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12 period shows you should be watching, especially if you miss 'Downton Abbey'

The star- and class-crossed lovers Alicia and Julio of Gran Hotel.

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The star- and class-crossed lovers Alicia and Julio of Gran Hotel.

On Friday, Amazon Prime dropped new show Doctor Thorne from Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. And the Downton deprived world welcomed it with open arms. I wasn't all that impressed, maybe because I spend so much of my time burrowed down in period dramas anyway.

The appeal of the British drama that followed the noble Crawley family and their servants in their Yorkshire estate through changing times is undeniable. I, too, was once a rabid Downton fan, though I'll admit gave the show up seasons ago when Matthew died in the Christmas special (I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, DAN STEVENS).

If you are feeling the Downton loss, fear not and look not to Doctor Thorne for healing. There are many, many other great period pieces out there to fill the void, whether newcomers or old faves. You may or may not have noticed that I tend to write about a lot of them right here on this blog.


Gran Hotel

This Spanish show is probably the closest I have seen to Downton Abbey. In fact, when I first wrote about it, I said, "Think Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain. But with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder." The show is set in a lavish hotel (just wired for electricity!) on the Spanish coast in the early 1900s. It follows the upstairs — the aristocratic Alarcón family with at least three killers among them — and the downstairs — the hotel staff that includes a serial killer, a thief, an all-around schemer/aspiring social climber ... and a bastard Alarcón child — and how they mix. In particular, it focuses on star-crossed lovers Julio (posing and then working as a waiter) and Alicia (an Alarcón, who marries the evil hotel manager Diego). There's also baby-snatching, affairs galore and, yeah, lots of murders. It's engrossing, and readers have been contacting me about its OMG moments since I wrote about it last year. You can watch all three seasons of Gran Hotel on Netflix.

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

This is another show I've written about before that has resonated with readers. If the Roaring 20s era of Downton is what you miss, lookie here. Fashion. Jazz. Sex. Feminism. Murder. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries has it all in spades, with sequins. The Honorable Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis, who just had a guest appearance in this week's Game of Thrones) is the very definition of fabulous, a well-dressed lady of means in 1920s Melbourne (not the one in Florida; the one in Australia) who just so happens to solve some grisly murders in her spare time. Her backing cast of common folk is just as fabulous: the steadfast and dapper detective inspector with whom she works and flirts, a very religious and classic goody-two-shoes lady's maid, a butler dishing out weapons advice amidst baking, cab-driving Communist henchmen. You can watch Seasons 1-3 on Netflix or Acorn (a service that streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows for $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year); it also airs seasonally on PBS. Season 4 has yet to be confirmed in Australia, but we're all hoping.

Foyle's War

Another murder mystery show I've written about before! This one is set during the war, perhaps as gritty as Miss Fisher is fabulous. From the U.K.'s ITV, the show stars Michael Kitchen as plain talking, fly-fishing Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, who runs a police force in Hastings on England's south coast during World War II. Constantly being ridiculed for "searching for murderers in a time of war," Foyle refuses to bend the law or the principles of justice simply because a war's being fought around him. The best period pieces dig into the growing pains of progress, into the everyday daily struggles of a time and changes on a larger cultural scale. Foyle's War particularly excels in that regard; it asks hard questions and wrestles with the answers. Nine series on Netflix; Acorn has the show's entire run, plus bonus features.

Indian Summers

If you watch a lot of Masterpiece Classic beyond Downton, you might have seen this gem that popped up on PBS last September. If the upstairs-downstairs divide of Downton is what snagged you, this one has that plus racial and colonial tensions LIKE WHOA. Set in British India during the summer when the government moved to the hill stations, particularly Shimla, it has the big struggles, like Indian self-governance, to the small ones, like prospective marriages, familial discords and a scandalous multiracial relationship or two. Plus, you know, there's a murder. You can get Season 1 on DVD from the library. Season 2 is airing right now in the U.K. and will probably come to PBS later.


Ross Poldark, played by the extremely attractive Aidan Turner, returns home after fighting the American revolutionary war, and his boring sweetheart Elizabeth has moved on. But then he falls for his feisty red-headed kitchen maid. How's that for an cross-class romance? You can stream Season 1 on Amazon Prime.


Co-worker, -blogger Brittany Volk wouldn't let me get through this without mentioning this Starz show that you may have seen steaming up Entertainment Weekly covers recently. Based on the book series, Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire, an English nurse from the 1940s who accidentally steps into the 18th century while on vacation in the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank. Then Scottish Highlanders take her in and she ends up marrying one of the men for safety. That man is Jamie, played by redheaded dreamboat Sam Heughan. Special point of note: The costumes this season have been fabulous as the characters trade in Scottish Highlands for Parisian society. You can watch the first episode of Season 1 for free on Starz's website, and you get the rest if you subscribe to the premium channel. Season 2, about halfway through, airs at 9 p.m. Saturdays on Starz. Catch up with Brittany's recaps.

The Paradise

Netflix tried to foist this BBC/PBS Masterpiece show on me for a long, long time under a terrible description before I gave in and binge watched it. It's set in an early department store in North East England in the 1870s, focusing on Denise (Joanna Vanderham) who comes to work at the store from a small town. Despite all the rules about what a shopgirl should be, Denise is bursting with ideas and destined to be a woman in charge — and perhaps steal her boss Mr. Moray (Emun Elliott) away from the aristocratic woman he's engaged to marry. Both seasons are available on Netflix.


Pride & Prejudice (1995)

COLIN FIRTH IN THE WHITE SHIRT. I really don't have to say anything else about this, do I? You already know.

Victoria & Albert

Speaking of Firths, this stars that other one, Jonathan (Colin's younger brother). As far as portrayals of Queen Victoria's romance with Prince Albert go, I actually like this 2001 miniseries better than 2009's The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt, which was written by Julian Fellowes. Find it at the library.

North & South

No, not the '80s Civil War one with Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley. This 2004 BBC miniseries is my go-to period show when I'm feeling a bit of withdrawal. Based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, it follows Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) and her family as they move from the south English countryside to an industrial town in the north. Margaret butts heads with local mill owner John Thornton (Richard Armitage, before his Captain America and Hobbit days), but you know they're destined to fall in love despite all their disagreements. It's streaming on Netflix.

Upstairs Downstairs

THE ORIGINAL. Ahem. The 1970s show follows the lives of the wealthy Bellamy family (upstairs), who live in London's fashionable Belgravia, and their servants (downstairs) from about 1903 to 1930. The first season is available on Amazon Prime, as is the entirety of the 2010 series of the same name that continued the story. You can also undoubtedly find the original at a library near you.

Jane Eyre

Plain Jane Eyre was falling in love with her employer Mr. Rochester long before Tom Branson was falling for Lady Sybil. You've seen one Jane Eyre you've seen them all, right? Wrong. But I probably have seen them all or close to it, including a 1983 version with Timothy Dalton (♥) and the weird 2011 version starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender (double ♥, except in this) and Judi Dench. The 2006 miniseries is one I'll watch over and over, starring Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as Jane. Netflix has the 2011 movie and the 1996 miniseries; Amazon Prime has the 1970 TV movie with George Scott and Susannah York. Find all the rest at the library.

Honorable mention: Persuasion

Okay, this wasn't a TV show, but it was a TV movie, so close enough, amirite? But really, this adaptation of my favorite of Jane Austen's works gives me all the feels, marked by longing and angst and ultimately romantic triumph. Plus Rupert Penry-Jones as Capt. Wentworth is to die for. 

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 12:20pm]


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