10 Timeless Period Dramas to Watch Anytime

Posted on November 12, 2018

by April S

Pride and Prejudice - BBC mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

Okay, so I’m obsessed with Jane Austen. I even took an entire course on her work in college as an undergrad, which I somehow convinced my then boyfriend (now husband) to take with me. Honestly, I thought we would have lengthy intellectual discussions on the literary themes that have made her novels timeless. In reality, he did not like her work at all and referred to it as a snooze fest. Oh well, I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Pride and Prejudice

One of the most beloved miniseries of the last 20 years, “Pride and Prejudice” starring Elizabeth Ehle and Colin Firth, was adapted extremely well from the classic novel by Jane Austen by the BBC. And while I have enjoyed watching this particular miniseries multiple times, sometimes it’s nice to watch something else, like other miniseries adapted from novels. I know what you’re saying – how unoriginal and boring! However, I would argue that it’s incredibly important to explore a variety of stories (in books, television and movies). After all, you never know what you’ll discover and classic novels have a way of standing the test of time.

Hopefully, classic novels and television miniseries are your cup of tea. But if they’re not – try out our Give 3 Get 3 service. Just send us 3 titles you’ve enjoyed reading, watching or listening to in the past and we’ll send you back at least 3 more based on what you tell us. It’s that easy!

10 Timeless Miniseries Adapted from Novels

1. Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce - HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce

Starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce Directed by Todd Haynes Rated TV-MA

An intimate portrait of a uniquely independent woman who finds herself newly divorced during the Depression years and struggles to carve out a new life for herself and her family. The story explores Mildred’s unreasonable devotion to her insatiable daughter Veda, as well as the complex relationship she shares with the indolent men in her life, including her polo-playing lover Monty Beragon and ex-husband Bert Pierce.

Based on the novel by James M. Cain.

If you enjoy this miniseries, you may also like the classic film version starring Joan Crawford.

2. Little Woman

Little Women - Masterpiece miniseries starring Emily Watson, Michael Gabon and Angela Lansbury

Starring Emily Watson, Kathryn Newton, Willa Fitzgerald, Annes Elwy and Dylan Baker Directed by Vanessa Caswill Rated TV-PG

Follow the sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, on their journey from childhood to adulthood. Under the guidance of their mother Marmee, they navigate what it means to be a young woman: from gender roles to sibling rivalry, first love, loss, and marriage. This story is as relevant and engrossing today as it was on its original publication in 1868.

Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.

3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Windfell Hall - BBC miniseries starring Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens

Starring Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens Directed by Mike Barker Not Rated

When the beautiful widow Helen Graham moves into the derelict Wildfell Hall with her son, she arouses great curiosity from the local villagers. Gilbert Markham is a handsome young farmer who finds himself drawn to the enigmatic Helen and encourages her to open up to him. But even the sympathetic Markham is unprepared for the secrets Helen will ultimately reveal, secrets which the repressed Victorian society would rather bury forever.

Based on the novel by Emily Bronte.

4. Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit - BBC miniseries starring Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen

Starring Claire Foy and Matthew Macfadyen Directed by Dearbhla Walsh, Adam Smith and Diarmuid Lawrence Not Rated

When Arthur Clennam returns to London after several years abroad, he wants to learn more about his mother’s new seamstress, young Amy Dorrit. His search brings him to the Marshalsea Debtors Prison, where he learns the truth about struggle and hardship in 1820s England.

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

5. Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne - miniseries starring Tom Hollander and Rebecca Front

Starring Tom Hollander and Stefanie Martini Directed by Niall MacCormick Rated TV-G

The life of penniless Mary Thorne, who grows up with her Uncle, Dr. Thorne, and her relationship with the family at nearby Greshamsbury Park estate.

Based on the novel by Anthony Trollope.

6. Bleak House

Bleak House - miniseries starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson, Carey Mulligan and Gillian Anderson

Starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson, Carey Mulligan and Gillian Anderson Directed by Justin Chadwick Rated TV-PG

The icily beautiful Lady Dedlock faces the revelation of her dark past once Mr. Tulkinghorn catches wind of it. Esther’s background also comes to light after the murder of a strange man.

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

7. Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda - miniseries starring Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville

Starring Jodhi May, Hugh Dancy, Edward Fox and Amanda Root Directed by Tom Hooper Not Rated

Daniel Deronda is a sensitive, intelligent, young man haunted by secrets that shroud his birth. Gwendolen Harleth is a beautiful gambler short on cash. When the two meet, sparks fly.

Based on the novel by George Eliot.

8. War and Peace

War and Peace - miniseries starring Lily James, Paul Dano and James Norton

Starring Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James Directed by Tom Harper Rated TV-14

A modern take on one of the most famous stories of all time. In 1805 when we first meet Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, they are all part of St. Petersburg’s glittering elite, but are fired up with youthful ambition to find meaning in their lives. As everything they thought they knew is questioned, Pierre, Andrei and Natasha find themselves in a time when Russian society is about to change forever.

Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy.

9. Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d'Urbervilles - miniseries starring Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne

Starring Gemma Arterton, Eddie Redmayne and Hans Matheson Directed by David Blair Not Rated

When the beautiful and innocent Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting the manipulative Alec proves to be her downfall.

Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy.

10. Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters - miniseries starring Francesca Annis, Justine Waddell and Bill Paterson

Starring Francesca Annis, Justine Waddell and Bill Paterson Directed by Nicholas Renton Rated TV-PG

Set in a richly portrayed society well-stocked with eccentric nobles and gossipy villagers, this story centers around 17-year-old Molly Gibson, the only daughter of a respected country doctor. The well-ordered world of Molly’s childhood is soon to be complicated by new people and unexpected situations. Most devastating is her father’s decision to remarry after many years of widowhood.

Based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Blog Posts Featuring Period Dramas

Top 10 Movies to Watch if You Love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Downton Denial

Crazy About Jane


As a Toledo Lucas County Public Library cardholder you have access to resources throughout the state of Ohio, because we participate in a library consortiums called Search Ohio and OhioLink. To request these items they must be available in the catalog. Ask a librarian for more information.

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