Carey Mulligan, Timothy West and Charles Dance.
Download Bleak House from the BBC Store.
The Crimson Petal & The White
A very different period drama. Set in Victorian London but based on Michel Faber's novel from 2002. A tale of mental illness and sexual desire as William Rackham (Chris O'Dowd) falls for prostitute Sugar (Romola Garai)
Buy The Crimson Petal & The White on DVD.
Another very different take on the format, Peaky Blinders is a crime drama set in Birmingham just after World War I. Cillian Murphy stars as the leader of Irish street gang the Peaky Blinders, who secrete razor blades in their peaked caps. A violent examination of working class life in the 1920s.
Download Peaky Blinders from the BBC Store.
The worldwide smash hit. Downton Abbey mixed uptight high society, Lords and Ladies with the struggles and strife of the servants downstairs, charting the changing face of the British class system across six series. Julian Fellowes hit gold with this instantly accessible drama, which has a soap opera sensibility.
Available at Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Pride & Prejudice
Perhaps the most famous period drama on British TV. The Bennet girls search for love in Andrew Davies' adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular novel. Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) emerging dripping from a lake was a pop culture moment that captured a nation.
Download Pride & Prejudice from the BBC Store.
This time Davies takes on William Makepeace Thackeray for the BBC's third adaptation of Vanity Fair. A startlingly modern take on the story of social climber Becky Sharpe (Natasha Little).
Download Vanity Fair from the BBC Store.
War & Peace
Yet another Davies adaptation (he really is master of making old texts feel fresh and relevant), this time tackling Leo Tolstoy's daunting tome. Passion, war, lost love and the occasional ballroom dance all played out during Russia's war with Napoleon.
Download War & Peace from the BBC Store.
A slow, considered take on Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning historical novel. Mark Rylance excels as Thomas Cromwell carefully steering his way through the court of Henry VIII (Damian Lewis).
Download Wolf Hall from the BBC Store.
The Jewel in the Crown
A look at the complex relationship between India and the UK in the last days of British rule (covering similar ground to Channel 4's recent Indian Summers). A lavish adaptation of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet starring Art Malik and Tim Pigott-Smith.
Buy The Jewel in the Crown on DVD.