20 of the best British TV period dramas of 2017 so far

We’re now well into the second half of 2017 and there have been some incredible period dramas on British television this year.

Ahead of the autumn TV season, we’re going to take a look back at the best of 2017 so far, in alphabetical order:

 

Against the Law

What’s it about?

BBC Two’s powerful factual drama tells the true story of Peter Wildeblood, a thoughtful and private gay journalist whose lover, under pressure from the authorities, submits evidence against him in one of the most explosive court cases of the 1950s – the infamous Montagu Trial.

Set more than ten years before the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1967, the 90-minute TV movie stars Daniel Mays (Line of Duty), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Charlie Creed-Miles (Peaky Blinders).

What did the reviews say?

“Work like this doesn’t come along every day. Against the Law stands as a brilliant, important, must-see piece of television.” – The Guardian

 

Babs

What’s it about?

Celebrating the 80th birthday of Dame Barbara Windsor, the Cockney kid with a dazzling smile and talent to match, Babs tells the EastEnders star’s heart-warming life story.

BBC One’s 90-minute TV movie brings to life of all the people and events that have shaped her life and career: taking us through fifty years from 1943 to 1993, she contemplates her lonely childhood and World War 2 evacuation, her complicated relationship with her father, her doomed marriages, capturing the attention of Joan Littlewood and becoming the blonde bombshell in the Carry On films.

What did the reviews say?

Babs was undoubtedly rose-tinted in parts, but it was also heart-warming and a joyfully camp tribute to a national treasure.” – The Telegraph

 

Call the Midwife

What’s it about?

Returning to BBC One for an eight-part sixth season, it is now 1962, and the Nonnatus House team are as committed to caring for the people of Poplar as always. However, the social revolution in the outside world is mirrored by change and challenge much closer to home. As they strive to help mothers and families cope with the demands of childbearing, disability, disease and social prejudice, our beloved medics must make choices – and fight battles – of their own.

The season opens with a Christmas special set on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, when Nonnatus House receives an SOS from a tiny mission hospital.

What did the reviews say?

“The show is only going from strength to strength when it comes to how confidently it approaches [difficult subject matter], and every week it balances nuance and emotion highly effectively.” – CultBox

 

Decline and Fall

What’s it about?

David Suchet (Poirot), Jack Whitehall (Bad Education) and Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) star in BBC One’s three-part mini-series, marking the first televisual adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic comic novel, 50 years since Waugh’s death.

Decline and Fall sees Paul Pennyfeather (Whitehall) as an inoffensive divinity student at Oxford University in the 1920s, who is wrongly dismissed and ends up teaching at an obscure public school in Wales, where he meets a beautiful South American woman, the Honourable Mrs Margot Beste-Chetwynde (Longoria). For Paul, it is love at first sight.

What did the reviews say?

“This is classic Waugh, his voice and humour already fully developed. You laugh because it’s so sharp and tight and funny.” – The Spectator

 

Doctor Who

What’s it about?

BBC One’s long-running sci-fi series returned for its 36th season of time travel adventures, featuring several period drama stories.

Historical highlights include a trip to London in 1814 in the midst of a frost fair on the frozen Thames, a visit to Mars in 1881 where the TARDIS team discover soldiers from Victorian Britain battling alien Ice Warriors, and an encounter with Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman army in 2nd century Scotland.

What did the reviews say?

“…effortlessly fun in a way the show hasn’t been in a long time.” – A.V. Club

 

The Durrells

What’s it about?

Also known as The Durrells in Corfu on US television, ITV’s family comedy-drama series returned for a second season.

Based on Gerald Durrell’s three autobiographical books about his childhood in the 1930s living on the Greek Island of Corfu, the six new episodes see Larry continue to pursue his passion for writing despite a new romance getting in the way, Leslie deciding to explore his entrepreneurial spirit, Margo remaining boy crazy and Gerry discovering an otter.

What did the reviews say?

“Corfu was still sun-drenched, the titular family of lovable eccentrics remained in perpetual chaos and, although new antagonists circled, the tone was, as before, one of warm nostalgia and deep, abiding silliness.” – The Telegraph

 

Endeavour

What’s it about?

A prequel to Inspector Morse, ITV’s detective drama Endeavour returned for a fourth season, set in the summer of 1967.

The four new feature-length stories find Oxford’s finest picking up the pieces of their lives, both personal and professional, following the events of Season 3’s finale. Endeavour waits to hear the result of his Sergeant’s Exam, and self-medicates to numb his heartache, but whisky and Tännhauser will only get a man so far. Meanwhile, Thursday and Win deal with their own sense of grief.

What did the reviews say?

Endeavour’s a rum old game (as Thursday might say) – it’s well crafted but lacks the sharp characterisation of Inspector Morse. John Thaw was a class act – his absence leaves a permanent draught around the quads of Oxford.” – The Telegraph

 

Grantchester

What’s it about?

James Norton and Robson Green returned to ITV as the unlikely 1950s crime fighting duo, Vicar Sidney Chambers and Police Inspector Geordie Keating, in Grantchester, based on The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie.

The third season sees new Archdeacon Gabriel Atubo remind Sidney that as clergyman he must put duty above his own needs and lead by example. Given the strength of his feelings for Amanda, is this something that Sidney can do?

What did the reviews say?

Grantchester should be seen as an ace drama about faith with quite a nice murder mystery attached.” – The Telegraph

 

Guerrilla

What’s it about?

Created by Academy Award®-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), Sky Atlantic’s six-part mini-series followed a group of activists in 1970s London and featured an all-star international cast including Freida Pinto, Babou Ceesay, Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays and Idris Elba.

Guerrilla follows politically active lovers Jas and Marcus and their friends as the political becomes personal. Based in 1970s London, the group of activists go head-to-head with a racist police force who are dedicated to crushing them.

What did the reviews say?

“Showtime and John Ridley deliver a series of exceptional depth … Ridley shows an acute ability to create characters who are at once heroic and selfish, who advocate for justice and then cross lines in its pursuit.” – The Hollywood Reporter

 

The Halcyon

What’s it about?

ITV’s The Halcyon tells the story of a bustling and glamorous five star hotel in 1940 at the centre of London society, showing London life through the prism of war and the impact it has on families, politics, relationships and work across every social strata with a soundtrack of music from the era.

The eight-part drama series starred Steven Mackintosh (Luther), Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense), Kara Tointon (Mr Selfridge) and Alex Jennings (The Lady In The Van).

What did the reviews say?

“It’s Downton Abbey in a hotel! Featuring aristocrats, affairs, heart attacks and Nazis, ITV’s new period drama was strangely familiar – and the perfect thing to watch while disposing of your leftover prosecco.” – The Guardian

 

Harlots

What’s it about?

Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Samantha Morton (Fantastic Beasts) and Lesley Manville (Maleficent) starred in ITV Encore’s Harlots.

Set against the backdrop of 18th century Georgian London, the eight-part series is a powerful family drama offering a brand new take on the city’s most valuable commercial activity – sex. Inspired by the stories of real women, the series follows Margaret Wells (Morton) and her daughters, as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner.

What did the reviews say?

Harlots has swagger in spades: it’s all vertiginous wigs, beauty spots the size of cigar butts and pushed-up boobs, the promise of a wardrobe malfunction pervading every shot. Harlots is fun but a feminist masterpiece it ain’t.” – The Guardian

 

Inspector George Gently

What’s it about?

Starring Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby, BBC One’s detective drama series set in the 1960s comes to an end this year with two final feature-length stories set in 1970.

Season 8’s first episode, ‘Gently Liberated’, sees a woman convicted of murdering her husband on circumstantial evidence bring Gently into conflict with Bacchus, who was part of the original investigation and may have fabricated evidence to gain a conviction. The last ever story, ‘Gently and the New Age’, was due to air in May but was postponed due to a storyline dealing with a controversial politician and the episode’s proximity to the UK general election.

What did the reviews say?

Inspector George Gently faces the final curtain with a moving penultimate film.” – Radio Times

 

Jamestown

What’s it about?

Set in 17th century America, Sky 1’s Jamestown is written and created by Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford, The Paradise) and made by the team behind Downton Abbey.

The eight-part first season follows the first English settlers as they establish a community in the New World. Amongst those landing onshore are a group of women destined to be married to the men of Jamestown, including three spirited women from England.

What did the reviews say?

“[Jamestown] was, strictly speaking, a little silly. But it was also gripping, and the cast’s enthusiasm was so palpable it was impossible to resist.” – The Telegraph

 

Maigret

What’s it about?

Rowan Atkinson reprised the role of legendary French fictional detective Jules Maigret in a new feature-length special for ITV.

A complex tale of murder, deceit and greed in an isolated country community, ‘Maigret’s Night At The Crossroads’ guest starred Aiden McCardle (Mr Selfridge) and sees Maigret interrogating a mysterious Dane, Carl Andersen, for hours without a confession. Why was the body of a diamond merchant found in his car at his isolated mansion? He’s either innocent or a very good liar.

What did the reviews say?

“[Rowan Atkinson] continues to impress with this very understated turn – all unhurried, forensic examination of the human condition, furnished with compassion and a pipe.” – Huffington Post

 

Man in an Orange Shirt

What’s it about?

The screenwriting debut of bestselling British novelist Patrick Gale, Man in an Orange Shirt tells two love stories, 60 years apart – stories linked by family and a painting, with a secret that echoes down the generations.

Starring Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave and Downton Abbey actress Laura Carmichael, BBC Two’s two-part mini-series charts the challenges and huge changes to gay lives from the Second World War to the present day.

What did the reviews say?

“Thwarted love is the driving force, but Man in an Orange Shirt does a beautiful job of showing the consequences of repression for all during this time of upheaval.” – The Guardian

 

Poldark

What’s it about?

Based on the novels of Winston Graham, BBC One’s epic Cornish saga returns for a nine-part third season, bringing a host of new characters and worlds into play.

It’s now 1794 and Ross must traverse new family, new love and new conflicts, as the French revolution casts a shadow over life in Cornwall. Facing battles both at home and abroad, will Ross answer the call and risk losing everything he holds dear?

What did the reviews say?

“Aidan Turner still a magnetic lead, but Series Three feels like the point where the show puts greater emphasis on activities beyond Ross’s copper-finding strops, and demonstrates the strengths of an excellent – and expanding – ensemble cast.” – Digital Spy

 

Ripper Street

What’s it about?

BBC Two’s crime drama set in Whitechapel in the East End of London at the end of the 19th century concluded with a fifth season.

The final six episodes pick up mere days after the grisly death of Detective Inspector Bennet Drake, which reunites his old friends, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, surgeon Captain Homer Jackson and ‘Long’ Susan Hart to bring his murderer to justice.

What did the reviews say?

“With characters on the run, stakes raised, and battle lines drawn, it’s a strong start to the fifth series. Ripper Street has steadily become a more consistently good show during its runtime and if the current trajectory holds, it will finish its time with us on a considerable high.” – Den of Geek

 

SS-GB

What’s it about?

SS-GB is adapted from Len Deighton’s intriguing, alternate history novel of the same name by James Bond movie writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Skyfall, Casino Royale).

Set in Nazi-occupied London, BBC One’s five-part thriller is based on the premise that the Germans won the Battle of Britain and stars Sam Riley, Kate Bosworth and Jason Flemyng. Forced to work under the brutal SS in occupied London, British Detective Douglas Archer is determined to continue to do his job in the service of his country, but against impossible odds.

What did the reviews say?

“Dystopian novel SS-GB may have been written in 1978 by Len Deighton, but the timing of its BBC television adaptation seems to tap in perfectly to the anxieties of today. It’s unsettling, it’s thought-provoking – but above all it is absolutely gripping.” – Radio Times

 

Taboo

What’s it about?

BBC One’s major new eight-part drama series is executive produced by star Tom Hardy alongside director Ridley Scott and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight

Set in 1814, Taboo sees James Delaney (Hardy) reappear in London, a changed and haunted man, presumed dead in Africa many years before. His return finds his father, Horace Delaney, dead and a country at war with France and the United States.

What did the reviews say?

“BBC One’s grimy period thriller is the very definition of a star vehicle. Hardy has dominated the entire series, delivering an appealingly off-kilter performance, and Taboo is certainly never dull whenever his volatile yet vulnerable anti-hero James Keziah Delaney is on screen.” – Digital Spy

 

Tina and Bobby

What’s it about?

When England won the World Cup in July 1966 Bobby Moore became a national hero. Swept up by the media frenzy and the nation’s adoration, he and wife Tina were the original ‘golden’ couple.

This three-part ITV mini-series is based on Tina’s memoir, Bobby Moore: By The Person Who Knew Him Best, and is an epic love story about an ordinary girl from Essex who fell head over heels in love with an ordinary boy, who just happened to be an extraordinarily talented footballer.

What did the reviews say?

“Some may choose to dismiss Tina & Bobby as fluff, and there was more than a splash of soap opera about these lives lived in the spotlight. But it was also an unmanipulative account of simpler times.” – The Telegraph