A Better British List

Last weekend I made quite the shocking discovery. While conducting some research on possible movies to watch, I came across the most blasphemous list of top British period dramas in the IMDB. The cause for my harsh accusation stemmed from this particular ranking:

  • #2 Pride & Prejudice (2005) ft. Kiera Knightly;
  • #3 BBC’s Pride & Prejudice (1995)  ft. Colin Firth.

Yes, consider the travesty… the creator of this list should be severely punished. It is inconceivable that any true appreciator of British period drama could have written this list. Not only was BBC’s P&P not in its rightful first-place position, but Kiera Knightly’s version trumped it! I nearly needed my smelling salts to keep from fainting.

Since my earliest memories, I have been curiously drawn to two things: pioneers (including pioneer-esque lifestyles) and British things. From scones, tea, refined accents, romantic castles, the royal family, to Mr. Bean, the British people know how to do things. My favourite film genre is undoubtedly sweeping British period dramas, especially when Colin Firth is involved. I wouldn’t go as far to call me an “expert,” but I will claim to have much better taste than the impostor who wrote that excuse of a top British romance list.

And so, for the true appreciator of fine quality British period dramas, feast your eyes on the following list of my personal top films:

1. BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Yes, you knew this was coming. Undoubtedly, this particular portrayal of the classic Jane Austen romance in the 1995 mini-series is the truest in form to the late Ms. Austen’s famous 1813 novel. Exploring the tribulations of a woman’s dependency on marriage for economic status in the early 19th century, the themes of propriety, class, education, and family still speaks to modern audiences. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darsy respectively held one of the most realistic and heated chemistries ever on screen. Especially exceptional when you consider their first kiss occurs in the film’s final minute!

2. Anna and the King, 1999

I’m going to get some slack for this, but Jodie Foster is absolutely divine as the widowed English schoolteacher who sets out to tutor the King of Siam’s offspring in the 19th century. Though the film is set on the opposite side of the world, historical British themes of colonialism, women’s roles, royal duties, and class are woven into a a sweeping romance that climaxes in one final, slow dance. You will definitely need tissues handy for this one!

3. Downton Abbey, 2010-present

BBC does it yet again in this television series following the lives of a British upper nobility family and their household of servants at the turn of the 20th century. War, heirs, affairs, scandal, bankruptcy, murder trials, running off with the chauffeur … this show has it all. The costumes, sets, and ensemble cast are a feast for your senses. I challenge anyone to watch the first episode and not become addicted.

4. The Duchess, 2008

Kiera Knightly has her place in this epic biographical picture about the life and times of the Duchess of Grey, the “it” girl of the 18th century. Trapped in a loveless marriage at age seventeen to a Duke twice her age, the Duchess rises to fame as a trend-setter, social butterfly, and arguably the first female politicker in British parliament. Despite being adored by British society, she can’t manage to draw the same affection from her own husband. I’d recommend this movie even if just to drool over her fabulous costumes.

5. Atonement, 2007

Clearly I have nothing against Kiera Knightly because she appears yet again in my fifth pick, a tragic love story set before and during the First World War. An upper class thirteen year old girl irrevocably changes the course of several lives when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a crime he did not commit. This is another one in which you will need to keep tissues handy.

I’m sure I will have many people disagree, so if you do, all I ask is that you use this as an opportunity to comment!

What films or series would you add to this list?

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UPDATE: North and South replaces Atonement in Top Five position!

After watching the 2004 mini-series North and South, I must bump Atonement out of the Top Five list. North and South follows middle-class southerner Margaret Hale as she is forced to move up north to the cotton-milling industrial town of Milton. Richard Armitage’s portrayal as brooding, misunderstood cotton mill owner is nearly (and I said nearly) as wonderful as Firth’s Darcy.

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Liked this post? Check out my previous movie kerfuffle with Howie