Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top Ten Costume Dramas

I have just finished watching the fantastic mini-series "Edward the King (Edward the Seventh)", which covers the reign of both the king and his mother, Queen Victoria. It is a really interesting perspective on the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th from the point of view of the English monarchy. (Although it just reinforces my opinion that Kaiser Wilhelm I was KRAZY! and Victoria had a bit of KRAZY herself.) It has been especially fun to watch after seeing The Young Victoria, "Victoria & Albert", and Tom Baker chewing the scenery in Nicholas & Alexandra. I am definitely going to add it to my Netflix list of favorite British costume dramas, which is now up to 35 films.

Looking the list over, I have been trying to determine what my top ten British costume dramas would be, and I think that I have narrowed it down. So here, without further ado is my list of my favorite costume dramas (subject to change as new films/miniseries are produced.) I am not going to recap or analyze the productions, just give you a few notes about what I love about them.

10. "Horatio Hornblower": an exciting story set during the Napoleonic wars, this series follows the adventures of heroic young Lt. Hornblower, from his first days in the Royal Navy, battling seasickness AND the French, through his promotion to his own command. Extremely well played by Ioan Gruffudd and a terrific supporting cast including the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew. "BEAT TO QUARTERS!!" was the start up message on my cell phone for years.

9. Anne of the Thousand Days: my absolute favorite version of the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn story. (It also happens to be one that is more historically accurate.) Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold play their parts with such intensity and passion; it's hard not to imagine that energy didn't get taken off the set. ;) (Elizabeth Taylor stuck around to make sure it didn't.) Bujold's costumes are out of this world; it isn't surprising that it took home the Oscar for best costume design.

8. "North & South": What is it about handsome, brooding Englishmen that makes all the girls go weak in the knees? and brings out the worst in proud, headstrong young women? This mini-series set in the Victorian industrial north of England has some serious moments as it takes on the struggle of the laboring classes, but really the struggling love story between John Thornton and Margaret Hale is what is I love the best. (The scene on the train platform... SIGH.) Beautiful musical themes by Martin Phipps and gorgeous dresses on the ladies.

7. "Cranford": I love that overall this mini-series is about a nice little town with people who are a bit quirky, but are overall nice to each other as they all try to adapt and move with the times. The ladies of Cranford are just delightful. I want to drink lots of tea during calling hours and give them all big hugs. I also want to give hugs to Mr. Carter and little Harry in their little subplot. Oh, I wish there were more shows on television about nice little 19th century towns. Oh wait, there are!

6. "Bleak House": I didn't like this show when I first watched it on PBS, but rewatching on dvd gave me a MUCH greater appreciation for it. Dickens writes characters so well, and this production includes people who can really play "characters". Burn Gorman is so wonderfully horrible as "Mr. Guppy" that I can't take my eyes off of him, and Charles Dance's "Mr. Tulkinghorn" has made me complete forget that I loved him in "The Jewel in the Crown". Over the course of the series, I laugh, cry, despair, and hope. Sometimes I wish Mr. Jarndyce would adopt me. My cell phone now says "Shake me up, Judy" when it starts.

5. Gosford Park: a hilarious murder mystery/social commentary, set in a country manor house in the 1920s, complete with an all star cast of the best of Britain, and directed by Robert Altman? What's not to love!?! The fact that it has to end!! An added bonus is Jeremy Northam's gorgeous singing as he portrays actor/songwriter Ivor Novello. (I had no idea that Mr. Knightley had such a lovely tenor.) I love to watch this movie when I am feeling sick or blue.

4. Sense and Sensibility: I love this story of the Dashwood sisters; I can completely relate to their closeness. The film is incredibly romantic (hello, Col. Brandon!), and I end up crying at some point every time I watch it. It is very cathartic! (Although, Hugh Grant is sort of ridiculous.) Kate Winslet should have won the Oscar for this one; her on-screen sister, Emma Thompson, took one home for adapting the novel for the screen. (She also took home Willoughby; she and co-star Greg Wise married in 2003.) Patrick Doyle's score is one of his best.

3. Brideshead Revisited: a beautiful adaptation of Waugh's novel. You'll fall in love and break your heart with the Flyte family. Anthony Andrews is wonderful as Sebastian; he makes him lovable, sympathetic and complicated. You can't help, much like Charles, but be drawn to him. John Gielgud steals all of his scenes as Mr. Ryder, the man you love to hate! So great acting, plus amazing locations, including the Queen Mary. I desperately want to visit Castle Howard, which doubled for Brideshead in this series and in the (seriously inferior) film that came out in 2008.

2. A Room with a View: I watched this film once a week for an entire year when I was in college. It would just sweep me out of the dorm and into Edwardian Europe. The film is beautiful and romantic and shows off the heavenly Italian and English countrysides. (I couldn't decide for the longest time which was more wonderful.) The music just enhances the dreaminess of this story. (Not to mention the dreaminess of young Julian Sands and Rupert Graves.) I am resolved to make it to Florence and will have a room with a view of my very own, and hopefully it will have a Mr. Emerson to go along with it.

1. "Pride and Prejudice" (1995): I really can't say anything new about this one. It is the definitive interpretation of the Jane Austen novel, and I have owned it in all its forms: VHS, DVD, and now BluRay. Perfectly cast and extremely faithful to the book. The first time I watched it, I felt as if the book had suddenly come to life. The costumes and the locations make me wish that I was living in Regency England. (Well, until I think seriously about things like money...and plumbing. Thanks "Regency House Party" for pointing that out.) Mr. Darcy, sigh. Mr. Collins, snort. Miss Eliza Bennet, twinkle.

So here is my list. I'd love to hear if you agree or any suggestions you might have for costume dramas that would be on your list.


  1. Melanie, I sooo agree with your list. I've seen and loved them all multiple times. I must say, though, that my most recent viewing of Brideshead Revisited moved it down on my favorites list as it seems just too grim for me these days. Much prefer the ones set in a sweet little village with some quirky people.

    Speaking of which, have you seen Lark Rise to Candleford? It is a delightful series set in not one but two sweet little villages, one even smaller and quirkier than the other.

  2. Jean, your comment made me smile because if you look closely, there is a little link in my "Cranford" write up to the "Lark Rise" website!! I LOVE that show; it makes me sooooo happy. I can't wait for the third one to come out on dvd.

    I understand your feeling about "Brideshead Revisited" moving down the list. It certainly is much darker than most of the other shows on my list, and, even though I rank it high, I certainly can't watch it over and over again like "Cranford" or "Pride and Prejudice." But it made a huge impression on me and isn't something I will ever forget.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...