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Period dramas to watch now you’ve binged all of Bridgerton

IMAGE VIA THE NEW YORKER
WORDS BY JASMINE WALLIS

Films to fill the Bridgerton-shaped hole in your life.

Even though restrictions have eased in many parts of Australia, we are, unfortunately, still living in fear of the virus-who-must-not-be-named.

I’m still stuck working from home and generally keeping my distance from others as naturally as a couple in a Regency-era film

Speaking of Regency-era couples, isn’t Netflix’s spicy new period drama Bridgerton just great? A real bodice ripper. There’s something about our current milieu and period dramas that just seems to fit. Perhaps it’s all the tension, frustration and enforced social distancing these films depict that’s resonating with us?

Whatever it is, if you’ve already torn through the entire season (guilty as charged) and would like to continue indulging in a bit of corset-laden escapism, I’ve compiled my top period film picks below. 

Emma

Released in cinemas in mid-February, Emma is the latest Jane Austen adaptation. Following behind its forebearers – the 1996 Gwenyth Paltrow version and one of the best adaptations of all time, Clueless – this latest Austen classic has everything you could want in a period drama. 

From pastel fashions that are contributing to a rise in Regency-core dressing, to Emma’s famous satirical look at the social classes of England, it’s a top pick for getting lost in a world that’s long gone. 

Due to the impact that the pandemic has had on the film industry, the kind people at Universal Pictures have fast-tracked movies that are currently in cinemas (including Emma) straight to streaming, so you can watch during iso. 

Unfortunately for everyone down under, Emma isn’t available to rent on Amazon Prime just yet. But if you have a US or Canadian VPN, then go for your life here

Pride and Prejudice

While there are countless screen adaptations of this story, the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice was my gateway drug into period dramas. In my 9-year-old mind, Keira Knightley was the most beautiful woman to walk the moors of ye olde England and her relationship with the brooding Mr Darcy was peak romance. 

One of the most classic love stories of all time, and produced by the same people as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, this period drama is the perfect balance of comedy and romance and it’s perfect if you’re looking for some inspiration on keeping your distance from your forbidden (quarantined) love. 

You might be able to watch this classic on that dusty DVD player you’ve had sitting in your cupboard for 15 years but if not, then you can rent it here

Belle 

Inspired by this artwork, Belle is the story of Britain’s first black aristocrat. Dido Elizabeth Belle was born the illegitimate daughter of an African woman and former slave named Maria Belle and a Royal Navy Captain, John Lindsay. 

The young girl is raised in London by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield, a chief justice who worked in several slavery cases during the late 1700s. The film is an interesting mix of period-drama romance and the social consequences of slavery. 

Considering costume dramas are historically very heavily dominated by white characters, to learn the true story of what Dido lived through as a mixed-race person of high stature and to see a different perspective is really fascinating. 

You can watch the 2014 film starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton here

Farewell, My Queen

Sofia Coppolla’s Marie Antoinette will always be a classic period pick. The clever blend of old and new and a soundtrack that includes The Strokes while the Queen of France sculls champagne? Brilliant.

If you’re like me, however, and are looking for a fresh take on the story of Marie Antoinette, then I’d recommend Farewell, My QueenReleased in 2012, the French film is based on a novel of the same name.

It’s set in the waning days of Marie Antoinette’s rule over France and explores the relationship between the decadent Queen and one of her servants, a woman who reads to her. We obviously know how the story ends already but the French-language film is perfect if you want to indulge in the pomp and finery that was French royalty in 1789.

You can find it here

Impromptu

This one was a bit of ring-in but I just had to include it, if only for Hugh Grant’s faux-Polish accent. Impromptu is a period piece based on the true story of the affair between pianist Frédéric Chopin and the writer Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin. 

Previously a French Baroness, the novelist writes under the pseudonym George Sand (as many women who wanted to get published 200 years ago had to), and is famous for divorcing her husband, dressing androgynously and smoking cigars. When she falls in love with Chopin’s music and proceeds to meet him at a party, they begin an affair. 

Made in 1991, the film features Australian actress Judy Davis as Sand, a young Emma Thompson as an aristocrat and a pre-Notting Hill (even pre-Four Weddings and a Funeral) Hugh Grant. Even if the film is a little bit corny and dated, anything that’s a period piece and features a young Hugh Grant will always have my seal of approval. 

You can rent this nearly 30-year-old classic here

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