Need a good period film to watch? Here are 20 romantic period dramas to choose from for your next girls’ movie night! Although they make good “chick flicks,” all of these movies are good quality, with engaging story lines and memorable characters.
I’m pretty bookish and I certainly don’t advocate spending most of your evenings in front of a TV, but I adore the occasional girls’ movie night! I want–and I’d even say I need–these times to connect with kindred spirits and enjoy good stories (and tea) together.
And by the way, I really do think it has to be tea for girls’ night, if you’re watching a period film. You can have margaritas when you watch the latest chick flick romantic comedy, but for the period films, please do sip tea.
For the next time you plan your own girls’ night, here are 20 period films that are well worth a watch, and may even become a new favourite. I’ve personally watched all of these, and many of you corroborated the suggestions when I asked your opinion on Facebook.
You should know that there are no musicals on this list (I had to draw parameters somewhere!), and no films that weren’t actually period at the time they were made. You also won’t find any long TV series that go for multiple seasons, but do check the times on the following movies and miniseries, because some will probably take you a few different get-togethers to watch.
Also, since this is girls’ night, all of the picks below have romance in them. This explains why one of my absolute favourite period films of all time and space is not on this list.*
Roughly in chronological order, here are
20 Period Films for Girls’ Movie Night
(Click each title to go to the movie’s Amazon listing, if you want to read more reviews! Also, sidenote: If you want to add some of these titles to your permanent collection for free, I recommend earning Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks. Swagbucks is a search engine that randomly gives you “Swag” points when you search for things online. You can redeem the points for all kinds of prizes and gift cards, but I almost always use it for Amazon! You can learn more through my referral link, and when you refer friends you’ll get extra Swagbucks, too!)
1. Ever After
There are certainly some timeline inaccuracies in this, but it’s fun to watch a fairy tale set in a real place and historical setting, rather than an undisclosed fantasy world. This is Cinderella, without magic but with plenty of charm.
2. Lady Jane
This movie takes lots of imaginative liberties with the true story of fifteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for only nine days. I don’t mind the liberties, because it’s a beautiful albeit tragic love story! There is some nudity in this movie, as I recall, but it’s not too scandalous.
It would be cheeky for me to say that this one has witty dialogue because…well…SHAKESPEARE! Kenneth Branagh knocks it out of the park, of course, and it’s fun to watch the chemistry between him and Emma Thompson, to whom he was married at the time.
This is the story of a brave English nobleman who dons disguises to rescue aristocrats from the Guillotine during the French Revolution. There’s a black-and-white version of this story starring Leslie Howard which is decent, and an uncomfortable version that I recommend you stay away from altogether! If you have qualms about the amazing 1982 version departing from the book, it might relieve you to know that this miniseries actually combines two of Emmuska Orczy’s Pimpernel novels, and that’s where some of the differences emerge!
There’s been a run of very good Jane Austen films and miniseries in the last decade or so, but the 1995 Sense and Sensibility remains a fan favourite that’s near perfection. And, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, it’s time to rewatch it to honour Alan Rickman’s passing earlier this year.
6. Jane Eyre
There are several good versions of Jane Eyre, but the recent one with Mia Wasikowska is stunning. And if the piano music in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice swept you off your feet, you’ll fall hard for this score–Dario Marianelli composed for both films, but this one features the violin.
This is a lesser-known gem of a movie based on a novella that Lousia May Alcott wrote when she was a teenager. It’s a sweet love story and the fact that the plot is somewhat predictable makes it no less enjoyable.
This is a charming adaptation of an oft-overlooked novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote the more widely-known North and South*. It’s an episodic, meandering story that takes place in a small English village occupied–and in many ways ruled–primarily by women! It’s funny, and what your mom would call “heartwarming,” and will pull you in quietly but irrevocably. (Note: This miniseries pulls in plots from a few of Gaskell’s short novels, so if you’re wondering why it “adds” to the book, this is why!)
*North and South has a miniseries adaptation that would also be good for a girls’ night, but personally I think it really needs a remake!
For a darker, atmospheric pick, watch this haunting adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s classic Gothic novel.
If you watch this movie with your husband he will criticize Scarlett O’Hara mercilessly (and rightfully so!), but if you watch it with your girlfriends you can give her a pass and let yourselves get caught up in the luxury, loss, and melodrama of the Civil War era South.
This long but highly-worth-the-watch adaptation of Dickens’s last completed novel interweaves intrigue, hidden identities, multiples romances, and unforgettable characters with deft BBC skill. The novel is one of my favourites of all time, and I endorse this miniseries adaptation(:
This is a Victorian-era drama about an only child who must adjust to life with a new stepmother and stepsister. It’s another Gaskell novel adaptation. I think of it as an Austen-esque romance with a Dickensian setting.
13. Little Women
I can’t imagine a list of period films without Little Women! It was one of the few movies I saw in the theater growing up. It captured my heart then, and stole it every re-watch since.
People (like me) who have read Thomas Hardy’s novel agree that this recent adaptation captures the book beautifully. The romances in this story don’t take place in prim parlors and fancy balls–it’s a rural, rough-around-the-edges setting permeated with the wild beauty of the countryside, and those who are the most at home in it are the ones that find lasting love.
This romance for horse lovers takes place in the Australian Snowy Mountains, and tells the story of a cowboy who falls in love with his boss’s daughter. What’s not to love? The movie is a little bit cheesy, but that’s completely excusable for girls’ night!
This is an interesting turn-of-the-century American story about a widowed farmer who places an advertisement for a wife. Sarah Wheaton responds to his ad, and moves out to Kansas to help her new husband raise his son and daughter. There are two sequels to the movie; Skylark is quite good, but I haven’t watched Winter’s End.
17. An Ideal Husband
This adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play is full of witty dialogue and clever twists. And go check out the cast! Reason enough to watch it, right there!
This story sweeps me off my feet every time I watch it! I’m re-reading the books right now, and I’m struck by how well Kevin Sullivan portrays them in this and the sequel. You get major bonus points if you make Raspberry Cordial to sip while you watch these!
This story is quite cheesy, but very sweet and a little haunting at the same time. The corniness will definitely make you giggle at times, but you’ll also swoon at the lovely Anne-of-Green-Gables-era setting and the Mackinac Island scenery.
For a classic and intriguing princess story, this one doesn’t disappoint! The costumes are gorgeous, and the acting is top-notch (even if the romance between Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner is a little unusual.) If you’re a fan of the animated movie, you might agree with me that it borrows heavily from this earlier film.
I could watch any of these films at a moment’s notice. Are you curious what my favourite one is, though? It’s the Scarlet Pimpernel. Yes, I think even more so than Anne.
*There is romance in Master and Commander, but it’s not between a man and a woman; it’s the romance of tall ships and high seas.