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The World's Best "Classical" Drama Movies - BBC, A&E, PBS and More...
My All-time Favorite Movies Based on the World's Greatest Literature
I am a book lover - always have been - always will be. It only follows then that I also LOVE to watch my favorite novels come to life on the big screen too. However, as we all know, when you love a good book, the movie is often a disappointing dud.
Listed below are my all-time favorite movies that are, in my humble opinion, just as good or, yes, even better than the book. While all of the following would typically fall into the "period drama" category, they are based on works from many different authors, written on several different continents and spanning hundreds of year.
The following works are listed in no particular order; however, very specific versions or editions have been chosen for a reason. The adaptions listed here have done a wonderful job of creating full and believable characters with realistic period settings and events that hold true to the original story (we cannot always say the same for other adaptions by the same name).
I sincerely hope this list brings many hours of delightful viewing to you and your family. As you will find, many of these adaptions are considered the best due to their length, so please plan accordingly and best of all, enjoy!
Pride & Prejudice
Ok, so you just can't create a list like this without including Jane Austen's brilliant and timeless masterpiece. I mean, really, who doesn't fall in love with Elisabeth, defend Darcy and crack up at Mrs. Bennet's hysterics!? Although there are many adaption available, I would only recommend the British BBC with A&E version shown below. It may be almost 5 hours long, but how else do you really get to know the characters?
North and South
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, this BBC miniseries was directed by Andrew Davies, the director of Pride and Prejudice. Definitely in my top 3 movies ever, this is one movie you don't want to miss! Ironically, I have to say that this is a case where I enjoy the movie much better than the book. At approximately 4 hours in length, it contains some of the best character development you will ever see and the movie as a whole keeps you on your toes until the very end.
Anne of Green Gables & Anne of Avonlea
Anne spelled with an 'e' - you just can't help but love this adorable red-haired orphan girl. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are priceless and Anne's adventures in Avonlea will keep you smiling. I love this movie so much I hope to one day be able to visit Prince Edward Island and see all of Anne's "old haunts". This PBS adaption is by far the best I have seen. It is available in 3 parts. Part one is Anne of Green Gables and follows hear early life in Avonlea. Anne of Avonlea, also called Anne of Green Gables the Sequel, follows Anne as she leaves the island and spreads her wings. These both follow the books to a tee and I highly recommend them. The third part, called Anne of Green Gables the Continuing Story, while still good as far as a movie goes, does not follow the books so you will have to decide if you want to continue after finishing Anne of Avonlea.
Where would a list like this be without a little Charles Dickens? Perhaps my favorite of all of Dicken's adaptions is the compelling story of Amy Dorrit. In true Dicken's style, the stories of many others are woven brilliantly throughout the story besides that of Amy. This is by far one of the longest classic dramas, so you will likely want to set aside two or three nights to take it in - but definitely well worth the effort!
Larkrise to Candelford
Based on Flora Thompson's work, Larkrise to Candelford is an exceptional British mini-series. I have to admit, in this case the series does not hold entirely true to the book, but as it is so good, I just could not resist including it here! It is an excellent drama that was adapted into four seasons. With characters like Minnie, Alf, Dorcus, Zilla, Twister, and Queanie how can you resist? :) Seriously though, Laura Timmons is a great character to follow as she leaves Larkrise for the Candelford Post Office and does a lot of learning and loving as she grows up.
A "gift" that changed a life - that is how I sum up this wonderful story. While great on the page, this adaption of Victor Hugo's masterpiece really comes to life with sound acting and period props. Please note, this video is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images. (And yes, I realize there is a newer Hollywood version that has won some major awards, but personally, I still like this adaption better. Unlike the new edition which is classified as a musical, the older version is a regular movie and therefore more to my liking.) A timeless tale for a changing world...
It is funny, but while you can easily say that many of Dicken's works were 'bleak', Bleak House (to me) does not seem to be one of them. Perhaps it is because I am so enraptured with this story's leading lady and all of the surrounding plots - there are a lot of intriquing plot lines happening here! Every time I watch it, it keeps me on my toes to the very end even though I already know what happens :). Do be forewarned though as this is another long one!
Perhaps best known for works like Little Women and Little Men, one of my favorite novels by Louisa May Alcott has always been The Inheritance. While some will say that the plot is somewhat contrived, and well it may be, it is still a beautiful story with a noble heroine. It is also the shortest of the movies listed here, so you can easily watch it in one sitting.
Another of Jane Austen's brilliant stories, Mansfield Park portrays some of its characters in ways that many other authors of this time period were hesitant to do. Fanny Price is one of those characters you just can't help cheering on from beginning to end as she stays true to herself and what she knows is right. Please do be aware that this is rated PG13 for some thematic elements.
Growing up, everyone at our local library knew me as I was there almost everyday. One day, when I went to check out some of Foresster's books the librarian explained that the movies, which were just starting to come out, were noble and honorable, but the books contained many "risque" parts. Therefore, if you are only familiar with the books, please know that Horatio and his exploits in the movie are kept at a "higher level" and are suitable for family viewing. There are a total of eight movies in this tv series, including: The Duel (1998), The Fire Ships (1998), The Duchess and the Devil (1998), The Wrong War (1999), Mutiny (2001), Retribution (2001), Loyalty (2003), and Duty (2003).
Wives & Daughters
Written by Elizabeth Gaskel, author of North and South, this is the beautifully spun story of a girl who only wanted some time with her "papa" and all the "adventures" that came along as this self-sacrificing girl matured into a woman. Like so many pieces from this period, the characters are well rounded and the story line follows so many diverse and intriguing threads. Another long one, but another great one!
Jo Marge - what a character! Louisa May Alcott spun such a moving story when she invented Jo and her sisters. I love that Jo is a writer herself and you get to experience her literary ups and downs. While there are many adaptions of Little Women available, I am still partial to the older version shown below. I actually just made my first popover recipe this week just like the little women had on Christmas morning and they were delicious. Enjoy!
Sense and Sensibility
The title tells so much in this Austen masterpiece. Who has sense and who is sensible in this period drama? You will have to watch to see, but believe me when I say you will very much enjoy the journey. As with all of Austen's woks, there are many adaptions available, personally I prefer this somewhat older one listed below due to its in depth character development and moving scenery. Do not miss out on this one!
Own Your Own Classic...
I personally own all of the above classics and have watched them dozens of times! They never grow old on me and their stories continue to speak to my heart. I think I have watched North & South the most in the past couple of years, while it was Anne of Green Gables before that. I just finished Larkrise to Candelford with my sister who had never seen it before and she loved it too. One of my best memories is watching Pride and Prejudice with my grandma for the first time. Your local library may have some of these titles available for checkout, otherwise, your best (and cheapest) option is probably to just pick them up on Amazon. You can follow the link at right to search around for the ones you think you will most enjoy... (all of the DVD cover images shown above are courtesy of Amazon).
All of these movies are based on famous classics, so they should all be great, right? However, I understand there are a lot of options and not everyone may be familiar with these great stories. Soooo, here are a few free trailers or 'snippets' of introduction to wet the palette...
I hope these movie suggestions help broaden your 'classical' viewing horizons. Remember though, these are just my favorites, there are many more out there... Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below!