25 British Period Drama Mini-Series You Can Watch Right Now

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Dear readers, the holidays are here! Perhaps your family is squabbling, or your friends are worrying about where to go and whom to kiss when the ball drops, and the youngest folks in your life are playing with their toys and…you can’t take it anymore. You just want to spend some quality time with people who really get you.

People with British accents, bad or good. People in elaborate costumes. People who reappear in multiple-episode arcs. People, dear readers, who are the characters in sentimentality and scheme-saturated British television.

Well, we’ve got your back. So don your favorite wearable blanket, pour yourself a glass of something delicious, and check out these streaming British (or British-ish) period drama mini-series that are available right now.

(Note: we’re linking you to paid services but plenty of these can be watched with a clever Google search or two. Shh!)

Reign

A new teen drama about Mary Queen of Scots that is as turgid and absurd. Banners and brogues and beheadings, oh my! (Watch at Netflix.)

Call the Midwife

The war is over, but in the poorest section in London is still suffering. Enter a group of nuns on bikes. It’s hard to explain the appeal of this show to the uninitiated, but it’s absolutely the best kind of British TV, weepy and slapsticky all at once, filled with fascinating medical history to boot. (Watch at Netflix.)

The Tudors

Broody Jonathan Rhys-Myers as Henry VIII means more sex, murder, palace intrigue and religiously-motivated executions than you can shake a sword at. Protestants and Catholics were not that into each other back then, you see. (Watch the wives get divorced, beheaded, die, get divorced, beheaded and survive on Netflix.)

Pride & Prejudice

Honestly, if you consider yourself a literature fan and you haven’t watched this definitive, world-changing Austen adaptation with sparkling dialogue and Colin Firth’s Darcy fencing and jumping into ponds, you have failed at life, and not in a gentlemanlike manner, either. (Redeem yourself from disgrace at Hulu.)

The Forsyte Saga

This was like the original Downton Abbey, set in the the Victorian era, a beloved miniseries which followed an entire aristocratic clan through scandal after scandal. (Watch at Netflix.)

Wives & Daughters

From Elizabeth Gaskell’s unfinished masterpiece about stepmothers, stepsisters, and secrets, this is honestly one of the greatest examples of the adaptation-as-miniseries form. It moves through social-climbing, illness, inheritance drama and all that good stuff, is expertly scripted by Andrew Davies and acted by a cast of well-loved regulars on the Period Drama circuit. I guarantee you will love this one. (Watch at Netflix.)

The Borgias

The show about Renaissance-era Florentine mobsters and cardinals (or mobster-cardinals) that makes The Tudors look calm and not soapy at all. But it’s worth it for the Jeremy Irons hamming it up in a Pope costume factor. (Be absolved at Netflix.)

Bleak House

One of TV’s, um, bleaker Dickens adaptations. Watch it for an infamously-long lawsuit, a creepily perfect performance from Gillian Anderson and a character with a very thick accent, named Guppy. (Spontaneously combust at Netflix.)

Daniel Deronda

A close study of aristocratic cruelty and shallowness, plus: a subplot about Jews. Early performances by faves Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai make this adaptation of George Elliot’s half-brilliant, half-bizarre novel well worth watching. (Watch at Neflix.)

The Paradise

A twist on a Zola novel set in England at an early incarnation of the department store. Expect verboten cross-class fraternizing and gossiping in the glove department. Bonus: no Jeremy Piven. (Shop around at Netflix.)

Sense and Sensibility

The Emma Thompson film adaptation of Austen’s novel about sisters may be one of the best, but give this mini-series a try. It’s got some gorgeous shots of isolated coastal scenery and a memorable scene of Dan Stevens, pre-Downton Abbey, chopping wood. In the rain. Because he’s, you know, frustrated by the restrictions of society. Aren’t we all? (Relieve your frustration at Hulu.)

The Buccaneers

This is a personal favorite, an adaptation of Wharton’s unfinished final novel about four new-money American heiresses who go to England to snag themselves some aristocrats on the verge of bankruptcy. There’s a lot of really awful, painful stuff within, as though Wharton’s lifelong critique of marriage-as-transaction reached fever pitch. And yet it’s riveting, while the huge bustles and tiny waists are quite something to behold. (Behold the bustles at Hulu.)

The Way We Live Now

Cillian Murphy and Matthew MacFayden star in a miniseries based on Trollope’s greatest social criticism novel which follows swindlers, social climbers, rakes, hustlers, adventuresses and other lovely people you’d be thrilled to meet in Victorian England. (Watch at Neflix.)

Ripper Street

A bit bloodier than some of the others on this list, given its Victorian murder subject matter, but let’s not count that against it. As the Boston Globe notes, “Set in the dirty, seedy, and anarchic streets of Victorian England, it’s distinctive and unlike most of what’s out there already.” Also, it stars perennial favorite Matthew MacFayden, and get a load of those costumes. (Shiver at Amazon.)

Middlemarch

If you enjoyed Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch this year, treat yourself to this lavish, faithful adaptation of George Elliot’s masterpiece with a young, passionate Rufus Sewell stealing scenes as young, passionate Will Ladislaw. (Watch at Netflix.)

He Knew He Was Right

Spoiler alert: he was wrong. Another studious adaptation of a sharp, cynical Trollope novel. (Cringe at Netflix.)

Scarlet and Black

Ewan McGregor and Rachel Weisz are very, very young and very very smouldery in this seductive Stendhal adaptation. (Watch it on Netflix.)

Under the Greenwood Tree

A Thomas Hardy adaptation about country life that doesn’t make you want to bury your head in the pillow with unending despair? Sign me up. (At Netflix.)

Emma

Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller anchor a truly lovely BBC adaptation of Austen’s novel of adolescent foolishness, privilege, and interfering in your neighbors’ business. Almost as good as Clueless. High praise indeed! (Meddle in your town’s affairs at Hulu.)

North & South

Simply the best, as we’ve said before. Discover mini-series perfection streaming at Netflix.

Cranford

A delightful mini-series that is part Elizabeth Gaskell, part BBC inventiveness, all Judy Dench, Eileen Atkins and Imelda Staunton hamming it up. (Get incensed about the changing times at Amazon Prime.)

Little Dorrit

Dickens’ tale of a young girl born in a debtor’s prison and her romantic adventures, as well as her family’s sudden windfall, gets a full six-hour treatment with Andy Serkis playing the French(ish) villain with hammy abandon. Is it a moralistic fable about greed and money? Dickens wrote it. Of course it is. (Go from rags to riches at Hulu.)

David Copperfield

A tiny Daniel Radcliffe plays an orphan (in the role that caught the eye of the Harry Potter team) and Maggie Smith is his benefactress in this reworking of my favorite Dickens. Bonus appearance from Ian McKellen as a sadistic schoolmaster. (Watch it at Hulu.)

Lark Rise to Candleford

This chronicle of two contrasting communities was a popular and divisive show on the BBC for many years. As one critic wrote upon its end, “Where else can I learn about the coming of the mechanized ploughshare, or the vagaries of Victorian sex education?” Where else, indeed? (Watch it at Hulu.)

Lost in Austen

The best modern mash-up of Austen also offers a wry commentary on our occasionally inflexible attachment to our favorite plots and characters in literature. (Suspend your scolding and give it a whirl, at Hulu.)