Period drama has been a staple of the big screen over the years; the last twenty years has been a great time for this genre.
We have seen literary adaptations and historic pieces, bringing together wonderfully talented casts.
- The Invisible Woman (2013)
Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this engrossing period drama focusing on the illicit relationship between Charles Dickens (a charismatic performance from Fiennes himself) and his mistress, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).
Fiennes shows a deft directorial touch for dealing with the sensitive subject matter, and Jones gives a standout performance as the fragile, emotionally repressed Nelly, who was almost written from history.
The Invisible Woman is one of the best movies to grace the big screen this year, as it boasts terrific performances from both Fiennes & Jones.
It is also great to see Fiennes back in the director's chair, as he has delivered a movie that really has been lovingly crafted.
- The Age of Innocence (1993)
Martin Scorsese directed this tale of 19th century New York high society in which a young lawyer, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, falls in love with his fiancé’s cousin, the Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) and in the process exposes the hypocrisy of the establishment.
Based on the novel by Edith Wharton of the same name, Scorsese said it was his ‘most violent’ film to date, referring to the emotional turmoil suffered by the principal characters.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer really are on sparkling form in The Age of Innocence, while Ryder also gives a wonderful performance.
It is beautifully shot, and really is a terrific piece of filmmaking.
- Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Ang Lee directed this adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, and Emma Thompson won a thoroughly deserved Oscar for her adapted screenplay.
She also turns in a pitch-perfect performance as the put-upon Elinor Dashwood, ably supported by Kate Winslet as flighty younger sister Marianne, while Hugh Grant, Greg Wise, and Alan Rickman play the various suitors which the Dashwood sisters must navigate.
Hard to believe that this movie will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year and it remains one of my favourite period dramas.
This is a stylish and witty adaptation of Jane Austen's terrific novel, and that is thanks to a wonderful script from Thompson. Her acting is also superb from start to finish, and she really carries this film.
- An Ideal Husband (1999)
Based on the Oscar Wilde play, this romantic comedy stars Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Minnie Driver in this tale of government minister Sir Robert Chiltern (Northam) who finds himself in hot water after an old acquaintance (Moore) threatens to uncover past misdeeds, throwing his perfect marriage into jeopardy.
He enlists the help of old friend, philanderer Lord Goring (Everett) and the resulting social satire is arguably Wilde’s funniest play.
The fun and wit in Wilde's play really has been translated on to the big screen - it can so often be lost during the adaptation process.
- Gosford Park (2001)
Julian Fellowes cut his teeth on this Oscar-winning screenplay long before Downton Abbey, but the similarities are evident in this exquisite 1930’s murder mystery.
Director Robert Altman uses the premise of a weekend away in the country to pick apart the hypocrisy and eccentricities of the British class system, and the whip-smart script is perfectly brought to life by a startling cast, headed up by Dames Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, Kristin Scott Thomas and Stephen Fry.
Gosford Park is another terrific period drama of recent years, which brought together one of the most impressive casts of all time: it is always exciting to see the likes of Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren & Michael Gambon in the same film.
From start to finish, this is a rich, entertaining, and funny movie: this really is one of Robert Altman's best movies.
- Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous work earned him a BAFTA for most promising newcomer and follows the trials and tribulations of the five Bennett sisters after two eligible bachelors move into town - Mr Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) and Mr Bingley (Simon Woods).
Wright was famously reluctant to cast Keira Knightley in the lead role of Elizabeth Bennett, deeming her ‘too attractive’... until he met her, and realised her tomboyish attitude was ideal for the role.
Pride & Prejudice was adapted once more back in 2005, as Joe Wright made his feature film directorial debut with the project.
This maybe a familiar tale, but there is an energy and a freshness to the acting and the direction. Knightley & MacFayden are terrific as Elizabeth and Darcy.
- Atonement (2007)
Arguably Joe Wright’s greatest film to date, this heart-breaking wartime drama based on Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel boasts a stellar cast, including James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saiorse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch and Vanessa Redgrave.
When the budding romance between Cecilia Tallis (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (McAvoy) is cut brutally short following a lie told by Bryony Tallis (Ronan), the repercussions span several decades. Wright’s tackling of the novel’s twist ending is a particular masterstroke.
Wright returned to the director's chair with Atonement after the success of Pride & Prejudice, and it was another wonderful adaptation.
Atonement was one of my favourite films of 2007, as it was a beautiful and true adaptation of a great book.
- The Duchess (2008)
This biographical drama chronicles the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, played by Keira Knightley.
A celebrity of the time, Georgiana's charm, activism, and fashion bring her adoration everywhere she goes.
But the stifling restraints of her controlling husband (Ralph Fiennes) lead her into a passionate affair with the younger Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper) highlighting the stark, appalling differences in treatment between men and women in the aristocracy of the 18th century.
The mid noughties sawy Knightley tackle a string of period movies, resulting in a series of terrific performances.
The Duchess was another fine performance, as she really got under the skin of this character: a woman who was held back and frustrated by the period in which she lived.
- The Young Victoria (2009)
Emily Blunt shines in this brilliantly crafted account of Queen Victoria’s early years on the throne, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
Tackling the tempestuous relationship with her mother and the constitutional crises she faced as a young monarch, Blunt is ably supported by Rupert Friend as Prince Albert, the suitor who eventually won her heart.
Emily Blunt is as charming as she is fierce in the central role, of a film that is rich with both personal drama as well as political intrigue.
However, it is the love story between Victoria and Albert that really is the centre of the film, and Blunt and Friend are just superb together.
- Jane Eyre (2011)
Mia Wasikowska takes the lead in Cory Fukunaga’s beautifully crafted, minimal adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic.
When the modest Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) arrives at Thornfield to take the position of governess, her relationship with her employer Mr Rochester (a hugely underrated performance by Michael Fassbender) rapidly crosses the professional boundary- until she discovers he’s harbouring a devastating secret.
The pairing of Wasikowska and Fassbender is what really makes this movie; they are simply perfect as Jane and Rochester. Fassbender in particular is enthralling to watch.
Now this may be a story that we have seen so many times but director Cary Fukunaga has brought a very fresh feel to this adaptation.
Jane Eyre is such a finely crafted movie that is filled with atmosphere and intrigue as well as fear and passion.
The Invisible Woman is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 16th June 2014, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.