For many, there’s no better way to spend a dark winter’s night than to curl up on the sofa with a box of chocolates and a period drama. Over the past few months, viewers have enjoyed an almost uninterrupted stretch of costume dramas, with the final series of Downton Abbey, the BBC’s adaptation of War & Peace, and Julian Fellowes’ retelling of Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne entertaining audiences nationwide.
But alas, we’re now faced with a gaping hole in our Sunday night schedules. No stunning scenery, no lavish costumes, and no heightened melodrama to transfix us for an hour before those Monday blues kick in.
Never fear, The Yorker has picked out five perfect costume dramas for you to indulge in to get your fix of romance, tragedy – and that inevitable happy ending.
Wuthering Heights (2009)
Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley star as Emily Brontë’s tormented lovers in this gritty, gothic adaptation. If you’re expecting something light and fluffy, you’re looking in the wrong place – Wuthering Heights is passionate and twisted in equal measure, and for a long time a happy ending seems unreachable. Boasting a stellar cast including Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley), this reworking of Brontë’s 1847 novel is definitely one of the most faithful to the text. The eponymous house is well and truly brought to life with an intensity so vivid that its walls feel almost touchable. Compelling viewing from the outset, Wuthering Heights is without a doubt one of the best period dramas produced in recent years.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Perhaps the behemoth of all period dramas, this 1995 serial is the definitive adaptation of Austen’s classic novel. Yep, this is the one with Colin Firth in the lake. But there is so, so much more to it than that. Stretching to almost six hours in length, the BBC gave screenwriter Andrew Davies the breathing space to create a rich, comprehensive version of the story. Colin Firth may have become with synonymous with Mr Darcy after this, but Jennifer Ehle is without a doubt the star of the show, bringing a warmth and vivaciousness to Elizabeth Bennet often found lacking in other adaptations. The timeless tale of an unlikely romance and the obstacles in its path, Pride and Prejudice is a must-watch for any drama enthusiast.
North and South (2004)
Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe lead this powerful 2004 BBC adaptation of the classic Elizabeth Gaskell novel. A passionate love story set against the backdrop of the industrial Victorian north, North and South follows Margaret Hale, a southern girl recently settled in a new northern town, as she adapts to the harsh reality of Victorian life. North and South is an underrated gem of the genre and, with a stunning score accompanying it, this will definitely get the tears flowing on more than one occasion.
If you’re looking for something slightly off-piste then Jericho might just be the show for you. It may have slipped under the radar when it aired earlier this year, but this tale of a community emerging in the shadow of the building of the Ribbleshead Viaduct in Yorkshire is well worth a watch. Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) leads the cast as Annie Quaintain, a mother forced to relocate to the shanty town of Jericho with her children to start a new life. Very much a British Western, Jericho is packed with mystery and intrigue from the get-go. Be warned, however – the series ends with a major cliffhanger, and with ITV recently cancelling the serial you may be in for a frustrating ride.
Bleak House (2005)
The BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House has been hailed by critics as one of the best costume dramas of all time, and rightly so. This is a story of love, loss, success, failure and, ultimately, hope. Anna Maxwell Martin carries the series competently as gutsy protagonist Esther, thrown headfirst into the chaos arising from an interminable legal case. It is Gillian Anderson, however, who truly mesmerises as the haughty but tragic Lady Dedlock. The cast is teeming with stars like Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan and Timothy West, and not one actor goes to waste. Packed with hidden secrets and perilous situations, Bleak House is gripping from beginning to end.
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