Last Updated on February 10, 2020

Lucy Worsley’s history series about the ‘invention’ of British romance is coming to PBS. While “A Very British Romance” isn’t a period drama, we think you’ll be excited to watch just the same: British + Period + Romance = Perfect viewing around Valentine’s Day.

A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley, courtesy BBC

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Celebrate love with Lucy as she delves into the history of British romance, uncovering the social, political and cultural forces that shaped ideals of romantic love during the Georgian era, including the novels of Jane Austen.

Then, travel back to the Victorian era with Worsley as she delves into the steamy history of British romance, uncovering the social, political and cultural forces that shaped ideals of romantic love during Victoria’s reign.

“A Very British Romance” with Lucy Worsley premieres Sunday, February 9, 2020, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS. Episode 2 premieres Sunday, February 16, 2020, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings.

If you missed the first episode, good news: it is available to stream for free until March 8, 2020. 

What could be more natural than romance, finding the perfect partner and falling in love? In fact every ingredient in this scenario, so beloved of romantics everywhere, had to be invented.

A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley, courtesy BBC

In this two-part series Lucy Worsley delves into the history of romance to uncover the forces shaping the very British happily ever after. The series reveals how even the most intimate thoughts and feelings have been affected by social, political and cultural ideas.

Lucy Worsley said that “this series is all about books, and it’s hard to bring books to life for television. So, to help viewers to visualise the plots we’re talking about, we had the help of some fine actors, from the three suitors in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to the two lovers in E.M. Forster’s Maurice.”

In the first episode, Lucy Worsley’s exploration of three centuries of love’s rituals begins in the Georgian age, when the rules of courtship were being rewritten. Traditionally marriage had been as much about business as love.

A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley, courtesy BBC

Lucy examines how women in the 18th century started to have an unprecedented degree of romantic freedom, partly due to the cult of ‘sensibility’ – a fashionable vogue for more emotionally-heightened living. Women and men were inspired to make their own romantic choices – they could flirt in newly-built assembly rooms, or elope to Gretna Green as an act of romantic rebellion.

Lucy then explores the glamorization of romantic love that followed the emergence of the romantic novel in the 18th century. 

She considers whether the work of Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney and Jane Austen, as well as providing escapism, provoked readers to seek out in their own lives the feelings and emotions they found in the novels – so having a profound effect on the desires and aspirations of the entire age.

Calling Austen’s Persuasion “one of the most romantic books ever written,” Lucy said that with Jane Austen, “romance was brought home to Georgian England, and unfolded in homes and locations her readers would have recognised from real life.”

In the second episode, Lucy journeys into the Victorian way of love in part two of her series on the changing face of British romance. She discovers how medieval chivalry shaped Victorian courtship, and explores the influence of Valentine’s cards and flowers on romantic lives.

Lucy uncovers the way that literary passions – in novels by writers such as Charlotte Bronte, Mrs Henry Wood and HG Wells – translated into real-life desires, changing the way the British felt. This is a new view of the Victorians in love, which takes us from romance on the factory floor to the curious erotic possibilities of the seance.

Worsley also ‘became’ some of the characters herself, including “the obstinate governess Jane Eyre in the world’s least flattering wig.”

A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley, courtesy BBC

According to Worsley, author Charlotte Bronte wanted to prove to her sisters that a girl who wan’t beautiful could be at the heart of a Victorian romantic novel: “I will show you a heroine as plain and a small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.” Jane and Mr. Rochester overcame the obstacles between them, and in the real world too unlikely lovers were coming together despite the barriers of class and law.

A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley, courtesy BBC

Lucy Worsley concludes her series with the most dramatic transformation of romance yet. Out of the carnage of World War One came a racier species of romantic love. It could be found in the novel The Sheik, the Fifty Shades of Grey of its time, while in real life Marie Stopes urged husbands and wives to explore their sexual desire.

New entertainments like dining out for two allowed couples to get to know one another without a chaperone, while going to the cinema provided a dark environment where hands could roam free. But as the hedonistic era of World War Two encouraged these more permissive attitudes, divorce rates soared.

Romance, though, would prevail, with a fightback led by the queen of romance herself, Barbara Cartland.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List, with British, historical and costume dramas sorted by era. Also see the list of period dramas on PBS Masterpiece in January and February of 2020.