Can you believe that PBS Masterpiece has brought quality period costume dramas to public television since 1971? That’s amazing! And it is pretty wonderful that there are currently 20 of our favorite Masterpiece Classic period mini-series streaming on Amazon Prime Video. With your subscription, you can watch these terrific period series time and time again, whenever you want. This is a U.S. based list.
All of the period drama recommendations below (including those that are marked with a heart and say “You may also like…”) are available to watch online for free with an Amazon Prime Video membership.
If you don’t have an Amazon Prime Video membership, just click on one of the banners below, and you can start your free 30-day trial.
The titles of the PBS Masterpiece Classic television mini-series link to where you can stream the show on Amazon Prime Video. Many of these are adapted from literature and are suitable for older children. There are also a list of period Masterpiece Mystery titles that are included with your membership, at the end of the list. Ready? Here we go!
Masterpiece: Anna Karenina (2002)
Leo Tolstoy’s powerful tale of love and marriage in imperial Russia comes to Masterpiece Theatre in a stunningly modern adaptation of Anna Karenina.
Completed in 1877, Anna Karenina was not the book Tolstoy intended to write. He had been working on a novel about Peter the Great, designed to follow up his spectacular success with War and Peace. But the project went nowhere, and Tolstoy’s thoughts turned increasingly to an incident that haunted him: A neighbor’s mistress had thrown herself under a train after being jilted by her lover.
From this tragic seed grew a modern epic of sex, duty, marriage, and moral regeneration that many critics consider the greatest novel ever written.
Tolstoy’s themes are particularly resonant today, notes executive producer George Faber of Company Television in Britain: “Anna Karenina isn’t concerned with observing the minutiae of social etiquette, like Jane Austen, nor with righting social injustices, like Dickens. It’s about raw, often uncontrollable passions, emotional and sexual betrayal, mixed-up people with mixed-up lives. It offers no easy solutions or simple moral judgments.”
Helen McCrory stars as Anna, literature’s most tragic adulteress. Kevin McKidd (Topsy-Turvy, Trainspotting) is Count Vronsky, the handsome cavalry officer who falls hopelessly in love with her. And Tony Award winner Stephen Dillane (The Real Thing; The Rector’s Wife and Christabel on Masterpiece Theatre) is Anna’s cold-hearted husband, Alexey Karenin, a statesman who is principled to the point of callousness. – PBS
Set in 19th century Russia.
Starring Douglas Henshall, Kazimiera Utrata, Mark Strong, Paloma Baeza, Gillian Barge, Amanda Root, Stephen Dillane, Helen McCrory, Jackson Leach, Sara Kestelman, Kevin McKidd, Anna Farnworth, Malcolm Sinclair, Rachel Power, Paul Rhys, Jacek Jezierzanski, Emma Majewska, Gabbi Majewska, Oliver Mangham, Maddie Armstrong.
Masterpiece: Any Human Heart (2011)
William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel about a man – at various times a writer, lover, prisoner of war and spy – making his often precarious way through the 20th century in ANY HUMAN HEART.
Every life is ordinary and extraordinary. Logan Mountstuarts is a rich tapestry of both. Matthew Macfadyen, Jim Broadbent, and newcomer Sam Claflin all take a turn as Logan at different points in his life in this provocative glimpse at one mans quest for glory and bliss. Any Human Heart is the story of a full life, lived with passione, rich, unsentimental, comic, and profoundly moving.
How can a man in the bloom of youth, pursuing writing and sex with equal vigor, end up grizzled, old, and surrounded by piles of boxes and paper, the detritus of a life? The answer is the story of Logan Mountstuart, who believes, “Every human being is a collection of selves…we never stay just one person.” And the twentieth century provides the perfect backdrop for Logan to live out his lives, drinking absinthe with Ernest Hemingway, initiated into intrigue by Ian Fleming, and embroiled in the arch expat world of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. A novelist, war correspondent, father, spy, prisoner of war, art dealer, husband, and many times over, a lover — an Everyman of sorts — Logan is played at three junctures of his life by Sam Claflin, Matthew Macfadyen (Little Dorrit), and Jim Broadbent. An intimate take on a sweeping century, Any Human Heart is based on the bestselling book by William Boyd and also stars Kim Cattrall (My Boy Jack), Gillian Anderson (Bleak House) and Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park). – PBS
Set in different time periods throughout the 20th century.
Starring Hayley Attwell, Sam Clafl, Kim Catrall, Gillian Anderson, Tom Hollander, Natasha Little, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Richard Schiff Jim Broadbent.
Masterpiece: Bird Song (2012)
Epic love story set against the First World War, based on Sebastian Faulks’ novel about a soldier who finds himself fighting in the area where he had an illicit affair before the war.
In the ruinous trenches of northern France, Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne, My Week with Marilyn, Richard II) barely seems to register the death and destruction all around him. His eyes are fixed instead on his drawings and his deck of cards, and his mind is focused on the memory of his one love, Isabelle Azaire (Clémence Poesy, 127 Hours, Harry Potter). For Stephen, events unfolding on the Allied front in 1916 are eclipsed by his memories of the summer of 1910, when he met Isabelle in Amiens. When Isabelle leaves her oppressive husband René (Laurent Lafitte), the two lovers share a blissful existence that seems to make up for a lifetime of loneliness and isolation for Stephen. But their idyll is cut short when Isabelle leaves without explanation. Stephen battles the Germans on the front six years later, as he also battles his own internal grief and confusion over his loss. Adapted by Abi Morgan (Iron Lady, The Hour) from the Sebastian Faulks novel, Birdsong tells the story of Stephen’s awakening to love and his determination to reclaim it.
Set in the Edwardian Era and during the First World War.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Laurent Lafitte, Clémence Poésy, Patrice Thibaud, Isabelle Gomez, Clara Grebot, Maxime Roussel, George MacKay, Joseph Mawle, Simon Nehan, Richard Madden, Daniel Cerqueira, Sean McKenzie, Thomas Turgoose, Rory Keenan, Paul Rattray, Nicholas Moss, Matthew Goode, Misi Dunai, Máté Szabó.
You may also like Parade’s End (2013): A British aristocrat becomes caught up in an era of social upheaval and the onset of World War I in this compelling five-part HBO miniseries.
Masterpiece: Bleak House (2005)
Acclaimed writer Andrew Davies turns his talents to one of Charles Dickens’ most brilliant novels, arguably the greatest ever depiction of Victorian London — from its splendid heights to its most wretched depths.
Honored with a Peabody award and ten Emmy nominations, Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of human spontaneous combustion and an infamous inheritance dispute that is tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.
An epic feast of characters and storylines, Bleak House is Dickens’ passionate indictment of the convoluted legal system that is as searingly relevant today as it was in the mid-19th century. The court of Chancery becomes the center of a tangle of relationships at all levels of society and a metaphor for the decay and corruption at the heart of Victorian England.
Set in the Victorian Era.
Starring Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Alun Armstrong, Ian Richardson, Nathaniel Parker, Richard Griffiths, Phil Davis, Joanna David and Carey Mulligan.
Masterpiece: Casanova (2006)
A legendary lover romances his way across eighteenth-century Europe in Masterpiece Theatre’s rollicking retelling of the life of Casanova, with Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, Troy) as the champion seducer in his golden years and David Tennant (Blackpool, Doctor Who) as Casanova in his frisky prime. With a ‘whizzy script that brims with pace and wit’ (The Independent) by writer-of-the-moment Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who, Queer as Folk).
Based on the historical Casanova’s infamous twelve-volume memoirs, the program follows Giacomo Casanova, aka ‘Jack,’ from his birth out of wedlock to an actress mother; through his eventful career masquerading as a doctor, lawyer, astrologer, and the Chevalier de Seingalt (a title invented to gain him entrance to noble circles); and into his declining years as a librarian for a sympathetic count.
The abiding theme throughout is love for the opposite sex, and at least once for the same one. Casanova was noteworthy in his time for taking a sincere interest in his partners’ personal interests and pleasure, which perhaps explains his spectacular success as a lover. The production shifts back and forth between the aging Casanova, at work on his memoirs and reminiscing to a very curious parlor maid, Edith (Rose Byrne, Marie Antoinette, Troy); and the young Casanova, whom we see enacting these astonishing adventures with gusto.
Also starring is Laura Fraser (He Knew He Was Right) as the beautiful Henriette, a match for Casanova himself in charm, trickery, repartee, and romantic longing; Rupert Penry-Jones (Match Point) as Count Grimani, Casanova’s rival in love for Henriette; Shaun Parkes (Doctor Who) as Casanova’s cheeky servant, Rocco; and Nina Sosanya (Love Actually, The Jury) as Bellino, a castrato impersonator who complicates Casanova’s love life. – PBS
Set in the 1700s in Europe.
Starring James Holly, David Tennant, David Foxxe, Tamzin Griffin, Peter O’Toole, Clare Higgins, Rose Byrne, Andrew Vincent, Dervla Kirwan, John Sandilands, Rosanna Lavelle, Tim Scott-Walker, Zac Fox, Mark Heap, Dominic Thomas-James, Joe Cooper, Gabriella Greenblatt, Laura Fraser, Rupert Penry-Jones, Matthew Holness.
Masterpiece: Cranford (2007)
Welcome to Cranford, circa 1840…a rural English town where etiquette rules, undergirded by a healthy amount of gossip. Modernity is making a move in town as construction of a railway comes harrowingly close. Cranford’s eclectic residents, among them Matty Jenkyns (Dame Judi Dench) her sister Deborah (Dame Eileen Atkins), and Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), stay immersed in the sweet pleasures and sometimes heartbreaking realities of simple village life. But when a handsome, young doctor arrives with cutting-edge new techniques, it rapidly becomes clear that as the world changes, so Cranford will change with it. Based on three Elizabeth Gaskell novels (Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr. Harrison’s Confessions), and boasting an all-star cast, Cranford breathes life into one town during one extraordinary year.
Set in the 1840s in Victorian England.
Starring Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Lisa Dillon, Simon Woods, Alex Etel, Claudie Blakley, John Bowe, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie, Barbara Flynn, Selina Griffiths, Deborah Findlay, Hannah Hobley, Andrew Buchan, Hester Odgers, Rosy Byrne, Kimberley Nixon, Haydon Downing, Alex Jennings, Philip Glenister.
You may also like Lark Rise to Candleford (2008): Rich, funny and emotional, the first series follows the relationship of two contrasting communities: Lark Rise, the small hamlet gently holding on to the past, and Candleford, the small market town bustling into the future. Seen through the eyes of young Laura, their inhabitants endure many upheavals and struggles as the inexorably change comes; their stories by turns poignant, spirited and uplifting.
Masterpiece: Downton Abbey (2010)
The Downton Abbey estate stands a splendid example of confidence and mettle, its family enduring for generations and its staff a well-oiled machine of propriety. But change is afoot at Downton — change far surpassing the new electric lights and telephone. A crisis of inheritance threatens to displace the resident Crawley family, in spite of the best efforts of the noble and compassionate Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville, Miss Austen Regrets); his American heiress wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern); his comically implacable, opinionated mother, Violet (Maggie Smith, David Copperfield); and his beautiful, eldest daughter, Mary, intent on charting her own course. Reluctantly, the family is forced to welcome its heir apparent, the self-made and proudly modern Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), himself none too happy about the new arrangements. As Matthew’s bristly relationship with Mary begins to crackle with electricity, hope for the future of Downton’s dynasty takes shape. But when petty jealousies and ambitions grow among the family and the staff, scheming and secrets — both delicious and dangerous — threaten to derail the scramble to preserve Downton Abbey. Created and written by Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), Downton Abbey offers a spot-on portrait of a vanishing way of life. – PBS
Set between 1912 and 1925, Downton Abbey spans the Edwardian Era, World War I, and the Interwar era.
This is the original un-edited UK version of the program.
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes, Rob James-Collier, Rose Leslie, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Cox, Jonathan Coy.
You may also like The Manners of Downton Abbey (Join Alastair Bruce, historical advisor to Downton Abbey, as he reveals the secrets of how the aristocratic set dined and dressed, how they married and made money, how they interacted with the servants, and above all why they behaved as they did in 1900s Britain.) and Secrets of Highclere Castle (See how life was – and is – lived in Highclere Castle).
Masterpiece: Elizabeth I – The Virgin Queen (2005)
Vulnerable and imperious, passionate and unreachable, from teenage princess to accomplished queen, forever torn between duty and personal longing, the reign of Elizabeth I is exposed in lavish and spectacular style. Anne-Marie Duff stars as the enigmatic ‘Virgin Queen’ in a spellbinding drama about the life of one of Britain’s greatest monarchs, Elizabeth I. Her femininity baffled and threatened the male order of Renaissance England for more than 40 years. The role is as challenging and complex as anything history offers.
Paula Milne’s powerful script about the long and eventful life of England’s iconic Queen was filmed against a backdrop of some of Great Britain’s most beautiful houses and landscapes. The Virgin Queen explores the full sweep of Elizabeth’s life: from her days of fear as a potential victim of her sister’s terror, through her great love affair with Robert Dudley, into her years of triumph over the Spanish Armada, and finally her old age and her last, enigmatic relationship with her young protégé, the Earl of Essex. – PBS
Set in the Elizabethan Era.
Starring Anne-Marie Duff, Joanne Whalley, Dexter Fletcher, Tara Fitzgerald, Sienna Guillory, Tom Hardy, Ian Hart, Robert Pugh, Kevin McKidd, Hans Matheson, Emilia Fox, Ben Daniels, Ewen Bremner and Bryan Dick.
You may also like Elizabeth I (2006): Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons star in this two-part HBO Films miniseries event that explores the intersection of the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth I in the latter half of her 45-year reign. There is also Elizabeth: Killer Queen, a documentary: Did a controversial affair between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley lead to a savage murder? New evidence suggests that Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart was assassinated, so that her husband could be free to marry the Queen.
You may also like the documentaries Tales from the Royal Wardrobe (Today, few people’s clothes attract as much attention as the royal family, but this is not a modern-day paparazzi-inspired obsession. Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces reveals that it has always been this way.) and Tales from the Royal Bedchamber (Lucy Worsley gets into bed with our past monarchs to uncover the Tales from the Royal Bedchamber. She reveals that our obsession with royal bedrooms, births and succession is nothing new.)
Masterpiece: Emma (2009)
This BBC WGBH/Boston Co-Production features an all-star cast including Romola Garai (Atonement) as Emma, Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone) as Mr. Knightley, and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Book of Eli) as Mr. Woodhouse. Beautiful, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse is convinced she is good at matchmaking after her older sister and her governess both marry suitable husbands. Certain of her talents, Emma plays a dangerous game as she persuades her new friend, the young, pretty and socially inferior Harriet to reject an advantageous marriage proposal to a local farmer in favour of dashing Mr Elton. So begins a story which challenges Emma’s naivety and her social preconceptions. Fresh and funny, this perceptive adaptation brings Jane Austen’s comic masterpiece to life.
Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai, Atonement) was born with the sun shining down on her. The radiant, privileged girl grows into a remarkable talent for matchmaking, as observed by her loving but disapproving father (Michael Gambon, Cranford) and childhood friend Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller, Endgame). When the decidedly less privileged Harriet Smith arrives, Emma meddles with fate to find her a match, until her flawless intuition is called into question. Dissuaded from more matrimonial predictions, Emma nonetheless continues to cheerfully contemplate superior men — and meets one of her own in the handsome, gleaming Frank Churchill. But after being so busy managing everyone else’s heart, does Emma know her own? A fiercely funny new version of the Jane Austen novel, Emma was adapted by Sandy Welch (Jane Eyre). – PBS
Set in the Georgian / Regency Era.
Starring Michael Gambon, Annabel Mullion, Lyla Barrett-Rye, Jodhi May, Robert Bathurst, Teddy Bunn, Susie Trayling, Sarah Gower, Claire Gower, Tamsin Greig, Valerie Lilley, Sophie Alibert, Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Dan Fredenburgh, Poppy Miller, Blake Ritson, Jamie Glover, Joshua Jones, Veronica Roberts.
Pip, an orphan boy, meets an escaped convict, a mentally unhinged rich woman, and a bewitching girl, and is bestowed great expectations of wealth from a mysterious patron, in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Starring Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Bleak House) as Miss Havisham, one of Dickens’ most haunting and enduring creations, Great Expectations unites renowned actors David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Ray Winstone with emerging talents Douglas Booth and Vanessa Kirby. Adapted by Sarah Phelps (Oliver Twist), Great Expectations celebrates Charles Dickens in the year that marks the bicentenary of his birth.
Set in the Victorian Era.
Starring Ray Winstone, Oscar Kennedy, Shaun Dooley, Jack Roth, Claire Rushbrook, Mark Addy, Paul Rhys, Charlie Creed-Miles, Mary Roscoe, Gillian Anderson, Izzy Meikle-Small, Andrew Bone, Abigail Bond, David Suchet, Eros Vlahos, Douglas Booth, Vanessa Kirby, JJ Hooker, Ed Pearce, Christian Wolf-La’Moy.
You may also like Great Expectations (2013): On 07 February 2013, Charles Dickens’ birthday, his most popular novel, Great Expectations, finally had its West End Première. This momentous occasion, enjoyed by many, is now available for audiences to enjoy.
Masterpiece: Home Fires (2015)
At the heart of a rural English village on the verge of the Second World War, a diverse group of women with personal struggles, conflicting views and a shared mission forge a community that will inspire their finest hour. Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) and Francesca Annis (Reckless, Cranford) head an ensemble cast in the moving wartime drama, Home Fires.
In August 1939, war with Germany is all but certain. While citizens of the isolated village of Great Paxford each face the prospect of war in their own way, all agree that they must do everything they can to hold their village—and their nation—together. But when the value of the largely social group, The Women’s Institute, is called into question, forward-thinking Frances Barden (Samantha Bond) and snobbish Joyce Cameron (Francesca Annis) clash over the fate of the Institute and the roles its members can play, far from the front. – PBS
Set in the Second World War Era.
Starring Francesca Annis, Claire Calbraith, Ed Stoppard, Claire Rushbrook Samantha Bond.
Note: Please read this piece and help see that there is a Home Fires Season 3. Learn about adaptation of the book Home Fires / Jambusters and the Making of Home Fires and see this Q&A between Home Fires author Julie Summers and Willow and Thatch.
You may also like The Crimson Field (2015) PBS: Sarah Phelps, one of British television’s most exciting and original writers, tells this story of World War One’s front line medics — their hopes, fears, triumphs and tragedies.
You may also like Mercy Street (2016) PBS: Inspired by real people and events, Mercy Street goes beyond the front lines of the Civil War and into the chaotic world of the Mansion House Hospital in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. , Mercy Street takes viewers beyond the battlefield and into the lives of Americans on the Civil War home front as they face the unprecedented challenges of one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history.
Masterpiece: Indian Summers (2015)
Season 1 is coming May 29, 2016 – that will make a list of 21 Masterpiece Classic period drama television mini-series available to watch for free with Prime!
Set in a subtropical paradise during the twilight era of the British Empire, Indian Summers explores the collision of the ruling class English with their Indian subjects, and the intricate game of power, politics, and passion that ensues. Julie Walters (Harry Potter, Oscar® nominee for Billy Elliot and Educating Rita) stars as Cynthia Coffin, the glamorous doyenne of an English social club, and is joined by Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Jemima West, Nikesh Patel, Roshan Seth, and Lillete Dubey.
Told from both the English and Indian perspectives, the drama of Indian Summers unfolds as illicit agreements, romance, and revolution abound. Though the English socialites are having the time of their lives in Simla, the local Indians have started to call for national independence, a path which is quickly rendering the world’s greatest empire helpless. As pressure builds, the two sides alternately clash and merge in a passionate and dangerous game.
Set in 1932.
Starring Henry Lloyd-Hughes. Nikesh Patel, Julie Walters, Patrick Malahide, Jemima West, Roshan Seth.
Masterpiece: Mr. Selfridge (2013)
At the unfashionable end of Oxford Street in 1909 London, an American retail tycoon arrives to jettison fusty British tradition and open one of the finest department stores the world has ever seen: Selfridges. Three-time Emmy® winner Jeremy Piven (in his first television appearance since his iconic role as Hollywood agent Ari Gold in Entourage) stars as Harry Gordon Selfridge, the flamboyant entrepreneur and showman seeking to provide London’s shoppers with the ultimate merchandise and the ultimate thrill.
Emmy® Award-winning writer Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House) conjures the opulence and excitement of Selfridges and the story of its founder, a man of exuberant, outsized, and potentially dangerous, appetite. Behind Selfridges’ lavish shop windows, gleaming counters, and majestic doors, appetite intersects with ambition and desire not just for Harry, but for his staff, his family, and the various women drawn to the store and the man. Zoe Tapper (Stage Beauty) is showgirl and temptress Ellen Love; Frances O’Connor (Madame Bovary) as is Harry’s loyal wife, Rose; Grégory Fitoussi (Spiral) is the mercurial window designer extraordinaire, Henri Leclair; and Aisling Loftus (Case Histories) is the spunky shop girl Agnes Towler. – PBS
Set in the Edwardian Era.
This is the original un-edited UK version of the program.
Starring Ron Cook, Amy Beth Hayes, Tom Goodman-Hill, Jeremy Piven, Samuel West, Trystan Gravelle, Amanda Abbington, Malcolm Rennie, Calum Callaghan, Greg Austin, Katherine Kelly, Amy Morgan, Aisling Loftus, Grégory Fitoussi, Kika Markham, Sadie Shimmin, Deborah Cornelius, Frances O’Connor, Aidan McArdle, Lee Moulds.
You may also like Mildred Pierce (2011): Kate Winslet stars in this five-part adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel about a divorcee who builds a business empire while maintaining complex relationships with her daughter and the men in her life in Depression-era California.
You may also like Secrets of London from PBS – Uncover the intrigue hidden within the walls of notable British landmarks; the first episode is Secrets of Selfridges: Step inside London’s premier department store. Two words are synonymous with Selfridges: luxury and London. However, Selfridges was the brain child of an American – Mr. Harry Gordon Selfridge – whose life is depicted in the current MASTERPIECE miniseries Mr. Selfridge.
Masterpiece: Poldark (2015)
Almost 40 years ago Captain Ross Poldark galloped across the TV screens of millions of PBS viewers, vexing villains and winning female hearts in one of MASTERPIECE’s earliest hit series, Poldark. Now the gallant captain rides again, allowing a new generation to delight in the exploits of an unconventional romantic hero.
Aidan Turner (The Hobbit) stars as Ross Poldark, a redcoat who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolutionary War to discover that his father is dead, his lands are ruined, and his true love is about to marry his first cousin. Also starring is Eleanor Tomlinson (Death Comes to Pemberley) as the fiery servant Demelza, a strong-willed miner’s daughter who runs away from home and finds refuge in Poldark’s enlightened household.
Poldark is based on a beloved series of novels by Winston Graham. The first, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945; the last, Bella Poldark, appeared in 2002, the year before Graham’s death. All twelve are subtitled A Novel of Cornwall and trace the fortunes of a landed, mine-owning family in windswept Cornwall.- PBS
Set in 1783 in the Georgian Era.
Starring Aidan Turner, Heida Reed, Eleanor Tomlinson, Kyle Soller, Philip Davis, Jack Farthing, Tristan Sturrock, Caroline Blakiston, Ruby Bentall, Beatie Edney, Matthew Wilson, John Hollingworth, Pip Torrens, Crystal Leaity, Ed Browning, Lewis Peek, Gracee O’Brien, Robert Daws, Harriet Ballard, Emma Spurgin Hussey.
Willow and Thatch can hear US viewers asking: When does Season 2 of Poldark return to PBS Masterpiece? Poldark Season 2 begins 9/25 with a 2hr premiere at 8/7c on MASTERPIECE on PBS!
Masterpiece: Mansfield Park (2008)
Fanny Price (Billie Piper, Doctor Who, The Ruby in the Smoke) is plucked from poverty as a child and taken to live with relatives at stately Mansfield Park. Surrounded by entitled and vain cousins, Fanny forges a connection with one — Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson, Inspector Lynley Mysteries). Years later, two neighbors fresh from a life in high society descend on Mansfield Park, sparking a labyrinth of intrigue and affairs. Fanny finds herself being pursued, but not by the longstanding love of her life. Can Fanny listen to her own heart and wait for her true love to notice her? Jemma Redgrave (Bramwell) also stars in Jane Austen’s story of status, satire, and romance.
Set in the Georgian / Regency Era.
Starring Julia Joyce, Douglas Hodge, Maggie O’Neill, Tara Berwin, Lucy Hurst, Zachary Elliott-Hatton, Greg Sheffield, Billie Piper, Blake Ritson, James D’Arcy, Michelle Ryan, Rory Kinnear, Catherine Steadman, Hayley Atwell, Joseph Beattie, Joseph Morgan, Stephen Tomlin, Holly, Jemma Redgrave, Dexter Fletcher.
You may also like Jane Eyre (1970): Jane Eyre, an orphan sent to Lowood school, eventually becomes a governess at Thornfield hall to a girl named Adele. But despite mysterious occurrences while there, she and Edward Rochester, owner of Thornfield and Adele’s guardian, fall in love. Right when Jane is about to win the happiness she deserves, a dark secret comes to light, which needs all her courage, love, and maturity to triumph.
Masterpiece: Pride and Prejudice (1995)
This is the definitive Pride and Prejudice and the most successful TV period drama ever. Starring Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle and a fabulous supporting cast, this BBC/A&E co-production pulsates with energy as lively, witty Elizabeth Bennet charms smouldering, haughty Darcy against a backdrop of a picture postcard countryside, small-town assembly rooms and stately English homes.
The arrival of two handsome and eligible bachelors, Mr. Bingley (Crispin Bonham Carter) and Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones films), stirs romantic imaginings for the girls of the Bennet household. Jane Bennet (Susannah Harker, House of Cards) seemingly strikes an immediate connection, while Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle, The Coast of Utopia) finds the path to love more tortuous. Just when it seems true and abiding matches might emerge, a family scandal threatens to ruin everything. Screenplay by Andrew Davies.
Set in the Georgian / Regency Era.
Starring Colin Firth, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Benjamin Whitrow, Polly Maberly, Julia Sawalha, Alison Steadman, Lucy Briers, Susannah Harker, Marlene Sidaway, Kate O’Malley, Anna Chancellor, Rupert Vansittart, Lucy Robinson, Christopher Benjamin, Lucy Scott, Norma Streader, Lucy Davis, Andrew Grainger, Roy Holder.
Note: Did you know that the “The Shirt” worn by Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, is coming to America? Read about it here.
Masterpiece: The Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
Louisa Leyton is engaged as an assistant cook in the household of Lord Henry Norton. The young Louisa is ambitious–‘I just want to be the best cook in England, that’s all I want to be…’ She sets out to do just that against all the odds. The series is based on the true story of Rosa Lewis, fabled proprietor of the Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street in Edwardian London.
The Duchess of Duke Street is about a remarkable Cockney girl who wasn’t a duchess and wasn’t born on Duke Street. To three generations of Londoners she was known as Rosa Lewis. She started life very poor, left school at twelve, worked as an undermaid, a skivvy of all work for four ghastly years, then got into a fashionable house because her great ambition was to be the best cook in England. In time she came to buy and eventually cook vegetables for choosy people, and came to cook for all the great houses. Subsequently she bought herself a hotel, the Cavendish Hotel on Jermyn Street, just south of Piccadilly. She never lost a Cockney vowel or picked up an aitch. And she handled her whole crew, whether staff or guests, baronets or busboys, like a Pirate King. – PBS
Set at the turn of the twentieth century.
Starring Gemma Jones, Christopher Cazenove, Donald Burton, Bryan Coleman, Roger Hammond, Doreen Mantle, June Brown, George Pravda, Elizabeth Bennett, Victoria Plucknett, Susan Brown, Stephen Kemble.
You may also like Hidden Killers of Edwardian and Victorian Home: While trying to lead an empire, these rulers had no idea that the biggest threat to their lives was under their own roof. After the discovery of electricity, there were many wild inventions. Follow the beautiful Suzannah Lipscomb as she uncovers some of the scariest and most hilarious parts of history that we couldn’t fathom today.
The Forsyte Saga is the story of a love polygon that shifts like a kaleidoscope. Soames loves Irene, Irene loves Bosinney, and later, young Jolyon. Young Jolyon’s daughter June loves Bosinney, young Jolyon loves his daughter’s nanny Helene, and later, Irene. Old Jolyon, improbably, is infatuated with Irene. Superior, arrogant and confident, the Forsytes are the ultimate power family.
Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) stars as acquisitive, tormented Soames Forsyte with Gina McKee (Notting Hill) as his reluctant bride, Irene. Also appearing are Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) as the passionate architect Bosinney, Rupert Graves (Take a Girl Like You) as young Jolyon Forsyte and Corin Redgrave (Shackleton) as the family patriarch, old Jolyon. Originally published in three volumes between 1906 and 1920, The Forsyte Saga was the most popular book on American college campuses during the Roaring Twenties, and it helped win Galsworthy the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932. – PBS
The Forsyte Saga chronicles the lives of an English family over 34 years from the Victorian era through World War I.
Starring Damian Lewis, Rupert Graves, Gina McKee, Amanda Root, Ben Miles, Gillian Kearney, Alistair Petrie, Ann Bell, Malcolm Raeburn, Barbara Flynn, Beatriz Batarda, Julian Ovenden, John Carlisle, Amanda Ryan, Wendy Craig, Maggie Fox, Jowanna Rose, Emma Griffiths Malin, Lee Williams, Corin Redgrave.
When the master of 165 Eaton Place, Sir Hallam Holland, carries his wife across the threshold of their new home, Lady Agnes exclaims with pleasure, “What a ghastly old mausoleum!” Neglect has strewn cobwebs everywhere and furred the surfaces with dust. But with a sumptuous renovation and the help of the indomitable housekeeper Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the iconic address so beloved in the original series Upstairs Downstairs is soon restored to its former glory.
It’s 1936, a tumultuous time in Britain, and within the walls of 165 Eaton Place, characters from an orphanage, a damp Welsh castle, the heart of the British Raj and elsewhere together will face a changing world, not just upstairs and downstairs, but side by side. Written by Heidi Thomas (Cranford, Madame Bovary), Upstairs Downstairs stars co-creators of the original series Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins (Cranford, Bertie and Elizabeth). Also starring are Ed Stoppard (Any Human Heart), Keeley Hawes (Wives and Daughters), and Claire Foy (Little Dorrit). – PBS
Set in 1936.
Starring Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Jean Marsh, Eileen Atkins, Claire Foy, Anne Reid, Art Malik, Adrian Scarborough, Neil Jackson, Ellie Kendrick, Nico Mirallegro, Blake Ritson, Anthony Calf, Emma Clifford, Edward Baker-Duly, Caroline O’Neill, Sadie Shimmin, Jack Bannell, Sy Turner.
You may also like the period reality series Manor House from PBS, which ” takes a fascinating look at the grand British class system of the early 1900s.”
Masterpiece: Wolf Hall (2015)
A historical drama for a modern audience, Wolf Hall, 2016 Peabody Award and Golden Globe winner for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, played by Mark Rylance (Twelfth Night)—a blacksmith’s son who rises from the ashes of personal disaster, and deftly picks his way through a court where ‘man is wolf to man.’ Damian Lewis (Homeland) is King Henry VIII, haunted by his brother’s premature death and obsessed with protecting the Tudor dynasty by securing his succession with a male heir to the throne. The cast also includes Claire Foy (Little Dorrit) as the future queen Anne Boleyn.
Told from Cromwell’s perspective, Wolf Hall follows the complex machinations and back room dealings of this accomplished power broker who must serve king and country while dealing with deadly political intrigue, Henry VIII’s tempestuous relationship with Anne Boleyn, and the religious upheavals of the Protestant reformation. The miniseries is adapted from Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Booker Prize-winning novels: Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. – PBS
Set in the 1500s in the Tudor era.
Starring Mark Rylance, Bernard Hill, Richard Dillane, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Wilfort, Claire Foy, Harry Lloyd, David Robb, Mark Gatiss, Natasha Little, Emilia Jones, Athena Droutis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Joss Porter, Max Fowler, Enzo Cilenti, Anton Lesser, Mathieu Amalric, Jonathan McGuinness, Jonathan Aris.
You may also like these documentaries from PBS: Inside the Court of Henry VIII (Venture behind the glamorous facade of Henry’s court to understand why courtiers lost their heads.) and Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History (Historian Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb unfolds the extraordinary story of the tumultuous love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Using first-hand accounts from the time and visiting the places where Henry and Anne lived, the series delves into the passionate and volatile relationship that sent a queen to her death, amputated England from Europe, and led to hundreds of years of religious conflict.).
You may also like Tudor Rose (1936): The tragic story of Lady Jane Grey, the young Queen who reigned in England for nine days before she was executed, is depicted in this historical drama. Also known as “Nine Days a Queen.”
You may also like The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933): Renowned for his excess, King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) goes through a series of wives during his rule. With Anne Boleyn (Merle Oberon), his second wife, executed on charges of treason, King Henry weds maid Jane Seymour (Wendy Barrie), but that marriage also ends in tragedy. Not one to be single for long, the king picks German-born Anne of Cleves (Elsa Lanchester) as his bride, but their union lasts only months before an annulment is granted, and King Henry continues his string of spouses. part of The Criterion Collection.
The Earnshaw children expect gifts from their father when he returns to Wuthering Heights after a trip, but are instead greeted with the arrival of Heathcliff, a young Gypsy boy who has come to live with them. Quiet and mysterious, Heathcliff is befriended by Cathy Earnshaw, and the two become inseparable. In adulthood, their bond deepens to love, but a forced absence opens Cathy to the affections of a different suitor — Edgar Linton. Given the choice between a life of comfort and a profound love, Cathy’s actions have repercussions for multiple generations in this haunting story of turbulent passion and revenge. Tom Hardy (Oliver Twist) stars as Heathcliff, with newcomer Charlotte Riley as Cathy. – PBS
Set in the Georgian era, roughly 1750-1802.
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman, Rosalind Halstead, Rebecca Night, Tom Payne, Andrew Hawley, Kevin McNally, Des McAleer, Shaughan Seymour, Sia Berkeley, James Harper, Barnaby Kay, Jack O’Connell, Simon Kassianides, John Hollingworth, Declan Wheeldon, Alexandra Pearson.
You may also like Wuthering Heights (2013): The greatest love story ever told, Wuthering Heights is an excitingly fresh and distinct take on the classic novel by Emily Brontë.
You may also like Basil (1998): A lonely young aristocrat (Jared Leto) in turn-of-the-century England stuggling to gain the approval of his over-bearing, class-conscious father, falls in love with a woman his father will never approve of.
And here are a few Masterpiece: Mystery period dramas that are available to stream online now with your Amazon Prime Video membership.
Arthur & George is a three-part British television drama based on the book of the same name by Julian Barnes, based in turn on the real-life Great Wyrley Outrages.
Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) stars as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, in a three-part MASTERPIECE Mystery! adaptation of the novel by Julian Barnes. Outraged by injustice to an Anglo-Indian solicitor, the famed author uses the methods of his own fictional detective to get at the truth. Co-starring are Arsher Ali (The Missing) as George Edalji; and Charles Edwards (Downton Abbey) as Alfred Wood, Sir Arthur’s real-life “Dr. Watson.” Based on true events, Arthur & George is adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same name, which was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. – PBS
The Sunday Telegraph (London) proclaimed that Arthur & George is, “thoroughly enjoyable … Clunes proves exceptionally winning as the widowed writer and sometime crusader for justice, Arthur Conan Doyle.”
Set in the Edwardian era around 1906.
Starring Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Charles Edwards.
In 1961 London, when abortion was illegal and the Pill a rare commodity, the brilliant, charismatic surgeon Otto Powell (Jack Davenport, Pirates of the Caribbean, Smash) presides over a busy hospital gynecology ward. With a passionate commitment to the women he treats, Powell provides safe and highly illegal abortions in private practice.
But under the shiny veneer of pre-sexual revolution Britain, troubles don’t afflict just the patients. Trapped in a loveless marriage, bound by a dangerous secret, Powell lacks the surgical control that he commands in the operating room when it comes to his passions and his staff. The heady threats of sex and ambition affect doctors and nurses alike in Breathless, where perfect lives are built on lies, and everything depends upon guilty secrets remaining buried.
Starring alongside Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smash) in this stylish story of a dark secret amid the complexities of the sexual revolution are Zoe Boyle (Downton Abbey), Catherine Steadman (Mansfield Park), Iain Glen (Downton Abbey), Natasha Little (Case Histories), Oliver Chris (Sharpe’s Challenge), Joanna Page (Love Actually), and Shaun Dingwall (Touching Evil).
Set in the Postwar Era.
Starring Zoe Boyle, Shaun Dingwall, Jack Davenport, Oliver Chris, Catherine Steadman, Natasha Little, Philippa Langdale, Marek Losey, Paul Unwin, Carolyn Parry-Jones.
Before his signature red Jaguar, before Inspector Morse, there was the cerebral and solitary Detective Constable Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans). In Endeavour: Series I’s four riveting new mysteries, young Morse conducts his dogged, incorruptible pursuit of justice from the shadows of Oxford and the fringes of the police force in an unlikely partnership with DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam).
Set in the 1960s.
Starring:Jonathan Hyde, Alan Morrissey, Shaun Evans, Fiona Ryan, Will Richards, Dominic Taylor, Luke Allen-Gale, Albert Welling, Sophie Stuckey, Jonathan Guy Lewis, Olivia Grant, John Flanagan, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Jack Laskey, Sean Rigby, James Bradshaw, Mark Bazeley, Billy Geraghty, Greg Bennett.
“As a priest, isn’t everything our business?” asks Reverend Sidney Chambers as he gets to the bottom of another baffling murder around the placid village of Grantchester. James Norton stars as the handsome, jazz-loving vicar, with Robson Green as his law-enforcement ally, Inspector Geordie Keating.
Sidney’s innocent inquiries into one case soon propel him into a series of challenging cases, motivated by jealousy, prejudice, class conflict, and plain-old passion. Although he lives the life of a clergyman, sometimes Sidney can’t help but fall into more worldly habits. His pursuit of love is as much a part of his story as his tireless search for justice, spiritual fulfillment, and a really hip jazz club. The series is based on the acclaimed novels by James Runcie. – PBS
Set in England in 1953 in the Postwar Era.
Starring James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie, Tessa Peake-Jones, Al Weaver, Kevan Looseley, Tom Austen, Kacey Ainsworth, Pheline Roggan, Gregg Lowe, Joe Claflin, Chris Bearne, Mike Noble, Frankie Wilson, Brian Vernel, Skye Lucia Degruttola, Nick Brimble, Fiona Button, Ukweli Roach, Pip Torrens.
A tangled web of blackmail, murder and passion awaits former Scotland Yard detective Albert Tyburn (Trevor Eve) when he arrives in Nairobi. In three mysteries–Private Lives, Hide in Plain Sight and The Sport of Kings–Tyburn uses his cunning and courage to battle arson, drug-dealing, murder and more.
Set in pre-war London, England.
Starring Trevor Eve, Susannah Harker, James Callis, Michael Byrne, Freddie Annobil-Dodoo, Julian Rhind-Tutt, David Horovitch, Paul Brooke, Sean Gallagher, Tim Woodward, Sophie Dix, Daniel Betts, Hugh Simon, Marion Bailey, Akbar Kurtha, Jimmi Harkishin, Ken Drury, Shaheen Jassat, Scott Handy, Tim McMullan.
This chilling adaptation of Charles Dickens unfinished final novel spins a disturbing tale of obsession, addiction, and the darkness that lurks in men.
John Jasper is a troubled man, his psyche split between darkness and light. He has spent his life in the stifling and claustrophobic cathedral village of Cloisterham in a state of frustrated ambition, and has become addicted to opium in an attempt to still his ennui and expand his horizons. But the opium is fracturing Jasper’s mind so that even as his soul reaches for the sublime in his music, his darker self has conceived a murderous hatred of his nephew Edwin Drood, who, he believes, stands between him and the lovely Rosa Bud. When two orphan twins Neville and Helena Landless arrive in town, Jasper’s dark desires take shape and morph into shocking, drug-fueled action. Jasper’s obsessions push him closer to the edge of sanity, while the most disturbing secrets of Cloisterham remain buried. – PBS
Set in the Victorian era.
Starring Matthew Rhys, Ellie Haddington, Tamzin Merchant, Freddie Fox, Rory Kinnear, Naomi Sheldon, Eleanor Yates, Josie Farmiloe, Janet Dale, Julia McKenzie, Ron Cook, Alfie Davis, Ian McNeice, Amber Rose Revah, Sacha Dhawan, Alun Armstrong, The London Oratory School Schola, Lucy Chappell, Lucy Scarfe, Deborah Wise.
And Willow and Thatch thought you may want to know that Doctor Thorne was just added to Amazon Prime Video.
Doctor Thorne (2016)
From the creator of Downton Abbey. Dr. Thorne lives a quiet life with niece Mary in Greshambury, home of the wealthy Gresham family. Unbeknownst to others, the Greshams have lost their fortune and matriarch Lady Arabella has a scheme to regain it via an arranged marriage with her son and an American heiress. However, her son plans to elope with Mary, which complicates Lady Arabella’s plans.
Dr Thomas Thorne lives in the village of Greshamsbury in Barsetshire with his young niece, Mary, a girl blessed with every gift except money. Mary Thorne has grown up alongside the Gresham family, whose house, Greshamsbury Park, and status dominate the county. With Francis Gresham Senior having frittered away the family fortune, however, his wife, Lady Arabella Gresham, played by Rebecca Front, their daughters Augusta and Beatrice, and their handsome brother Frank face losing their home. – ITV
Set in 1855 in the Victorian Era.
Tom Hollander, Rebecca Front and Ian McShane star in Doctor Thorne, adapted for ITV by Academy and Emmy Award‐winning Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, from one of his favourite novels by Anthony Trollope.
The cast also includes Alison Brie, who played Trudy Campbell in the acclaimed US series Mad Men, Olivier and Tony award winner Richard McCabe (Indian Summers, The Great Fire, Peaky Blinders), Phoebe Nicholls (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Fortitude, Downton Abbey), Gwyneth Keyworth (Game of Thrones, Misfits), Kate O’Flynn (No Offence, Ordinary Lies), Edward Franklin (The Brain Hack, Doctors) and introduces two newcomers Stefanie Martini and Harry Richardson.
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About Masterpiece: Masterpiece classic features signature period dramas. Masterpiece mystery! presents the best British mysteries. Produced by PBS’s flagship station — WGBH/Boston — MASTERPIECE has remained steadfast in our commitment to bringing the best in drama to American public television audiences.
Throughout the year, MASTERPIECE presents beloved programming from classics such as Bleak House, popular favorites Downton Abbey and Sherlock, as well as mysteries including Endeavour, Inspector Lewis, Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, and more. MASTERPIECE occasionally presents the best in contemporary drama, recently featuring award-winning writer/director David Hare’s Worricker trilogy.
The series has been produced for PBS by WGBH/Boston since 1971. You can see which of their period series are available on DVD on the PBS website.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll want to wander over to The Period Films List, and have a look at the BBC Classic Drama Collection List. It is a list of period films available on DVD and to stream that were included as part of the BBC Classic Drama Collection of costume dramas: PBS Masterpiece Theatre productions, BBC television mini-series, romances mostly set in the England, UK in the Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras. At the top of the list, you have an option to filter the results by the tag “Masterpiece Theatre.” You can read more about the collection here.
You may also be interested in 100 Period Dramas Streaming on NETFLIX 2016 and 100 Period Dramas Streaming on Hulu 2016. There is also 50 Romantic Period Dramas that are on Amazon Prime Video.
You may also want to have a look this post from the site of a kindred spirit, The Silver Petticoat Review; it’s 35 Period Dramas to Watch on Amazon Prime – Mini-Series and TV Shows Edition (2016).