Top 5 Period Drama Adaptations

This year has already seen some wonderful period dramas in the form of Alan Rickman’s directorial debut A Little Chaos and Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s much loved classic Far from the Madding Crowd. With this in mind, we’re set to explore some of the most spectacular film and television adaptations of popular period dramas:


Sister act: Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in the 1995 film of Sense and Sensibility.

5. Sense and Sensibility (1995) 

Despite constantly living in the shadow of Pride and Prejudice, Ang Lee’s first Hollywood directorial debut Sense and Sensibility is spectacular. What makes it so is Emma Thompson’s witty screenplay that took her five years to write as she struggled with the simplifying of a book with such elegant language.

Emma Thompson portrays Elinor Dashwood who is reserved and far too sensible for her own good whereas Kate Winslet portrays her younger sister Marianne Dashwood who is flighty and naive. After their father’s death, the sisters inherit nothing so they are slowly forced into poverty. Marianne catches the eye of the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) but dismisses him as her naivety focuses her attentions on the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise). Elinor meanwhile establishes a friendship with Edward (Hugh Grant).


lost-in-austen-original34. Lost in Austen (2008)

An unconventional entry to the list, this fantasy adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is an underrated gem. The four part series sees modern day Austen addict Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) discover Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) in her bathroom. Amanda reluctantly enters through a time-travelling portal to be transported to the Bennet’s household in the early 19th Century, leaving our beloved heroine Elizabeth behind in modern day London.

Some viewers may find this plot implausible and writer Guy Andrews spends no time explaining exactly how Amanda ends up in the Bennet household. Instead, what Guy Andrews excels in is the good-humoured culture clashes between Amanda and the Bennet’s, the Bingley’s and the Darcy’s. Amanda desperately attempts to keep the story on track (so desperate she stoops so low to accept Mr. Collins’ proposal) but the disasters begin to pile up thick and fast. Elliot Cowan provides a suitably brooding Mr. Darcy and Christina Cole is the ideal Caroline Bingley who perfects in Caroline’s mean and snobby ways.

Aside from it’s good nature and cheerful fun, Lost in Austen lightly reminds us of the qualities and drawbacks of both eras. Amanda adores the courtesies and the manners of Elizabeth’s time but is often baffled by the limitations and restrictions the Bennet sisters have.


stacks_image_27_13. Agatha Christie’s Poirot & Marple (1989-2013 & 2004-2013)

Despite the stories and crimes often notably veering and sometimes barely recognisable of Agatha Christie’s original creations, ITV’s long-running adaptations of Poirot starring David Suchet as the Belgian detective satisfies immensely due to the intricate costuming, settings and top notch casting. As an example of top notch casting, Zoë Wanamaker stars as Poirot’s companion Ariadne Oliver but she also makes an appearance in, possibly Christie’s best work, A Murder is Announced as the deceiving Letitia Blacklock.

Equally, Miss Marple starring the late Geraldine McEwan and Julie McKenzie blossoms with the likes of Joanna Lumley as ditzy Dolly Bantry who serves as an almost side kick to Miss Marple. Whether in the swish capital of London or in the cosy village of St. Mary Mead’s, the all-star casts begin to drop like flies at the hand of nasty murderers with only Poirot and Marple to work out whodunit.


p02t9gqk2. I Capture the Castle (2003)

This is perhaps slightly biased as tradition has it that I read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith nearly every summer. Tim Fywell’s adaptation of the 1948 coming-of-age novel may be clunky at times but this can be overlooked as he captures the naivety of our seventeen year old narrator Cassandra Mortmain (a splendid Romola Garai).

Cassandra lives in a crumbling castle alongside her family who are an eccentric bunch with the likes of her bohemian stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald) and her struggling writer father James (Bill Nighy). The Mortmains are still an upper-middle class family but are on the brink of poverty.

Cassandra’s beautiful sister Rose (Rose Byrne) must ‘marry up’ whereas Cassandra, the more pragmatic of the two, tries to focus on her literary ambitions. Rose’s sights are set on the newly arrived wealthy American brothers Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (an annoyingly wooden Marc Blucas). Yet troubles arise as Rose’s idea of romance is based purely on Austen literature rather than reality. This adaptation succeeds in providing a distinctively 1930s set story, complete with a screenplay from Call the Midwife’s Heidi Thomas which follows Dodie Smith’s novel often word-for-word.


jane-eyre-2006-bbc1. Jane Eyre (2006)

Austen with a little bit of Brontë or Brontë with a little bit of Austen? I am most definitely in the latter of the two. Charlotte Brontë’s classic romance between orphaned governess Jane Eyre and troubled Mr. Rochester is much more darker than any Austen tale. This BBC adaptation starring Ruth Wilson in her breakthrough role as Jane and Toby Stephens as Rochester is far more superior to any other Jane Eyre adaptation, primarily because this adaptation holds many little moments between the two that many other adaptations of Jane Eyre skip over.

As Rochester plays his wicked and deceitful game of teasing Jane’s emotions, pretending that he will marry the beautiful Blanche Ingram, Toby Stephens’ facial expressions are so raw when he realises that he has pushed Jane’s emotions too far. Ruth Wilson excels in balancing the right amount of innocence and fieriness.

However, this adaptation does occasionally stray from the novel but definitely not as much as other adaptations *ahem* 1997 version *ahem*. The occasional omitted scene can be forgiven as Sandy Welch’s script explores Rochester’s fatally flawed character brilliantly.


What are your favourite period drama adaptations? Would you remove any of the films here and replace them?

Comment with your thoughts.

Anna Richards

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