Best BBC period dramas

Our writers discuss their favourite BBC period dramas.

multiple writers
10th August 2020
We all love a period drama. There's something about them that transports us back to an era we only read about in books, before usually being adapted for the big or the small screen. From a swoon-worthy romance to the gritty portrayal of gangsters, we can always rely on the BBC to deliver a costume drama to get lost in.  

Pride and Prejudice

I’ve contemplated the many ways in which I could sum up the greatness of, and my love for, BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and ultimately believe it can be surmised by the single image of Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy emerging from a pond, sopping wet. And yes, this declaration probably secures me within the same demographic as my mother, but I simply do not care. 

It really is every romantic's ideal series

Credit: BBC, IMDb

Although it could (but should not) be hailed as slightly dated, especially when compared to the 2005 feature film, it is the adaptation that stands out as being more loyal to the book, as well as being my favourite BBC period drama. Namely, Alison Steadman is the most true-to-form Mrs Bennett you could imagine, almost as if Jane Austen had her in mind when writing the character way back in 1813. With the casting, costumes, music and interwoven romantic tropes, the period drama really is every romantic’s ideal series, even if you are a partially closeted one like me… although I have just outed myself, haven’t I? 

Perhaps I am biased, having been brought up on the story I endured an horrendously embarrassing dream of winning over an extremely difficult man like Darcy until aged 12. It is for this reason that I warn younger viewers to proceed with caution- perspective tells me that he really is not worth it.

Evie Lake

Peaky Blinders

I've been told that Peaky Blinders is technically a period drama piece, so I'm here to say how good it is, if you aren't already aware. On record, I've said that season 5 wasn't great, but it's still a decent show, with its earlier seasons being some of the best on TV.

The Shelby family are phenomenally gripping to watch, with praise given to pretty much the entire cast.

Unlike any drama piece at all, it's set after WW1. Usually, this is an instant put-off for me because there are literally hundreds of WW1 period dramas, but this one isn't specifically about the war- it's about family gang crime. The war is definitely mentioned in the show, but more to show the damage done to the economy, as well as the mental health of the show's characters.

Credit: IMDb, 2013 - British Broadcasting Corporation

The Shelby family are phenomenally gripping to watch, with praise given to pretty much the entire cast. You're aware that they're horrible people and if you saw them in the street you would probably poo your pants and cry, but you root for them anyway. Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby is the peak of his career, with the perfect balance of charming and terrifying.

Within the show, the stakes are always high, and unlike most shows, the climax of each season usually pays off, rather than being underwhelming. The music, whilst not being historically accurate (usually opting for the Arctic Monkeys) somehow fits the tone of the show perfectly. Whoever thought of adding more contemporary music to a period drama deserves a medal, honestly. If you haven't already seen it somehow, don't let the hype and constant pleas to watch the show put you off, it's genuinely great.

Sophie Hicks

War and Peace

I feel like this period drama has been overlooked since it's release in 2016, but that doesn't mean it isn't one of BBC's finest literary adaptations. Despite it's pretty bland name, War and Peace is essentially a soap opera in period costume.

The melodramatic aspect makes the series all the more gripping

Centring around the personal lives of the Russian aristocracy against the backdrop of the French invasion of Russia, as viewers we get drawn in by the sheer drama between the families. Who's related to who? Who's sleeping with who? Who hates that person and vice versa? The melodramatic aspect makes the series all the more gripping, even if it does push the war aspect with elaborate battle sequences and tragedies.

Credit: IMDb

One of the reasons why I love War and Peace is not actually the storylines themselves, but the settings, which are stunning to look at. I couldn't write this without referring to the ball scene within Catherine Palace, which only adds to the blossoming romance between Prince Andrei and Natasha. To this day, that has to be one of the most romantic scenes I've ever seen on TV, which is only fitting for a BBC period drama. If you go past this series on iPlayer or Netflix, please go back and watch it. It's definitely worth it.

Kate Dunkerton


Poldark is pure drama. In our increasingly strange world it offers up a long-ago fantasy of England where everyone rode horses, women wore ridiculously impractical dresses and men scythed grass while topless in fields.

With its love-to-hate characters (looking at you Warleggan) complicated love triangles and illegitimate children, Poldark is like your favourite soap opera, complete with high-class furnishings and silly hats. Add in the glorious Caroline Penvenen (along with her long-suffering pug, Horace) and Demelza has the perfect princess friend of classic chick-flicks.

Poldark refuses to become another romantic oversimplification of historical life

Credit: IMDb

Yet, this drama manages to create that beautiful balance between viewer enjoyment whilst also tackling serious issues. With storylines that include tragic loss, mental health and miscarriage, including one scene which sparked a debate over consent and rape, Poldark refuses to become another romantic oversimplification of historical life. By exploring such issues it creates its own relevance, connecting us intimately with its characters.

Not only does the Cornwall coast create a stunning backdrop, the constant threat of the sea and nature in general adds a forgotten danger to the plot. Even if the characters could get their personal lives in order, the atmospheric swell of the ocean reminds viewers that so much of life at the time was out of human control – the constant hope of discovering gold at the mine another glimpse of the danger communities can be plunged into if mother nature refuses to play nicely. In this sense, perhaps our current situation does mirror the world of Poldark, in one respect at least.

Sally Grey

Featured image credit: IMDb. BBC, Robert Viglasky Photography.

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