I’ve written here before – many times – about my love of costume dramas, specifically of the British variety. I got hooked my senior year of college, in the early days of my Netflix subscription, when I returned hungover as fuck from spring break and burned through Cranford in the 24 hours before my roommates returned, crying my eyes out while watching little old ladies stir up mischief in an English market town on the brink of the industrial era. After that, I watched basically every other costume drama that was available on DVD or through Netflix’s streaming service. I now believe that I have watched…everything that falls into the costume drama category? Or most things, probably. I draw the line at some shittier or older productions. (For example, the 1995 miniseries event The Buccaneers, based on the Edith Wharton novel. I have tried and failed several times to make it past the first twenty minutes.)
This is the time of year when, inevitably, I get sick and end up spending a weekend or two on the couch, with only a pile of dirty tissues for company. When I’m under the weather, there’s nothing more comforting than revisiting some of my favorite (British) costume drama miniseries. (Those of you who read this blog on the regular know that I’m a little obsessed.) So, in honor of the cold I’m nursing today, here are four of my favorites (that aren’t Pride & Prejudice – the 1995 version – because everyone has seen and love that). All of them are pretty recent and easy to find on Netflix and/or Amazon Instant Video.
Bleak House (2005)
Based on my favorite Dickens novel, this eight-episode series follows the many individuals involved in a decades-long case called Jarndyce v Jarndyce, in which the legality of several wills are being contested. Sound boring? I promise it’s not. This is Dickens’ most complex and impressive story. There are enough murders, orphans, sword fights, creepy old houses, and disfiguring illnesses to keep anyone entertained. The cast in this one is great – Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Anna Maxwell Martin and Carey Mulligan are a few of the wonderful actors – and I think that the dark mood of the series perfectly captures that of the novel.
This five-episode miniseries is based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel and takes place in the mid-nineteenth century and follows the residents of Cranford as the modern world approaches their rural village on all fronts, most obviously in the form of the railway. You’ll probably recognize at least seven of the cast members – more if you frequently watch British films and television. Cranford is certainly sentimental, but it hits all of the right notes in terms of humor and drama.
There have been about a million versions of Jane Austen’s Emma at this point. I’m not saying this is the best one. I just like it a lot. Romola Garai stars as silly, scheming Emma Woodhouse. Opposite her is Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Mr. Knightley very nicely. For whatever reason, I’ve been happy to revisit the four episodes of this one a few times since it premiered in the US in 2010.
North & South (2004)
Another miniseries based on an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. This one is about a smart, serious daughter of a country parson from the south of England who moves to a northern city (modeled after Manchester) and butts heads with her father’s student, a textile manufacturer. Angst, longing, cotton mill union strikes, and a makeout scene that will bring you to tears ensue.