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Top 10 Best Costume Drama Movies of All Time

Updated on April 25, 2013
Cast of the film Daniel Deronda
Cast of the film Daniel Deronda

These 10 costume dramas top the list of best period piece movies. Fans of literature, film, and history alike are often drawn to the costume drama genre. These superbly cast gems featuring incredible costumes and beautiful natural and historic settings, draw you in and make you feel as though you are living in the 19th century or the 1920s.From dapper suites to gorgeous gowns, intrigues, exploits, romance and tragedy, these movies have it all:

Middlemarch
Middlemarch | Source

10. Middlemarch (1994)

Middlemarch aired as a TV miniseries based on the George Elliot novel. Many intricate subplots revolve around the happenings in a fictional English town, Middlemarch. Dorothea Brook is an idealistic but naïve do-gooder, who marries an aging landowner that shares her intellectual aspirations. Her less than virile husband, Edward Casaubon, has spent his entire life working a Magnum Opus; The Key To All Mythology, which his wife has dutifully vowed to help him compile. But it seems as though he too cowardly to ever publish it. Meanwhile, problems develop in the marriage, as Casaubon senses a growing attraction between Dorothea and his handsome nephew, Ladislaw, a publisher and political activist who shares Dorothea's social goals.This costume drama movie gives poignant insight into 19th politics, social issues and women's rights.

Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville in Daniel Deronda
Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville in Daniel Deronda

9. Daniel Deronda (2002)

Daniel Deronda is a longish TV miniseries adapted from the novel by the female author who wrote Middlemarch under the nom de plume, George Elliot. Beautiful Gwendolen Harleth chooses an unfortunate marriage partner, driven by her vanity and materialism. An idealistic and handsome you gentleman, Daniel Deronda (Hugh Dancy), is clearly moved by her suffering and begins to fall in love with her. But fate has other plans for them both. Some of the most splendid Mediterranean scenes in Daniel Deronda were filmed in Malta. The beauty of the costume design in this film cannot be understated.

Enchanted April
Enchanted April | Source

8. Enchanted April (1991)

Enchanted April is a glorious film about the peace and serenity of Italy. Two London housewives reply to a newspaper add seeking those "who prefer wisteria and sunshine," over the cold, rainy English spring. Along with two female strangers, the group rents a house in Italy for the month of April. The four women find relaxation, happiness, love and better marriages in this lighthearted period piece film set in the 1920s.

The Last Mistress
The Last Mistress

7. The Last Mistress (2007)

The Last Mistress is a French film staring Fu'ad Aït Aattou as Ryno de Marigny, a penniless, philandering aristocrat engaged to a wealthy virginal heiress, Hermangarde. Ryno has a reputation as a rake, and before marrying her granddaughter off to him, Hermangarde's Grandmother demands to know if he has ended an infamous 10 year affair with his wild Spanish mistress, Villini (Asia Argento). Though the affair has ended, Ryno confesses that the two are not apart for want of passion, but because they could not bare to be together without tearing each other apart.

Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility | Source

6. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Based on the eponymous Jane Austen novel about two wildly different sisters, this popular 1995 film includes a well known cast including Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and Alan Rickman. The Dashwood sisters are left in near poverty after their father passes away, hurting their prospects for marriage.The ending is surprising despite Dashwood sister's poverty and a failed whirlwind romance.

Hugh Grant in Maurice
Hugh Grant in Maurice | Source

5. Maurice (1987)

Maurice is less well know, yet surprising gem directed by the duo Merchant and Ivory. 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 the film is set. Maurice is as much a period piece 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.

Bright Star
Bright Star | Source

4. Bright Star (2009)

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art. This film is based on the real life romance between the poet John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne. More than anything else, Bright Star channels the pastoral beauty of nature in the pre-industrial era. The costumes, natural setting, poetry and the wonderful cast, combine to deliver one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed.

Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace | Source

3. Amazing Grace (2007)

Named for the hymn written by a former slave ship captain, Amazing Grace details the story of MP William Wilberforce's life's work to abolish slavery in the British colonies. A young Methodist and idealist, William Wilberforce, and his friend prime minister William Pitt, take Parliament by storm as they seek to abolish the moral evil of slavery. But they will have to wait a long time for the opportunity as they take on powerful pro-slavery forces. This inspiring film reminds us to never give up fighting for what is right.

Master and Commander
Master and Commander | Source

2. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Russel Crowe is at his best as Captain James Aubrey in this amazing film adaptation from the 21 book series of historical fiction by Patrick O'brian. As much an action movie as a period piece, Master and Commander is derived from events in several of O'Brian's books. The film follows "Lucky Jack," and his ship the HMS Surprise, around South America during the Napoleonic wars. Along with his friend Stephen Maturin, the ship's doctor, Lucky Jack pursues a larger and faster French frigate hell bent on taking the war into the Pacific; to the Far Side of the World. This exciting, action packed look at naval history and tactics is anything but dull.

Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice

1. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

The ultimate costume drama movie based on the timeless novel by Jane Austen. At six hours long, the 1995 TV miniseries is by far the best and most popular screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; 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. 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.

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    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 4 years ago from Aurora

      I greatly enjoyed Sense and Sensibility. Thanks for tips on other movies of interest.

    • amandajoyshapiro profile image

      amandajoyshapiro 4 years ago

      The Last Mistress was less about wearing the costumes and more about taking them off. LOL. I also liked Bright Star and Amazing Grace. Abby Cornish's costumes were bright and yet inspired by nature, as your picture shows the dress matches the flowers. Two of my favorite costume dramas are Barry Lyndon and Marie Antoinette (actually both versions). Great list!

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 4 years ago from Midwest

      I love period pieces. I will have to check these out. Thanks for sharing!

    • Leah Gold profile image
      Author

      Leah Gold 4 years ago

      I agree!

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      I agree with you about Pride and Prejudice … and although there have been many versions it has to be the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle one for me too.

    • profile image

      julie 4 years ago

      Nicely written!!!! I am saving this so I can watch them all...

    • Leah Gold profile image
      Author

      Leah Gold 4 years ago

      Yes, I agree.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      I'm surprised to say that I've only seen one of those (Sense and Sensibility). Great film, though.

    • Gil Silva profile image

      Gil Silva 4 years ago from Porto, Portugal

      I agree with you. By the way, "Pride and Prejudice" is a wonderful movie . One of my favorites ever!