You’ve heard it a million times by now: these are strange, difficult, unprecedented, insert-adjective-of-your-choice times. It seems like all there is to do is watch Netflix and reminisce on better times, before coronavirus was a thing and you couldn’t see your friends and family. Sometimes, you want to go back even further than ‘better times’, way back to a time before you were even alive. That’s where period dramas come in handy – the perfect form of escapism, as they take you to a world completely different to your own, while remaining recognisable.
So, if you’re running out of things to watch, why not give these a go?
Yorgos Lanthimos’ black comedy The Favourite generated a serious amount of buzz when it was released in 2018, and if you haven’t seen it yet, now is the perfect time. Starring Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and of course Olivia Colman, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Anne. It is set in 18th-century England, and follows Queen Anne and her lovers as they each try to outmanoeuvre one another and maintain the queen’s favour. The beautiful costumes make the period in which the film is set very clear, but Lanthimos is able to inject a sense of modernity into the film that means it will appeal even to those who do not normally enjoy period dramas.
The Favourite is available on Amazon.
Prostitutes are often featured in period films or TV shows, but they’re rarely more than a prop in the protagonist’s story, a side character there to provide some gratuitous sex scenes and maybe get beaten up a bit. Often, they don’t even have names. Well, British-American period drama series Harlots bucks this trend by putting these women front and centre, letting them tell their own stories for a change. Some of them are likeable, some of them are awful, some of them are a bit of both, but they all have a depth that such characters are rarely given, and it makes for refreshing viewing. The show isn’t all about sex, as you might imagine from the premise (although this is of course part of it); it’s about family, it’s about survival and it’s about getting stuff done with the power you can make for yourself. It touches on many social issues, such as sexism and racism, while still having fun along the way. And if nothing else, watch it for the amazing 1700s fashion!
Harlots is available on Amazon.
The Last Kingdom
Of course, you could step back further in time with Netflix’s The Last Kingdom, set in the Saxon invasion of England. This show follows Uhtred of Bebbanburg and his band of merry men as he sets out to reclaim his kingdom, and gets into all sorts of adventures along the way. The story line weaves fact and fiction into an action-packed plot that will keep you entertained while also teaching you a few things about the history of the unification of England. If you were a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll love the action and the setting, although you might miss the dragons.
The Last Kingdom is available on Netflix.
If sex, violence and political intrigue are not your scene, then Greta Gerwig’s recent, much-lauded adaptation of Little Women may be more your style. Featuring a strong cast led by Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet, Gerwig reimagines Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel beautifully. The film tells the story of the four March sisters trying to find their place in the world, and the family dynamic feels extremely real, particularly the relationship between Jo and Amy, who love each other desperately and want to hurt each other as much as they can. The romance in the story is dealt with a delicate hand, never overwhelming the film entirely. Ultimately, this film is about sisterhood, growing up and finding kindness in a world that can be cruel.
Little Women is available on Amazon and YouTube.
Another film starring Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn is set in 1951 and follows Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant who emigrates to Brooklyn. When she gets there, she falls in love with a handsome Italian-American, and the film becomes a beautiful love story, although not without its obstacles. There comes a point in the film where Eilis must choose between the comfort and familiarity of Ireland and the promise of America, a predicament that will ring true for people who have experienced leaving one life for another. Whether you watch it for the love story, the 50s fashion or just for Saoirse Ronan, you certainly won’t regret it.
Brooklyn is available on Amazon and YouTube.