A list of the best World War I era period dramas. Movies and TV series set during the First World War era (1914 – 1918), also known as the Great War. British costume period dramas, filmed in England, UK and other countries set in that time period. Television mini-series, PBS, BBC, Masterpiece Theatre productions, historical epics. Wartime romances, family friendly options and stories about people lives at the brink of war, soldiers returning from combat, and the challenges faced by those at home during wartime. More to come!
For the lists of the top period dramas and recommended documentaries in additional eras, wander over to: What To Watch: The Period Films List
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At the height of US involvement in World War I, young men everywhere are succumbing to jingoistic fervor. In a small Texas town, Horace Robedaux feels the pressure to enlist but he doesn’t want to leave his wife Elizabeth and their young child. Elizabeth’s no-good little brother is constantly talking about the war, and Elizabeth’s stern father, who opposed their marriage initially, now has plans to take care of his daughter and the child so that Horace can go off to war.
Set in 1918. Part of Horton Foote’s semi-autobiographical trilogy shown on PBS which includes “On Valentine’s Day,” “Courtship” and “1918.”
Starring William Converse-Roberts, Hallie Foote, Rochelle Oliver, Michael Higgins, Matthew Broderick, Jeanne McCarthy, Bill McGhee, L.T. Felty, Horton Foote Jr., Tom Murrel, Phillip Smith, Norma Allen, Margaret Spaulding, Carol Goodheart, Buffy Carol, Betty Murphy, Frost O. Myers, Peggy Feury, Belinda Jackson, Randy Moore.
Revealing the complex behind-closed-doors story of the final weeks before the outbreak of World War I.
This three-part political thriller follows the catastrophic chain of events leading up to World War I from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 to Britain's declaration of war on Germany 37 days later. This tense and gripping mini-series set among the corridors of power in Whitehall and Berlin tracks the unfolding crisis through the eyes of leading politicians and civil servants struggling to prevent the world's first global war. 37 Days unlocks the mystery of the war's origins, overturning assumptions about its inevitability, demonstrating that World War One was neither a chance happening nor was it a foregone conclusion.
Set in Georgian era the five weeks between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo and the outbreak of the First World War.
Starring Ian McDiarmid, Tim Piggott-Smith, Sinead Cusack, Ludger Pistor.
A soldier develops a strong bond with a cub before he is sent to fight in World War I.
The heartwarming family film A BEAR NAMED WINNIE dramatizes the true story that inspired one of the most beloved children's book characters of all time. On the eve of World War I, Canadian soldier Lt. Harry Coleburn (Michael Fassbender) adopts an orphaned bear cub and, after naming her Winnie (for the city of Winnipeg), decides to make her the unofficial mascot of his army regiment. When Harry and his troop are deployed to the trenches of France, Winnie is temporarily housed at the London Zoo, where author A.A. Milne meets the bear and uses her as the inspiration for his children's stories, WINNIE THE POOH.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Gil Bellows, David Suchet, Stephen Fry, Jonathon Young.
Maj. Gresham is a flying ace who oversees a group of English pilots during World War I. His latest recruit is Lt. Croft, who happens to have been only a few years behind Gresham at Eton. Croft idolizes Gresham at first, but the image of his hero is tarnished when he learns of Gresham's private habits, especially his predilection for alcohol. It's only after Croft himself has endured the crucible of war that he comes to fully appreciate his commanding officer.
Starring Malcom Mcdowell, Christopher Plummer, Peter Firth.
Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), an American driving ambulances for the Italian Army during World War I, falls for British Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), to the displeasure of jealous commanding officer Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), who transfers Catherine to a different hospital out of spite.
But after Frederic is injured on the battlefield, he is evacuated to Catherine's new hospital in Milan, and the star-crossed lovers begin their romance anew.
Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway.
Starring Jack LaRue, Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Philips.
Note: You can stream it for free, legally, on the Willow and Thatch YouTube Period Drama Channel here.
A passionate but star-crossed romance develops between an American soldier and a Red Cross nurse during WWI.
This gripping version of the legendary writer's World War I masterpiece stars Rock Hudson as an ambulance driver and Jennifer Jones as the nurse he falls in love with. Initially strangers, the two find they must suddenly grapple with difficult decisions about their life together until fate steps in and their future becomes uncertain. A poignant portrait of war and survival, beautifully directed by the great Charles Vidor.
Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway.
Starring Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones, Vittorio De Sica, Oskar Homolka, Mercedes McCambridge.
Note: There was a BBC mini-series adaptation of A Farewell to Arms (1966) starring Vanessa Redgrave, George Hamilton, Susan Engel, Ann Rye and Erik Chitty. Directed by Rex Tucker, the three episode British TV period drama is believed to be lost.
Wounded Boer War veteran Paul Craddock (Nigel Havers, Chariots of Fire) arrives at Shallowford House in 1902 to establish himself as squire of Sorrell Valley. With the assistance of property manager John Rudd (Glyn Houston, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Paul learns the ropes and tries his best to balance running a successful estate and being a compassionate landowner.
Paul is immediately captivated by two of the valley's women: Grace Lovell (Fiona Gaunt, War & Peace), a suffragette with a fierce temper, and sensitive Claire Derwent (Prunella Ransome, Far from the Madding Crowd). Following the outbreak of the First World War, Paul has to work even harder to manage Shallowford.
Set in the pastoral landscape of Devon and adapted from the novel by R.F. Delderfield (To Serve Them All My Days), this gripping miniseries pays tribute to the last days of traditional English country life through almost two decades of joyous occasions, devastating losses, and enduring love.
Set in the Edwardian era and during the First World War.
Starring Nigel Havers, Glyn Houston, Fiona Gaunt, Prunella Ransome.
A wealthy, precocious and loving child is raised in India, but sent away to a New York boarding school by her beloved father when he must go off to war. A sumptuous adaptation of the beloved children's classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett which shifts the time period to 1914.
"Movies like "A Little Princess" and "The Secret Garden" contain a sense of wonder, and a message: The world is a vast and challenging place, through which a child can find its way with pluck and intelligence." - Roger Ebert
Starring Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham, Liesel Matthews, Rusty Schwimmer, Arthur Malet.
One of the most influential anti-war films ever made, this drama follows a group of idealistic young men as they join the German Army during World War I and are sent to the Western Front.
The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War I by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals.
Based on the novel of the same name by German World War One veteran Erich Maria Remarque.
"All Quiet on the Western Front remains an essential piece of social history and a heart-wrenching film. The film is long – more than two and half hours – and despite the technological limitations, the unrelenting realism of battle action remain gripping enough for CGI-attuned contemporary audiences." - Telegraph
Starring Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayres, John Wray.
One of the strangest legends of the First World War is that of the disappearance of the Sandringham Company in action in Gallipoli in 1915. The land agent at Sandringham House - the Norfolk estate of George V - creates a superb fighting force. However, led into battle against the Turks in Gallipoli, they are never to be seen again.
"None of this would work as beautifully as it does if we didn't believe in Maggie Smith as a Queen Mother worth cherishing...besides waste, there is honor in these two hours." - New York Magazine
Originally produced for the BBC and broadcast in the U.S. as part of PBS Masterpiece Theatre.
Starring David Jason, Maggie Smith, Stuart Bunce, William Ash, David Troughton.
An Accidental Soldier tells the story of an Australian soldier who flees the front lines of World War I and finds refuge with a French woman in a remote farmhouse. Together, unexpectedly, they discover a love so strong that each is willing to give their life for it.
Based on the novel Silent Parts by John Charalambous, An Accidental Soldier is about an Australian soldier who flees the carnage of the Western Front and finds refuge with a French woman in a remote farmhouse. Harry Lambert is a shy, thirty five year old Australian soldier, working as a baker behind the lines. He is a gentle man, a reluctant soldier, but a man like many who has been shamed by his local community into joining up. But when he is called into the front line Harry decides to run, finding refuge in a farmhouse owned by Colombe Jacotot, a Frenchwoman in her forties whose husband has abandoned her and whose son has recently been killed. Forced to work in an ammunitions factory, Colombe too is trenchant about the war.
Through her Harry will learn true courage. Through him Colombe will learn beauty. Together they will discover a love so strong that each is willing to give their life for it. An accidental soldier is a tender, at times gripping love story between two people who find passion, in all its joy and hurt, at an age when they thought love has passed them by. It is a story of unexpected bravery of countless men and women who would not give up their lives for abstracts like glory, or country. Those who wanted to live for love and life.
Starring Marie Bunel, Dan Spielman, Julia Zemiro, Bryan Brown.
As World War I rages in Europe, the citizens of Avonlea prepare for their annual Christmas festivities. Hetty King, always ready and willing to do her part for king and country, is planning a Christmas concert with the schoolchildren to raise funds for the war effort. Janet King however, whose son Felix King is away fighting in the trenches, would prefer to forget about the war altogether.
Starring Jackie Burroughs, Mag Ruffman, Zachary Bennett, Gema Zamprogna, Lally Cadeau.
Now in her twenties, Anne returns to Avonlea for the first time since Marilla Cuthbert’s death. Gilbert has been offered a position in a hospital in New York, and he persuades Anne to come with him. He arranges a position for her at a large publishing house. However, big city life isn’t what they expected, especially when Anne’s manuscript is stolen by a dashing American writer, Jack Garrison. After many unsuccessful months, Anne and Gilbert move back to Avonlea and into the middle of wartime society. Gilbert feels pressure to join the army as a medical officer, and is soon listed as missing in action. The indomitable Anne then sets off to the battlefields of Europe in search of Gilbert, and helps a young French woman and her son who are in the line of danger along the way.
Starring Jonathan Crombie, Schuyler Grant, Janet-Laine Green, Cameron Daddo, Megan Follows.
Arriving in Egypt to serve in World War I, a group of idealistic young Australian and New Zealand nurses are full of romantic notions. All too soon, however, they are faced with convoys of the dead and wounded from the doomed Gallipoli campaign. Realizing that war is not quite the "splendid adventure" they thought it would be, they rise to meet the challenge, finding love, heartbreak, and lasting friendship along the way.
Based on the book by Peter Rees and drawing on the real nurses' letters, original journals, and historical records, this acclaimed Australian miniseries follows five unsung heroines through the traumatic war years. A "beautifully shot, multilayered drama" (The Sunday Telegraph, Australia), it "brings these little-known stories vividly to life" (The Daily Telegraph, Australia).
6 episode television mini-series.
Starring Georgia Flood, Caroline Craig, Anna McGahan, Antonia Prebble, Laura Brent.
This 5-part Australian television mini-series set during World War I follows the lives of a group of young Australian men who enlist in the 8th Battalion (Australia) of the First Australian Imperial Force.
The historical drama begins in 1914, with the fighting first at Gallipoli in 1915, and then on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.
Starring Andrew Clarke, Tony Bonner, Shane Briant, Jim Holt, Vincent Ball, Bill Kerr, Paul Hogan, Megan Williams, Mark Hembrow, Jon Blake.
Germany, 1912. Friedrich (Richard Madden, Cinderella), a graduate of humble origins, takes up a clerical post in a steel factory, soon becoming the elderly owner Karl s (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter) private secretary and boarder. There he meets Lotte (Rebecca Hall, Iron Man 3), Karl's reserved and beautiful young wife. Starting an illicit romance, the two young lovers dreams are dashed when Karl announces he s sending his secretary to oversee his mines in Mexico. But Lotte makes a promise to Friedrich: when he returns in two years, she will be his no matter what. With the later outbreak of World War I prohibiting his return to Germany, Friedrich must wait eight long years before returning to Europe and finding out if the woman he pines for has kept her promise during that brutal passage of time. With lush period detail, director Patrice Leconte s A PROMISE is a sumptuous testament to the enduring power of love.
Some nice visuals, including the early-1900s accouterments supplied by costume designer Pascaline Chavanne.
Set in the Edwardian era and during World War I.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Alan Rickman and Richard Madden.
Mathilde (Audrey Tautou) is told that her fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel) has been killed in World War I. She refuses to believe this, however, and begins trying to find out what actually happened on the battlefield the night he was supposedly killed, enlisting the help of a private investigator.
During her search, she stumbles across evidence of the inhumane and morally bankrupt system used by the French to deal with deserters, and hears from other men who were sentenced to extreme punishment.
Set during the Great War and the Interwar era.
"This story is told in a film so visually delightful that only the horrors of war keep it from floating up on clouds of joy." - Roger Ebert
Starring Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jodie Foster.
In 1916, the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company is tunneling beneath German fortifications and bunkers to detonate massive explosive charges.
The extraordinary true story of Oliver Woodward. It's 1916 and Woodward must tear himself from his new young love to go to the mud and carnage of the Western Front. Deep beneath the German lines. Woodward and his secret platoon of Australian tunnelers fight to defend a leaking, labyrinthine tunnel system packed with enough high explosives to change the course of the War.
Starring Brendan Cowell, Harrison Gilbertson, Steve Le Marquand/
Set before and during the great war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.
Based on Sebastian Faulks' 1993 bestseller Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War. Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. This intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present.
2 episode mini-series.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Clémence Poésy, Matthew Goode.
Not rated. This program contains mature content, including sexual situations, and graphic imagery of war that may not be appropriate for more sensitive viewers.
With its fourth and final chapter the chronicles of the comedy series, "Blackadder Goes Forth" brings us into the twentieth century and into a much darker period of history.
The Western Front 1917: There's disorder in the ranks when that numb-headed ninny, Captain Edmund Blackadder, stumbles onto the battlefields of WWI and discovers that people are trying to kill him.
Waiting in fear of the dreaded order to go 'over the top' from the patently insane General Melchett, Blackadder devises serial attempts to escape the trenches such as joining the Royal Flying Corps or becoming army entertainers, always with the offer of one of Baldrick's cunning plans.
There can barely have been a less likely setting for comedy than the trenches of the First World War.
Writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton deserve special plaudits, then, for maintaining their hilarious standards and making this series more pointed than its predecessors; mixing the lighter jokes with a gallows humour in the face of a tragic and harrowing story.
Edmund Blackadder was now a more noble and sympathetic character than his ancestors, and his efforts to evade his inevitable fate provided not only countless laughs but also a real sense of the futility of war.
Starring Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie.
Carrington is the true story of the tragic relationship between the English painter, Dora Carrington and writer, Lytton Strachey. Between the First World War and the early 1930's, they experimented with a way of life beyond the conventional standards of their time, a life which broke all the taboos of society of their desire to live as freely and honestly as they could. They acknowledged openly what most of us are aware of but still reluctant to discuss: that a great many differences can exist between spiritual love and physical desire.
Set between 1915 and 1932.
Starring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, Steven Waddington, Samuel Weset, Rufus Sewell.
Juliet Stevenson heads the cast in this prestigious film adaptation of Laurie Lee's classic novel Cider With Rosie. Set in 1918 in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside, Cider With Rosie conjures up a world of earthy warmth and beauty as it follows Laurie Lee's renowned tale from childhood to adolescence and the awakening of manhood. Cider with Rosie is not only a classic tale of childhood, but also an elegy to a passing era. Faithful to the book.
The film features narration by Laurie Lee himself taken from an unabridged recording of the book. Set in the years immediately after World War I, Cider with Rosie captures a vanished era. "I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years' life," wrote Lee of his upbringing with eight siblings and a single mother in a semi-feudal world of candlelight, horse carts, and profound solitude.
"With a script by the talented John Mortimer ("Rumpole of the Bailey"), a superbly chosen cast and Charles Beeson's supple, sensitive direction, this 90-minute evocation of vanished pastoralism makes for compelling -- albeit unapologetically sentimental -- television." - Variety
Shown on PBS Masterpiece.
Starring Juliet Stevenson, Dashiell Reece, Joe Roberts, David Troughton, Emily Mortimer.
A semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story set in the Cotswolds during and immediately after the First World War. A poetic journey through the idyll of his early years and into the intensity of adolescent experiences, Cider With Rosie is the quintessential coming-of-age story. Based on the novel by Laurie Lee.
"A lyrical, languid and poetic adaptation... a worthy and gently intoxicating addition." - Telegraph
Starring Archie Cox, June Whitfield, Ruby Ashbourne Serkis, Timothy Spall, Samantha Morton, Georgie Smith.
Note: The BBC also produced the 94 minute long Cider with Rosie (1971) starring Rosemary Leach, Stephen Grendon, Philip Hawkes.
In industrial Tyneside during World War I, life for the McQueen family is turned upside down when daughter Bridget comes home with a black husband.
Bridget Paterson seriously offends her Geordie family's Irish Catholic sensibilities by marrying an African sailor, whom she is also pregnant by. After being accused of murder, her husband is eventually forced to leave town with half of Newcastle out to get him. As their daughter grows up, she must learn to cope with the racism which surrounds her.
Set beginning in 1915, and moving into the Interwar era.
The 3 episode TV mini-series is based on Catherine Cookson's Colour Blind. One of England�s most widely read authors, Dame Catherine Cookson penned more than ninety historical novels during her celebrated career.
Starring Joe Caffrey, Dearbhla Molloy, Ian Embleton, Walter McMonagle, Niamh Cusack, Tony Armatrading.
In the bitter chill of winter, over snow-covered mountains and against all odds, one fearless young girl will risk everything to guide her friends to safety. Fifteen-year-old Heidi (Caton) leaves her beloved grandfather (Jan Rubes), her childhood sweetheart (Sheen) and her cherished Swiss mountains to attend an Italian boarding school run by a kind headmistress (Caron).
But when World War I breaks out, Heidi and her classmates are torn from their serene surroundings. Fearing for their lives, they escape on foot through the countryside...and embark on a daring trek across the treacherous, frozen Alps towards the safety of Heidi's girlhood home.
Starring Juliette Caton, Charlie Sheen, Joanna Clarke, Nicola Stapleton, Jade Magri.