If you've loved period dramas for any length of time, you probably feel like you've seen them all.
Not that there's a shortage of shows dramatizing any and everything from the 1600s to the '60s. But sometimes you've seen all Masterpiece and BBC currently have to offer.
Luckily, streaming services come in to fill the void, offering up old favorites and international shows unlikely to end up before your eyes otherwise. Have you sampled the plethora of Spanish-language telenovelas available on Netflix? How about a few Aussie or Canadian shows, forgiving a little bit of cheesiness? Have you ever considered branching out into Turkish or Indian dramas, which are now aplenty on Netflix?
Even if you're not willing to read subtitles (which I as a world cinema fan would tell you is the wrong philosophy, unduly limiting yourself), consider a few new Netflix or Hulu originals and a plethora of old favorites — from the 1970s' Upstairs Downstairs to the '90s Pride & Prejudice and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman to award-winning miniseries from the 2000s onward to even the relatively recently finished Downton Abbey — available now on Amazon.
There's plenty of stuff available if you just know where to look.
Here are 36 shows available as of this writing.
I'd be remiss if this list didn't start with Netflix's award winning drama about Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith). Season 2 is due to drop at the end of this week, so catch up now on the first season, from the royal wedding to Elizabeth ascending to the throne and attempting to settle into the role. And even if you don't want to rewatch, do yourself a favor with some context by checking out one of the dozen documentaries Netflix has available to stream on related royal subjects (Prince Philip: The Plot to Make a King, The Royal House of Windsor, Edward VIII: The Nazi King).
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
This Australian show is one of those shows I just can't stop talking about. Fashion. Jazz. Sex. Feminism. Murder. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries has it all in spades, with sequins. The Honorable Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis, The Babadook and Game of Thrones) is the very definition of fabulous, a well-dressed lady of means in 1920s Melbourne who just so happens to solve some grisly murders in her spare time. Her backing cast includes the detective inspector with whom she works and flirts, a classic goody-two-shoes lady's maid, a butler dishing out weapons advice amidst baking, cab-driving Communist henchmen. You can watch all three seasons on Netflix or Acorn. Bonus: There's a Christmas special in Season 2. Since the third season finished in 2014, the show's status has been left open ended; the series recently achieved several crowdfunding goals for sequel movies that are yet to reveal details. Here's hoping.
This BBC/PBS Masterpiece show is 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.
North & South
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 Hobbit days), but you know they're destined to fall in love. It's streaming on Netflix.
It's hard to describe the emotional rollercoaster this Spanish drama will take you on over the course of its four seasons. Set in a prominent Madrid fashion store called Velvet, it follows the store's change of ownerships and bid to stay relevant in the '50s and '60s from more daring designs to jewelry lines to pret a porter. But really it follows the lives of its owners and employees, none more so than the since-childhood on-again-off-again upstairs-downstairs romance of heir Alberto Márquez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Sense8) and seamstress Ana Rivera (Paula Echevarría). And because this is a telenovela, there are also a handful of murders, a few not-really-dead "dead" people and affairs and back-stabbing schemes galore. Ah, the glorious, glorious drama. All four seasons are now streaming on Netflix.
Doctor Blake Mysteries
In the late '50s, Dr. Lucien Blake (Craig McLachlan) returns to Ballarat, Australia, after 30 years to take over the medical practice of his late father and to be the medical examiner. As the show slowly unravels, it hints at Blake's complicated past during WWII (as a POW, possibly as a spy) and the family he lost (that takes several turns). He begins to build (or rebuild) a new one in his Ballarat household with his widowed housekeeper, Jean (Nadine Garner), whom he may be in love with despite denying all the rumors. Seasons 1-3 are currently available on Netflix; episodes also air on some PBS stations. No word on Seasons 4 and 5 that have aired in Australia.
Cable Girls (Las chicas del cable)
This Spanish offering from Netflix is off to a promising start, probably in part because it's from directors and producers of Velvet and Gran Hotel. Set in 1920s Madrid, the Netflix original follows a handful of women who work as operators for a telephone company; the show touches on struggles of an abused wife, a daughter of controlling society parents, a shy girl from a village and a closeted lesbian. But its central character really brings the drama up another notch: Alba Romero (Blanca Suárez) is a thief/prostitute who a policeman blackmails into robbing the phone company. Of course instead she comes to love the other women who work there … and she encounters Francisco (Yon Gonzalez, Gran Hotel), the love of her youth. The first season is now streaming on Netflix with more due to drop on Christmas. The show has already been renewed for another season in 2018.
Let's throw it all the way back to 1600s colonial Mexico! This miniseries dramatizes the life of a striking historical figure: Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th century nun, scholar, poet and philosopher. In a time when girls were often not educated, Juana Inés was a prodigy who mastered Latin and other languages, theology and sciences before reaching her teens, facing down an entire room full of priests, scholars and officials questioning her. She becomes a cloistered nun in an attempt to be left alone to study, but even then men continually try to stop her, ordering her books removed and stealing her work. Always on her side are the vicereines, with whom Juana Inés has an intimate relationship. All seven episodes are streaming on Netflix.
Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yüzyil)
How about an Ottoman Empire drama? Haven't seen one of those in … well, ever. This Turkish show dramatizes the life of Suleiman the Magnificent (Halit Ergenç, Ali and Nino), the longest-reigning Ottoman sultan, and his wife, Hurrem (Meryem Uzerli), who rose from a slave girl kidnapped in Crimea to become one of the most powerful women in history of the empire. Come for the (relatively sexless but oh-so-vicious) harem drama and strange slave/emperor love story, stay for the opulent costuming that showcases the uniquely East-meets-West culture of Turkey and the plethora of funny hats. Netflix only has Season 1 of 4, but that season is 48 episodes long, so it should keep you occupied for a while.
MORE HAREM INTRIGUE, YOU SAY? Okay, so this one is only about one third harem intrigue and the rest is family drama and siyaasat — politics. The Indian drama follows the late reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great and his son Salim, who becomes the Emperor Jahangir. The central story in Siyasaat is of Salim and Mehrunissa, who would become his 20th (?!?!) and final wife and later the empress Noor Jahan. The real story is pretty wild. Mehrunissa was already married when then-Prince Salim fell in love with her, and even after he became emperor and she a widow, she continued for several years to refuse him; eventually, she consented, and historians believe she was the power behind the throne for most of Jahangir's 22-year reign. Season 1 is on Netflix; no word yet on Season 2.
The Time in Between (El tiempo entre costuras)
If you want fashion-meets-spy drama, check out this Spanish miniseries. It follows young seamstress Sira (Adriana Ugarte, Palm Trees in the Snow), who rebuilds her life after an elopement to Morocco goes wrong amid the little matter of the Spanish Civil War. After building a dressmaking business in Morocco, she moves back to Madrid to build a couture clientele there with an assist from the British government, which enlists her help in spying on the wives of Nazi officers. Cue the intrigue. All 11 episodes are on Netflix.
El hotel de los secretos
This show is a Mexican remake of one of the most gasp-inducing, binge-worthy Spanish shows of all time, Gran Hotel, hands down one of the most addicting things I have ever watched. Sadly you can't stream the original Gran Hotel – Downton Abbey on steroids in Spain but with less #richpeopleproblems, more murder – right now, so you'll have to settle for the remade upstairs-downstairs tale in a fancy hotel. I can all but guarantee it'll still be full of baby-snatching, affairs galore and, yeah, lots of murders. The 80-episode Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.
When Calls the Heart
This Hallmark Channel show based on the books by Christian romance schmaltz master Janette Oke is just as cheesy as that sentence would lead you to believe. Set in a coal-mining town imaginatively called Coal Valley in the 1910s, the show follows young teacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow) as she moves away from her wealthy, big-city family to teach the poor coal miners' kids. And, you know, fall in love with Mountie Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing). Shoutout to Lori Loughlin, who plays a coal miner's widow – how'd you get to frontier Canada, Aunt Becky? Netflix just added Season 4, including a Christmas episode. You know you want some Christmas cheese!
The new miniseries based on the book by Margaret Atwood centers on Irish immigrant Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a poor domestic servant who was convicted of the murders of her employer and his housekeeper in 1843. A dash of history, murder and quiltmaking in Victorian Canada, Grace's story is relayed as she tells it to a psychiatrist (Edward Holcroft) and weaves an intricate quilt. Through the miniseries' six episodes you're left wondering if she really committed those crimes.
The Tudors/The Borgias/Borgia
Take your pick of back-stabbing dynasties. There are four seasons of The Tudors starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII, Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Superman Henry Cavill. There are three seasons each of the Borgia shows.
The modern standard for the period drama is streaming, in case you didn't know. 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'll admit I gave the show up about halfway through when a certain character died in the Christmas special (I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, DAN STEVENS AND JULIAN FELLOWES). All six season are on Amazon Prime.
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. If you don't, get on that now. (Also available on Hulu.)
Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman
Why yes this staple of '90s TV that your mom used to love is in fact currently available to stream. In case you've somehow forgotten, Jane Seymour starred as Michaela Quinn, a.k.a. "Dr. Mike," a physician from Boston who takes a job in Colorado Springs in the 1860s. She has to convince folks that a woman can be a doctor and of course falls in love with unruly mountain man Sully (Joe Lando). All six seasons are available on Prime.
Netflix may have The Tudors and The Crown, but Amazon has Wolf Hall, the Golden Globe winning miniseries about the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. The cast is a veritable who's who, including Mark Rylance as Cromwell, Damian Lewis as Henry VIII, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and even current Spider-Man Tom Holland as Gregory Cromwell. All six episodes are streaming on Amazon Prime.
The White Queen
The dynasty before the Tudors is at least as intriguing, though perhaps a little tamer than Henry VIII's wife-killing spree. The White Queen is set amid the War of the Roses, when the houses of York and Lancaster fought with one another for the throne. Based on Phillippa Gregory's novels, the story focuses mostly on three women, the "White Queen" Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), the "Red Queen" Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), who manipulate events behind the scenes of history to gain power. All 10 episodes are available on Amazon Prime; the related series The White Princess is available via the Starz channel on Prime.
Ross Poldark, played by the extremely attractive Aidan Turner, returns to Cornwall after fighting the American Revolutionary War, and his sweetheart Elizabeth has married his cousin. OUCH. But then he falls for his feisty red-headed kitchen maid. How's that for a cross-class romance? You can stream the first two seasons on Amazon Prime and the third with the PBS Masterpiece channel on Prime. Two seasons of the 1970s show and a 1996 movie are also available via channels.
Cranford and Return to Cranford
The women rule the roost in Cranford. The series based on a trio of novellas by Elizabeth Gaskell focuses on widowed and single women in the village of Cranford in the 1840s, including Dames Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins as sisters. The five original episodes are included with Prime, but you may have to pay extra for the Return to Cranford sequel (a Christmas special) that includes Michelle Dockery and Tom Hiddleston, among others.
This 2005 hit miniseries starring Gillian Anderson is also available on Amazon. If you're unfamiliar with the Charles Dickens classic, it revolves around a longstanding estate battle that hangs over the heads of many conflicting heirs, confused by multiple wills. Just try to keep all of the characters and their claims straight. I dare you. All 15 episodes are streaming on Amazon Prime. (Also available on Hulu.)
Continuing the hit parade of critically acclaimed miniseries, here's one for the Cumberbitches. This 2013 miniseries stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens, a government statistician and aristocrat who serves in the British Army during the First World War. Rebecca Hall co-stars as his wife, Sylvia, a flippant socialite who can't seem to remain faithful. All five episodes are on Amazon Prime.
To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters
This well-received 2016 TV movie takes you inside the lives of the famous Bronte sisters in the 1840s and their relative anonymity despite writing several masterpieces of English literature. In particular, it shows their relationship with their brother Branwell in the last few years of his life.
The original 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. A 2010 series of the same name continued the story. The 1970s series is available via the BritBox channel on Prime, and the 2010 series is available with a regular Prime subscription. (Also available on Hulu.)
Empresses in the Palace (The Legend of Zhen Huan)
More harem intrigue, you say? Lo and behold this Chinese series about the 18th century harem of the Qing Dynasty's Yongzheng Emperor (Chen Jianbin). In particular, it follows young Zhen Huan from wishing to be rejected from the harem so she can live a normal life to falling in love with the emperor to her eventual transformation to bitter dowager empress. There are murders, miscarriages and infertility schemes galore. But also everyone looks fab being evil, especially the outrageous hairstyles and accessories. The whole series has been available on Netflix and is currently available on Amazon Prime.
The Red Queen (Krosnaya Koroleva)
Unrelated to The White Queen, this Russian miniseries tells the story of Regina Zbarskaya (nee Kolesnikova), the first Soviet model to become a celebrity in the West, often referred to as the Soviet Sophia Loren. Don't get your hopes up for the description teasing involvement with the KGB, but the tale does take you through several tragic moments in Regina's life and showcase the struggle of artists (in fashion and beyond) under a strict Soviet regime at the height of the Cold War. All 12 episodes are on Amazon Prime. Brace yourself for the ending; it's a real kick in the gut.
Jane Eyre (2006)
You've seen one Jane Eyre you've seen them all, right? Wrong. But I probably have seen them all or close to it. This 2006 miniseries adaption is one I'll watch over and over, starring Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as Jane and Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester. That version is available on Hulu. (Amazon Prime has the 1970 TV movie with George Scott and Susannah York.)
Ever wonder what it was like to be a prostitute in 18th century London? Well, Hulu's original series will lay it out for you, exploring prostitution from "the whore's eye view," in a battle between two brothels in London's Covent Garden and Soho districts in 1763. Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) is a madame of a small brothel and mother to two daughters, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Lucy (Eloise Smith). Season 1 is available now; Season 2 is coming next year.
Lark Rise to Candleford
This popular period drama focuses on a couple of small towns in Oxfordshire in the late 1800s: Lark Rise, a small hamlet, and Candleford, a bigger market town. The story is mainly told through the eyes of teen Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan), who leaves Lark Rise to start her first job at the post office in Candleford. All four seasons are streaming on Hulu.
The Indian Doctor
This light-hearted BBC One drama tells the story of highly educated Indian doctor Prem Sharma (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and his upper class wife (Ayesha Dharker, Outsourced), who leave India in the 1960s hoping for a glamorous lifestyle in London. Instead they find themselves in a coal mining town in Wales. Oops. All three seasons are on Hulu.
War and Peace
If you've read Tolstoy's tome set during Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia, good for you. I'm given to thinking, however, that the story of romance, scandal and deceit amongst aristocratic families of Imperial Russia is more palatable as a miniseries, starring Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton in the leading roles as well as Gillian Anderson. All eight episodes (previously divided into six or four in various places) are streaming on Hulu.