We’re going to be picking out the best British period dramas set in each decade of the 20th Century.
Here our guest writer Elizabeth Niedbala kicks things off with some recommendations of movies and TV series set in the 1900s.
The Duchess of Duke Street – Season 1 (1900-1910)
When women were relegated to staying at home and dissuaded from having careers, Louisa Leyton rose to run the Bentinck Hotel on Duke Street. Starting off as an in-demand cook, she helped break the glass ceiling of hotel management.
A character driven story, this BBC series made in the mid-1970s features plots revolving around the death of Queen Victoria and the ascension and death of her son King Edward VII.
The show was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series in 1980.
The Duchess of Duke Street is available on DVD on Amazon.
Berkeley Square (1902)
Focusing on a trio of nannies, the BBC’s 1998 period drama follows them and happenings of their wealthy employers.
In the midst of personal scandals, the ten-episode series has plots revolving around the coronation of King Edward VII, the typhoid epidemic in the East End of London, and the expansion of London’s infrastructure.
Berkeley Square is available on DVD on Amazon.
Finding Neverland (1903)
Centered on playwright and author J.M. Barrie, this 2004 movie shows the inspiration behind the story of Peter Pan.
Like A.A. Milne and the adventures he had with Christopher Robin, Barrie (Johnny Depp) bonds with the boys of the Davies family and takes inspiration from their playtime together. Society isn’t entirely pleased about Barrie’s friendship with their single mother (Kate Winslet), but it is overlooked when they see his creation.
Finding Neverland is available on DVD on Amazon.
Upstairs Downstairs – Seasons 1-2 (1903-1910)
This could be considered the original Downton Abbey. This hit ITV drama from the early 1970s follows the antics of a group of servants and their wealthy employers.
There are forbidden romances, scandal, and pregnancies galore. However, unlike Downton, the characters seem unaffected by the outside world; it’s not until Season 2 when national events come into play (i.e. suffragism and the death of the king). But, like Downton, two of the actors left at the end of the second season, one never to return.
Upstairs Downstairs is available on DVD on Amazon.
This 2000 movie starring Susan Lynch and Ewan McGregor follows the relationship between Nora Barnacle and James Joyce, the man who pushed boundaries in literature.
Nora is hounded by her husband’s jealously, self-doubt, and drinking, but also encourages and supports him as he struggles to get published. The movie reveals that the relationship as husband and wife is not that different from anyone else’s, despite their literary celebrity status.
Nora is available on DVD on Amazon.
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1906)
Based on Edith Holden’s Nature Notes for 1906, this TV series from 1984 spans twelve episodes, one for each month of 1906.
Holden payed attention to the natural world and made drawings and paintings that were exhibited by the Royal Academy of the Arts. The series focuses on her school teaching days, though she came at the end of a period for appreciation of the natural world.
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is available on DVD on Amazon.
Casualty 1900s (1906-1909)
An original and inventive series based on primary sources from London Hospital’s records, this TV series was a spin-off of BBC One’s long-running medical drama Casualty.
The pilot is set in 1906, the next three episodes in 1907, and the following six are set in 1909. Portraying the medical field as evolving and showing how the procedures were realistically done, it’s a unique show that makes one grateful for modern medicine.
Casualty 1900s is available on DVD on Amazon.
Mr Selfridge – Season 1 (1908-1910)
Set at the waning end of the decade, ITV’s Mr Selfridge focuses on the establishment of a modern department store.
At the end of the Progressive Era, Selfridge helps revolutionize the industry, with celebrity endorsements (Episode 2), publicly selling cosmetics (Episode 3), and mid-season sales (Episode 8). It also focuses on wider cultural movements, such as suffragism (Episode 6) and the Spiritualist movement (Episode 7).
Mr Selfridge is available on DVD on Amazon.