These recent period dramas give a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy and prestigious with compelling stories, beautiful costumes, stunning cinematography, and glamorous set design.
Old is gold as the saying goes, and there’s a timeless and almost universal appeal to period dramas. Despite taking place in earlier periods of history, the lives of their characters are just as rich as the ones we live today—in some ways, perhaps even more so. These were the times where society’s wealthy indulged in fine gowns, handwritten letters, and grand balls. When viewers watch these historical films or TV shows, they get a glimpse into the unique zeitgeist of a particular era.
Period dramas never go out of fashion, as filmmakers always find ways to adapt old stories and historical moments with a fresh perspective. If you’re looking for recent films or TV shows about affluent and esteemed characters of the past, below are four you can add to your watch queue:
Emma, Jane Austen’s beloved book, has had adaptations for years, the most notable ones being the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and the other 1996 British production with Kate Beckinsale.
The most recent, and arguably most visually-appealing, adaptation of the book is 2020’s Emma, which stars none other than Anna Taylor-Joy. Director Autumn de Wilde infuses her own vibrant vision into the film, creating a masterpiece of eye-popping pastel hues and impeccable costumes.
Meanwhile, Taylor-Joy adds zest to the ever mischievous titular character, Emma Woodhouse. The wealthy young woman’s whole conflict stems from her meddlesome nature and overinvolvement in the lives of others.
Viewers can’t help but find her both endearing and frustrating, which is what makes her character so compelling. Expect plenty of misunderstandings, opulent settings, and of course, the usual fare of heart-achingly sweet romance from Jane Austen.
The Gilded Age (2022-present)
Fans of Downton Abbey were rewarded with a new show that also showcases the lives of the wealthy. The Gilded Age is set in the period of the same name, centering on the rich individuals of New York City in the 1800s.
A young woman named Marian Brook (played by Louisa Jacobson) moves in with her wealthy but estranged aunts, Agnes van Rhijin (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon).
So begins Marian’s entanglement with the lives of the old rich and new rich—including their social wars. Much like Downton Abbey, the show deals with the etiquettes and unspoken rules of the wealthy, though it’s focused on a different cultural context and time. Expect glittering costumes, subtly witty and sharp dialogue, and of course, plenty of drama.
With the show’s second season just around the corner (October 29), there’s plenty of material to catch up on and enjoy on a fine evening.
The Favorite (2018)
One can expect an entertaining ride when Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone star in a darkly comedic period film. This is the case for The Favorite by director Yorgos Lanthimos, the mind behind strange, comedic, and sometimes horrific films like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
The Favorite is set in early 18th century England, taking place in the court of Queen Anne (played by Coleman). Its plot centers on two ladies, Duchess Sarah Churchill (Weisz) and Baroness Abigail Masham (Stone), who both compete to become the queen’s favorite.
Their schemes to overthrow one another grow increasingly undignifying and eccentric to an amusing degree. Yet beneath the dark comedy lies a tale of women grappling for power in a variety of ways, something quite refreshing in the male-dominated world at the time. If anything, it shows that women have their desires and pitfalls, which is certainly something worth watching.
Unlike the three aforementioned films on this list, Colette isn’t as outwardly opulent in design, yet many of its scenes take place in the glittering world of Paris’ intellectual and socialite circles. It’s also based on the true story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (or just “Colette”)—a talented French writer and feminist icon who made waves with her candid and oftentimes sensual novels on love.
The queen of period dramas, Keira Knightley, plays Colette, the modest young woman who meets entrepreneur Henry “Willy” Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West). They get swept up in a passionate romance and Willy brings Colette to Paris to mingle with the affluent. Willy is a publisher of sorts who makes his living employing ghostwriters to create articles. However, when he can’t find more writers to do these tasks, Colette steps up and writes a novel based on her school days.
The novel, Claudine à l’école, becomes an instant bestseller and sparks a series of equally successful sequels. The catch? Willy takes all the credit for her work, publishing the books under his name.
Throughout the film, Colette grapples with her husband’s abusive tendencies and philandering until she eventually finds herself and realizes her worth. It’s a touching story about one woman’s autonomy, and how she manages to reclaim her name despite her husband’s attempts to erase her identity.
Banner photo from IMDb.