14 of the best British period drama movies of 2017

With so many brilliant British period dramas on television in 2017, you may have missed some wonderful movies at the cinema.

Here, in alphabetical order, are ten of 2017’s best British period drama movies.

 

Breathe

What’s it about?

The directorial debut of The Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis, Breathe tells the true story of Robin Cavendish, who became a pioneering advocate for the disabled on being told he had only months to live after being paralysed from the neck down by polio at the age of 28.

The biographical drama follows Robin and his wife Diana as they travel around the world with the hopes of transforming the lives of others like him.

Who’s in it?

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) and Claire Foy (The Crown) are joined by Downton Abbey stars Ed Speleers and Hugh Bonneville, with Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) and Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones).

What did the reviews say?

“It’s a gorgeous, romantic drama that earns its emotional resonance without venturing beyond the most familiar beats.” – IndieWire

Breathe is an affecting account of the quiet courage needed to battle the deadly spores of discrimination and condescension that came with polio.” – The Guardian

 

Darkest Hour

What’s it about?

The inspiring true story begins at the precipice of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

Who’s in it?

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill, alongside Lily James (Downton Abbey), Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), Kristin Scott Thomas (Gosford Park), Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones) and Ronald Pickup (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

What did the reviews say?

“An Oscar-buzzed performance acts as the stoic centre of Joe Wright’s retelling of the events of 1940, played as a House of Cards style thriller.” – The Guardian

“Hidden behind fake jowls and a receding hairline, Gary Oldman delivers one of the great performances of his career as Winston Churchill.” – Variety

 

Dunkirk

What’s it about?

Based on the real-life Dunkirk evacuation of 1940, Inception director Christopher Nolan’s World War 2 epic opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces.

Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.

Who’s in it?

The huge ensemble cast is headlined by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall), Tom Hardy (Taboo), Jack Lowden (War and Peace), James D’Arcy (Broadchurch) and One Direction star Harry Styles.

What did the reviews say?

“A work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur that demands to be seen on the best and biggest screen within reach. Heart-hammering and heroically British, this is Christopher Nolan at the peak of his powers.” – The Telegraph

Dunkirk is an unbelievably assured and thrilling war film. Nolan is at the top of his game, and what a joy it is to watch him construct such grand scale filmmaking.” – The Independent

 

England is Mine

What’s it about?

An unauthorised biographical drama about Steven Patrick Morrissey, England Is Mine is based on the singer’s early years before he formed The Smiths in 1982 with Johnny Marr.

Who’s in it?

Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) as Morrissey is joined by Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay and Doctor Foster star Jodie Comer.

What did the reviews say?

“The teenage years of the Smiths frontman are boiled down to a sentimental kitchen-sink drama that’s elevated by an honest performance from its lead.” – The Guardian

“Morrissey’s early years might be rendered in glum browns, greys and blues, but it’s somehow one of the most colourful, heartening films of the summer.” – NME

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

What’s it about?

A rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved British children’s author A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin, whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh.

Along with his mother Daphne, and his nanny Oliv, Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family?

Who’s in it?

Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays Milne and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) plays his wife. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) also star.

What did the reviews say?

“A witty and touching father-son tale. And at its centre: a startling debut from Will Tilston, whose compelling performance ensures its emotional moments land successfully.” – Empire

“Bring your hankies to this honey-sweet glimpse into the inspirations behind and fallout from author A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series.” – Variety

 

Lady Macbeth

What’s it about?

The movie is based on the novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and not, as you might imagine, Shakespeare’s famous play.

In rural England, 1865, a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man begins a passionate affair with a man her own age.

What did the reviews say?

“Florence Pugh is lethally charismatic in William Oldroyd’s daring journey into the darkest corners of the world of bonnets and bows.” – The Guardian

“Florence Pugh announces herself as a major talent to watch in William Oldroyd’s impressively tough-minded Victorian tragedy.” – The Washington Post

 

The Limehouse Golem

What’s it about?

Adapted by Jane Goldman (Stardust, The Woman in Black) from Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 murder mystery novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, the horror-thriller movie sees a series of murders shaking the community of Limehouse in Victorian London to the point where people believe that only a legendary creature from dark times – the mythical so-called Golem – must be responsible.

Who’s in it?

Bates Motel star Olivia Cooke is joined by Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Douglas Booth (Romeo and Juliet) and Daniel Mays (Line of Duty).

What did the reviews say?

“There are some shining performers – notably Cooke, who transfixes at times. Rarely cast in such thrillers, Nighy is good value too, yet no cast member is able to overcome a story that telegraphs its twists so blatantly.” – The List

“Lurid beheadings aside, this unlikely feminist Jack the Ripper-esque thriller cleverly unpicks late-Victorian London’s social strictures.” – The Guardian

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas

What’s it about?

Adapted from Les Standiford’s book, The Man Who Invented Christmas tells of the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol.

The movie shows how Charles Dickens mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.

Who’s in it?

Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens, with Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones) playing his father, John. The cast also includes Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge, alongside Simon Callow, Donald Sumpter and Miriam Margolyes.

What did the reviews say?

“Inadvertently, this forgettable bauble ends up illustrating just how rare and precious true inspiration is.” – ScreenDaily

“At a time when Great Men are being exposed by the day, there are worse things than a yuletide reminder that being a great man isn’t nearly as important as being a good one.” – IndieWire

 

Murder on the Orient Express

What’s it about?

Murder on the Orient Express is based on Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel of the same name.

A lavish trip through Europe quickly unfolds into a race against time to solve a murder aboard a train. Everyone’s a suspect when Detective Hercule Poirot arrives to interrogate all passengers and search for clues before the killer can strike again.

Who’s in it?

The all-star ensemble cast features Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, with Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley.

What did the reviews say?

“Once Poirot starts grilling the suspects, the film naturally bogs down if you know the eventual outcome; but if you don’t, then you will be hard pressed to find a grander or more delightful way to spend a couple of hours.” – Deadline

“Branagh hasn’t made a movie to challenge his audience as much as he’s made it to comfort them. Even though it’s a murder mystery yarn, everything in the production is functioning at a level of highest craftsmanship.” – Collider

 

My Cousin Rachel

What’s it about?

Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel, the movie follows Philip, a young Englishman who finds his cousin Ambrose dead after traveling to Florence, Italy. He vows revenge against Ambrose’s missing wife Rachel, blaming her for his untimely demise.

When Philip meets Rachel for the first time, his mood suddenly changes as he finds himself falling for her seductive charm and beauty. As his obsession for her grows, Rachel now hatches a scheme to win back her late husband’s estate from the unsuspecting Philip.

Who’s in it?

Rachel Weisz plays the titular cousin, alongside Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean), Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias).

What did the reviews say?

“Rachel Weisz is captivating as the enigmatic heroine in a Daphne du Maurier adaptation that adds modern psychology to the period drama.” – The Guardian

“Weisz is riveting. Quick, vivacious, disarmingly informal, this Rachel is certainly not using stereotypically feminine wiles.” – Vulture

 

Their Finest

What’s it about?

1940, London, the Blitz; with the country’s morale at stake, untried screenwriter Catrin and a makeshift cast and crew work under fire to make a film to lift the nation’s flagging spirits; and inspire America to join the war.

Partnered alongside a fellow screenwriter and an eccentric actor, the trio set off to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation and capture the imagination of the American population.

Who’s in it?

Led by Gemma Arterton (St Trinian’s), the cast includes Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games), Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Richard E. Grant (Downton Abbey), Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders).

What did the reviews say?

“Anchored by a superb Gemma Arterton, Their Finest is a funny, winning, beautifully acted ode to working women and cinema.” – Empire

“Of the many second world war films release this year, it’s hard to imagine any will match Their Finest for its big-hearted swell of warmth and its unstuffy empathy.” – The Guardian

 

A United Kingdom

What’s it about?

A United Kingdom tells the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama, the King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments.

Seretse and Ruth defied family, Apartheid and empire – their love triumphed over every obstacle flung in their path and in so doing they transformed their nation and inspired the world.

Who’s in it?

David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) play the film’s central couple, with the cast also featuring Jack Davenport (Coupling), Jack Lowden (Dunkirk), Tom Felton (Harry Potter) and Downton Abbey star Laura Carmichael.

What did the reviews say?

“It glides romantically along on the surface while political turmoil boils away underneath. Its plea for tolerance isn’t subtle, but it’s a story that deserves to be told.” – Empire

“The best reason to see A United Kingdom is the performance by David Oyelowo, who … imbues his portrayal of Seretse with a disarming delicacy and vulnerability that make the strengths he is later forced to show all the more convincing. It is remarkable, genuinely riveting work.” – NY Times

 

Viceroy’s House

What’s it about?

Viceroy’s House in Delhi was the home of the British rulers of India. After 300 years, that rule was coming to an end. For 6 months in 1947, Lord Mountbatten, great grandson of Queen Victoria, assumed the post of the last Viceroy, charged with handing India back to its people.

Upstairs lived Mountbatten together with his wife and daughter; downstairs lived their 500 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh servants. As the political elite – Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi – converged on the House to wrangle over the birth of independent India, conflict erupted. A decision was taken to divide the country and create a new Muslim homeland: Pakistan. It was a decision whose consequences reverberate to this day.

Who’s in it?

Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) are joined by Manish Dayal (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Huma Qureshi and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter).

What did the reviews say?

“…a personal-political drama with a solidly populist edge, a bold ambition for which deserves three cheers.” – The Guardian

“Undeniably heartfelt, and prescient about the hate generated from carving up countries, but delivers a mixed-bag of broadly sketched politics, powerful historical footage and an under-cooked romance.” – Empire

 

Victoria and Abdul

What’s it about?

The extraordinary true story of an unexpected friendship in the later years of Queen Victoria’s remarkable rule. When Abdul Karim [Ali Fazal], a young clerk, travels from India to participate in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, he is surprised to find favor with the Queen herself.

As the Queen questions the constrictions of her long-held position, the two forge an unlikely and devoted alliance with a loyalty to one another that her household and inner circle all attempt to destroy. As the friendship deepens, the Queen begins to see a changing world through new eyes and joyfully reclaims her humanity.

Who’s in it?

Academy Award winner Judi Dench reprises her role as Queen Victoria from Mrs Brown, alongside Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense), comedian Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) and Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick).

What did the reviews say?

“A sorta-sequel to Mrs Brown deals effectively with another of Queen Victoria’s unconventional friendships and reprises Judi Dench’s powerful and unparalleled portrayal.” – Empire

Victoria & Abdul is a pleasant enough entertainment, and it will bring the inevitable awards chatter Dench’s way (is her acting ever less than pinpoint? Never).” – Variety

 

Take a look at our list of 2017’s best British period dramas on TV here.