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The Top Five Costume Dramas With a Happy Ending

Updated on March 27, 2013
A Room With A View
A Room With A View

Who says that dramas need to be dark to be engaging? Much of the world's best literature has been put on film, including some of the lighthearted and plot driven dramas of the 19th and 20th Centuries. While not without conflicts, the central themes in some of the more upbeat period piece movies revolve around the main characters encountering a series of challenges, and being forced to grow or confront their own fears and shortcomings. While no less engaging their dour counterparts, this list includes the top five costume drama films which end happily for their protagonists:

5. Wives and Daughters (1999) – Justine Waddell takes on the role of Molly Gibson, the sheltered daughter of a Scottish doctor, in this pleasing made for TV miniseries based on the 1886 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Molly’s pleasant world is shattered when her father gets remarried to a capricious woman with a daughter the same age as Molly. Molly befriends her stepsister, Cynthia, (Keely Hawes), who is beautiful and charming, often garnering the attention of suitors who might otherwise be interested in the plainer, kinder, Molly. Cynthia’s indecisive and unprincipled behavior exposes them both to ridicule. Meanwhile, Molly feels herself falling for the son of the local squire, who views her as a sister rather than a lover on account of her sweet and innocent demeanor. The movie ends on a happy note as the various subplots resolve.

4. Under the Greenwood Tree (2005) – A TV miniseries based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, a Victorian author usually known for his grim plots. Under the Greenwood Tree is surprisingly sanguine. Moving, and even funny at times, the movie chronicles events in the fictional town of Wessex, England. Fancy Day (Keely Hawes), a beautiful and educated school teacher, moves back to the town of her birth, and creates a stir as she tries to choose between three suitors. The potential husbands include a poor young farmer, a wealthy landowner, and a grandiose parson. The novel, as does the movie, focuses on issues of class and duty versus those of personal happiness. Fortunately, the main characters are able to reconcile all the conflicting demands placed upon them and find fulfillment.

3. A Room With A View (1985) A Merchant-Ivory directed adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel, this film is unique because of its success in bringing to life the incredible beauty of nature and love. Lucy Honeychurch (acted by an incredibly young Helena Bonham-Carter), travels to Florence, Italy, along with a chaperone. There the two proper English ladies meet young George Emerson (James Wiby) at a Pensione frequented by English travelers. While touring Tuscany together, George feels himself changed by the beauty and passion of Italy, so different from the stiff and demure culture of his native England. Feeling as though he has never known passion before, George kisses Lucy in a field filled with poppies. Lucy’s chaperone quickly discovers them, and whisk’s Lucy back to England, where she gets engaged to a proper but aloof English gentleman. As the film progresses, Lucy must learn to make choices based on her true nature; not on what society expects of her. The mood of the film is enhanced by a soundtrack which includes two glorious Puccini arias of the time period: “O Mio Babbino Caro,” (Gianni Schicchi) and “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (La Rondine).

2. Maurice (1987) – Based on the novel of the same name by E.M. Forster, Maurice is a film about forbidden sexuality and the oppressiveness of early 20th Century Edwardian culture. Set in England before the dawn of World War I, Maurice is a story about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality. Homosexuality was a crime in England until 1967, and criminal cases were still prosecuted during the time period in which Maurice is set. While this doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for a film with a happy ending, Maurice is as much about the triumph of self acceptance as it is about the protagonists finding personal happiness. Maurice (James Wilby), a young man from a middle class family, meets Clive (Hugh Grant) while a student at Oxford University. The two men become inseparable and both realize that something more than friendship is developing between them. Their happiness is cut short however, when a fellow student is tried and imprisoned for seducing another man. Clive eventually rejects Maurice in favor of a traditional life and marriage. After losing his first love, and questioning his own sanity, Maurice eventually finds happiness against all odds.

Jennifer Elle as Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
Jennifer Elle as Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice

1. Pride and Prejudice (1995) – The ultimate feel-good movie and costume drama based on the timeless novel by Jane Austen. At six hours long, the 1995 TV miniseries is by far the best screen adaptation; both because the length enables the narrative to run true to the original, and because of the incredible chemistry between the two leads. Jennifer Elle is gorgeous as Lizzy Bennett, the passionate yet principled daughter of a modest gentleman landowner in Derbyshire, England. Lizzy’s mother, an excitable woman eager to marry off her five daughters, comes from a merchant class background. A wealthy landowner, the handsome and brooding Mr. Darcy, brilliantly acted by Colin Firth, comes to the town of Merritton, where Mr. Bennett has his estate. Darcy's friend introduces him to the Bennett family, and Mr. Darcy snobbishly refuses to dance with Lizzy though he later admits that he finds her attractive. Lizzy becomes convinced of Darcy’s conceit, although his best friend is courting her sister. As the film progresses, the public behavior of some of the Bennett family members affirm Darcy’s belief that the Bennetts were not raised with the standards of propriety expected by the gentry. Nevertheless, his attraction to Lizzy increases in spite of her continued rejection of him. Both characters are forced to take a hard look at themselves as the film reaches its conclusion.

Happy viewing!

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