28 of the best British TV period drama series of 2018

2018 was another wonderful year for period dramas on British television.

Let’s take a look at the past year’s best series, mini-series and TV movies, in alphabetical order:

 

The ABC Murders (mini-series)

What’s it about?

John Malkovich has the rather unenviable task of making the first TV appearance of Poirot since actor David Suchet retired from the role in 2013. He’s joined in BBC One’s new three-part drama by Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), Andrew Buchan (Garrow’s Law), Tara Fitzgerald (Game of Thrones).

Agatha Christie’s 1936 detective novel sees Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp investigate a series of killings by a mysterious murderer known only as “A.B.C.”.

What did the reviews say?

“It is in the gift of great actors to make pre-eminent characters entirely their own. Which is certainly what John Malkovich did in The ABC Murders, taking on the role of Hercule Poirot, a character well-worn to the point of transparency, and transforming him utterly.” – The Telegraph

“This mystery was perfectly gloomy and atmospheric, rich in visual detail, and smartly scripted with a funny, insouciant unseen villain. What it lacked, though, was real suspense.” – iNews

 

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco – Season 1

What’s it about?

Julie Graham and Rachael Stirling return in this new San Francisco-based Bletchley Circle spin-off series, four years after the original British series was cancelled. Their characters are joined by two American codebreakers to investigate a string of new murder cases in the mid-1950s.

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco captures the lives of four remarkable women gifted with extraordinary intelligence, breathtaking capacity for pattern recognition, and a genius for decryption. Years after secretly serving during WWII as code-breakers, they turn their skills to solving murders overlooked by the police.

What did the reviews say?

“A compelling return for the codebreaking crimebusters.” – The Telegraph

“This couldn’t be further from the bleak, Scandi-style murder mystery. One more reason why it feels old-fashioned, of course, but none the worse for it.” – Daily Mail

 

Britannia – Season 1

What’s it about?

Set in 43AD, the first season of Sky and Amazon’s British historical fantasy series followed the Roman army as they returned to crush the Celtic heart of Britannia, a mysterious land led by warrior women and powerful Druids who claim to channel the powerful forces of the underworld.

Starring David Morrissey, Kelly Reilly, Zoë Wanamaker and Mackenzie Crook, Britannia has already been recommissioned for a second season, set to air in 2019.

What did the reviews say?

“…Britannia clearly has enough in common with Game of Thrones to be aimed at replacing that sprawling brilliance in people’s hearts and on watchlists when.” – The Guardian

“Sky’s historical romp set in ancient Britain may be smaller in scale than US giant Thrones but it has a mad, earthy charm all its own.” – Radio Times

 

Call the Midwife – Season 7

What’s it about?

The BBC’s hugely popular period drama returned for a seventh season, introducing Black Mirror actress Leonie Elliott as Nurse Lucille Anderson, the show’s first West Indian midwife.

The eight new episodes saw our beloved Nonnatus House team stretched to the limit, as they faced a series of medical, social and emotional challenges, including Leprosy, Tokophobia, Stroke, Huntingdon’s Chorea and Cataracts.

What did the reviews say?

Call the Midwife remains a flagship drama for the BBC. It has now returned for a seventh series brighter, fresher, stronger, and still with much to say.” – The Telegraph

“My God, but that Call the Midwife is one ruthlessly efficient emotion-harvesting machine, is it not?” – The Guardian

 

Death and Nightingales (mini-series)

What’s it about?

The Fall creator Allan Cubitt has adapted Eugene McCabe’s novel as a new three-part mini-series for BBC Two.

Set in 1885 in the beautiful haunting countryside of Fermanagh, Ireland, Death and Nightingales stars Jamie Dornan (The Fall), Matthew Rhys (The Americans) and Ann Skelly (Red Rock).

Set over a desperately tense 24- hour period, it’s Beth Winters’  25th birthday – the day she has decided to join the charming Liam Ward and escape from her limited life and difficult and complex relationship with her Protestant landowner stepfather Billy.

What did the reviews say?

“A perfect cast brings life to a bleak and sometimes sluggish story.” – Digital Spy

“If you like your drama with a strong streak of bleak, Death and Nightingales had bleakness in abundance. If, what’s more, you like drama full to the brim with intense romance, dark history, hints of transgression and contradictory emotion – it had all of that, too.” The Telegraph

 

The Durrells – Season 3

What’s it about?

The Durrell family returned to ITV with more adventures in 1930s Corfu.

The eight-part third season finds Louisa (Keeley Hawes) having made the decision to give up searching for love, choosing instead to focus on her family. However, with Larry struggling to write his third novel, Margo in search of a new vocation, Gerry continuing to grow his menagerie and Leslie juggling three different girls, Louisa has her work cut out.

What did the reviews say?

“If such a sedate pace is to succeed, however, the cast and the script needs to be exceptional. Both continue to deliver in spades.” – The Telegraph

“Keeley Hawes is bloody marvellous … The Durrells is easy, sunny and nostalgic, and rolls along charmingly.” – The Guardian

 

Endeavour – Season 5

What’s it about?

Set in 1968, the six new mysteries begin with Morse having finally passed his Sergeant’s exams just as Oxford City Police merges into Thames Valley Constabulary creating uncertainty for everyone at Cowley CID.

The fifth season of of ITV’s period crime drama introduces Poldark actor Lewis Peek as new recruit Detective Constable George Fancy, whom Morse is reluctantly tasked with mentoring.

What did the reviews say?

“Russell Lewis’s Inspector Morse prequel – a clever, well-crafted whodunnit oozing with period detail – gets better and better.” – The Guardian

Endeavour returns for its fifth series with grisly murders, amusing developments and more romantic turmoil.” – Den of Geek

 

Father Brown – Season 6

What’s it about?

Set in the Cotswolds in the early 1950s and based on the stories by GK Chesterton, Father Brown stars Harry Potter actor Mark Williams as a crime-solving Roman Catholic priest.

The sixth season of BBC One’s hit daytime drama series saw Father Brown struggle to protect those closest to him when old foe Katherine Corven (Kate O’Flynn) is unexpectedly released from prison, thirsty for revenge.

What did the reviews say?

“With its Cotswold settings, witty scripts and undercurrents of religious philosophy, Father Brown is crying out for a Sunday evening berth. Mark Williams … gives Father Brown stern principles, endless patience and lashings of common sense.” – Daily Mail

 

Harlots – Season 2

What’s it about?

Set in 18th century Georgian London, Harlots is inspired by true stories and follows Margaret Wells and her daughters as she struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and brothel owner.

ITV and Hulu’s period drama stars Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Samantha Morton (Fantastic Beasts) and Lesley Manville (Maleficent), with Hollywood star Liv Tyler joining the cast in Season 2 as wealthy socialite Lady Fitz.

What did the reviews say?

“[Season 2] wasted absolutely no time throwing us all back into the angst, hardship, and tough decisions of period working class life — this time with 100% more Liv Tyler.” – Den of Geek

“[Harlots] provides a still-relevant battle cry of resistance and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, which in itself makes for worthy viewing.” – IndieWire

 

In the Long Run – Season 1

What’s it about?

Created by and starring Idris Elba, semi-autobiographical comedy series In the Long Run is based on the Luther star’s childhood in 1980s London.

The cast also includes comedian Bill Bailey as Bagpipes, the neighbour of Elba’s character Walter.

What did the reviews say?

“…it’s a broadly celebratory period piece, complete with jokes about microwaves and a relentless soundtrack of Eighties music (relentlessly good, if you like Eighties music, which I do).” – The Telegraph

“Full of lovingly recreated period detail and with a great, bouncy soundtrack, In the Long Run has benefited from being directed by Irish comedy veteran Declan Lowney, who made the first two series of Father Ted…” – Evening Standard

 

Jamestown – Season 2

What’s it about?

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

The series 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?

“Look at the storylines and the attitudes, and what you see is modern-day soap opera dressed in period costume with a sailing ship parked up at the quay. Once you accept that, it’s actually quite fun.” – The Guardian

“The first season certainly had its moments but was lacking something … the new season, however, is a totally different kettle of fish.” – Yahoo

 

The Last Kingdom – Season 3

What’s it about?

Based on English author Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories novels, this epic historical drama series is set in the late 9th century AD, when England is divided into seven separate kingdoms.

The Last Kingdom tells the story of a Saxon man (Uhtred, played by Alexander Dreymon), raised by Danes, who must choose a side and play his part in the birth of a nation, alongside King Alfred the Great (David Dawson).

What did the reviews say?

“This is the first season of The Last Kingdom to be entirely made by Netflix. With it came a certain increase in production values…” – iNews

“That kind of action alongside the humour and characters we adore is what fans come to The Last Kingdom for.” – Den of Geek

 

The Long Song (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel has been adapted for BBC One as a three-part mini-series by Sarah Williams (Small Island).

Exploring the final days of slavery on the British-ruled Caribbean island of Jamaica in 1838, The Long Song stars Tamara Lawrance (Kings Charles III) as young slave July and Hayley Atwell (Howards End) as her odious mistress Caroline Mortimer, alongside Jack Lowden (War & Peace) and comedian Sir Lenny Henry (Broadchurch).

What did the reviews say?

“A first-class cast bring Andrea Levy’s moving tale of a young house slave in Jamaica to beautiful, horrifying life.” – The Guardian

“Every so often, when the question of apologies for slavery comes up, it is sometimes argued that we cannot make moral judgments on the past. The Long Song upholds that such moral outrage is not only possible, but imperative.” – The Independent

 

The Little Drummer Girl (mini-series)

What’s it about?

The makers of 2016’s The Night Manager have re-teamed to produce another six-part thriller based on a hit John le Carré novel. Acclaimed director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy) makes his television debut with his adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl, set in the late 1970s against the background of rising tensions in the Middle East.

The starry cast includes Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones).

What did the reviews say?

“It ultimately goes a bit deeper than Night Manager’s superficial pleasures, thanks mainly to a star-making performance from Pugh and smart, gorgeous direction from Park Chan-wook.” – Rolling Stone

“It may lack the instant hit and gratification of other high profile BBC offerings such as Bodyguard or, indeed, the global flash of The Night Manager – but The Little Drummer Girl has depth and intrigue in spades.” – Digital Spy

 

Mrs Wilson (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Inspired by the memoir of Luther star Ruth Wilson’s grandmother about her family’s complicated history, this three-part mini-series is set in 1960s London, 1940s London and India in the 1930s.

Written by Anna Symon (Indian Summers), Mrs. Wilson follows Alison Wilson, who thinks she is happily married until her husband Alec dies and a woman turns up on her doorstep claiming that she is the real Mrs. Wilson.

The cast also includes Keeley Hawes (The Durrells) and Iain Glen (Downton Abbey).

What did the reviews say?

“It is a great story – but it is also a slow, melancholy meditation on how much and how little we can know about each other.” – The Guardian

“Ruth Wilson is quite compelling as her own gran … I was utterly gripped by her performance…” – The Independent

 

Mother’s Day (TV movie)

What’s it about?

Featuring The Bletchley Circle star Anna Maxwell Martin, Mother’s Day follows the events, aftermath and public response to the Warrington bombing of March 1993.

BBC Two’s 90-minute TV movie sees Vicky McClure (Line of Duty) play Susan McHugh, the Dublin mother of two so outraged by the loss of young life that she organised one of the largest peace rallies in Irish history, leading thousands through the streets in protest at the continued violence of the Troubles.

What did the reviews say?

“There aren’t many dramas that pack as solid an emotional punch as Mother’s Day. Even fewer leave you appreciating so keenly the power of finding lasting good in the most tragic human experiences.” – The Telegraph

“Gut-wrenchingly hard to watch, but hugely inspiring.” – The Guardian

 

Ordeal By Innocence (mini-series)

What’s it about?

From the makers of 2016’s The Witness for the Prosecution and 2015’s And Then There Were Nonethe BBC’s new adaptation of Christie’s 1958 detective novel stars Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey), Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Catherine Keener (Get Out) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark).

Christmas 1954. Wealthy philanthropist Rachel Argyll is murdered at her family estate Sunny Point. Her adopted son Jack Argyll, a young delinquent, is arrested for her murder. He vehemently protests his innocence.

What did the reviews say?

“Purists won’t like the liberties taken with Agatha Christie’s book, but they revitalised and thrilled up a story we thought we knew.” – The Times

“Careful choreography is the backbone of this Agatha Christie adaptation, which features a uniformly brilliant cast.” – The Guardian

 

Outlander – Season 4

What’s it about?

Adapted from the historical time travel series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander returns for a new season, based on the fourth novel in the series, The Drums of Autumn.

Star Caitriona Balfe has hinted: “It’s interesting to watch how all of these characters embrace the new land and all of the trials and tribulations that come along with that as well as the excitement, and that kind of new beginning is really exciting to get on board with.”

What did the reviews say?

“The show is still at its best when it focuses on the character dynamics at the core of the story, and it’s refreshing to finally get a look at Claire and Jamie as a settled couple with their future ahead of them.” – IGN

“In short, this season of Outlander is still highly Outlander-y, which will be heartening for its many fans to hear.” – Vulture

 

Patrick Melrose (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Based on the acclaimed semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn, the five-part decade-spanning TV saga skewers the upper class as it tracks its protagonist’s outrageous journey, from a deeply traumatic childhood through to adult substance abuse and, ultimately, towards recovery.

Set in the South of France in the 60s, New York in the 80s and Britain in the early 2000s,  Patrick Melrose boasts an all-star cast led by Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch.

What did the reviews say?

“Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a captivating performance as Patrick Melrose … Sky Atlantic’s gripping new drama is fantastically funny, deeply tragic and incredibly intense.” – Radio Times

“Cumberbatch is his usual convincing self as the druggy Patrick Melrose, meaning he’s often slimy, contorted in agony, and at points, looks as if he smells rather gamy. Yet when he’s onscreen … you can’t turn away for a second.” – Variety

 

Picnic At Hanging Rock (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Based on Joan Lindsay’s classic 1967 novel, Picnic At Hanging Rock is the story of three adolescent girls and their governess who mysteriously go missing in the Australian bush after a sunny Valentine’s Day picnic in 1900.

The six-part mini-series stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Tudors) as the enigmatic Headmistress of Appleyard College.

What did the reviews say?

“The base premise is familiar to fans of crime series, but this is no ordinary drama; it’s eerie and haunting.” – Variety

“It’s a decadent yet oddly heartfelt feast for the senses, and one of the best surprises of the year … It’s hard to understate the excellence of the Game of Thrones veteran Dormer…” – Vulture

 

Poldark – Season 4

What’s it about?

Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson return as Ross Poldark and his wife Demelza for eight new episodes of BBC One’s Cornish saga.

Set in 1796, the fourth season sees Ross defend Cornwall from an empowered George Warleggan, while Demelza finds her loyalties torn and Elizabeth tries to strengthen her marriage.

What did the reviews say?

“The return of Poldark is fast becoming an annual cause for early-summer celebration. It’s as sure a sign as a budding rose that something ridiculously romantic is about to unfold. And good fun, too.” – The Telegraph

“More eventful than Downton, less reverently nostalgic than Victoria or The Crown, Poldark is establishing itself as one of the best period dramas of recent years, largely avoiding the danger of slipping into unconscious self-parody.” – iNews

 

Torvill and Dean (TV movie)

What’s it about?

Exploring the British ice dancers’ early years, this one-off drama stars Will Tudor (Game of ThronesMr Selfridge) as Christopher Dean and Poppy Lee Friar (Ackley BridgeIn the Club) as Jayne Torvill.

The British, European, Olympic and World champions won gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo and became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time.

What did the reviews say?

“Another perfect 6.0 for Britain’s favourite skating duo.” – The Guardian

“As a straight-forward dramatic retelling which falls entirely within expectations, Torvill and Dean is a respectable job, but little of this safe, diluted biopic will linger after the sherry sets in.” – Metro

 

Troy: Fall Of A City (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Created by The Night Manager writer David Farr, the BBC and Netflix’s eight-part drama series goes back to the Troy story’s origins: to the judgement of Paris, his scandalous love affair with Helen, and the ill-starred prophecy surrounding his birth.

Told from the perspective of the Trojan family at the heart of the siege, Troy: Fall Of A City is a story of a love that threatens to bring an empire to its knees.

What did the reviews say?

“The inevitable dose of sex and violence does arrive albeit in far less gratuitous form than one has grown accustomed to with shows such as these.” – The Independent

“A fast and funny thriller hidden inside a historical epic.” – Digital Spy

 

Upstart Crow – Season 3

What’s it about?

BBC Two’s sitcom is based on the life and times of William Shakespeare, played by Peep Show star David Mitchell.

Created by Blackadder writer Ben Elton, Upstart Crow launched in May 2016 as part of the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival to mark the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death and is now in its third season.

What did the reviews say?

“A spot of social history, some gags about Shakespearean literature to flatter anyone with GCSE English and beyond, and plentiful bottom jokes. What’s not to like?” – iNews

“Given Elton’s past glories in the historical comedy ouevre with his former accomplice Richard Curtis, it remains impossible to escape the feeling that this is Diet Blackadder, or even Blackadder Zero, now with all the rude bits taken out.” – Evening Standard

 

Vanity Fair (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Adapted from English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel by the makers of Victoria and PoldarkITV’s seven-part period drama stars Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) as heroine Becky Sharp and Johnny Flynn (Genius) as Dobbin.

Gwyneth Hughes’ adaptation of Thackeray’s literary classic is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and follows Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society.

The cast also includes Martin Clunes (Doc Martin), Frances de La Tour (The History Boys), Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), Michael Palin (Monty Python) and Claire Skinner (Outnumbered).

What did the reviews say?

“This adaptation fizzes with all the energy of its social-climbing heroine. Yes, it’s yet another version of Thackeray’s novel, and it has its sights set on a modern audience, but Olivia Cooke is an ideal Becky Sharp – and the sumptuous sets are worth tuning in for all on their own.” – The Guardian

“An earthy and assured take on Thackeray’s very modern masterpiece … it’s a relief to report that Vanity Fair isn’t afraid to have a little fun with the [period drama] formula.” – iNews

 

Versailles – Season 3

What’s it about?

Set in 17th Century France, the historical fiction drama series returns for a third and final season.

What did the reviews say?

“Featuring what is surely the most magnificent collection of hair-dos ever assembled in a television series, Versailles offers a sumptuous and thrilling look at the history of Louis XIV.” – Buffalo News

Versailles is glamorous, highly camp and corny. And, despite the dodgy accents, it does have a strange allure…” – Daily Mail

 

A Very English Scandal (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Written by Russell T Davies (Doctor WhoThe Grand), the BBC’s new three-part mini-series tells the shocking true story of the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder.

In his first TV role in 20 years, Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral) plays disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe, alongside Ben Whishaw (Spectre) as Norman Scott.

What did the reviews say?

“Hugh Grant plays Thorpe and – clearly having the time of his actorly life – is revelatory. Charming, sly, duplicitous, forthright, manipulative, sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once, he is never less than wholly convincing and compelling.” – The Guardian

“Gripping and superbly executed drama, as professionally and carefully wrought as Thorpe’s own life was chaotic and risky.” – The Independent

 

The Woman in White (mini-series)

What’s it about?

Based on Wilkie Collins’ 1859 psychological thriller novel, BBC One’s new five-part adaptation stars Ben Hardy (X-MenEastEnders) as Walter Hartright and Jessie Buckley (War and PeaceTaboo) as Marian Halcombe.

After Walter Hartright encounters a ghostly woman dressed in all white on a moonlit road, he soon finds himself drawn into a mysterious and disturbing world.

What did the reviews say?

“Though it would have been commissioned long before Harvey Weinstein was exposed, the latest version was swift to position itself as a timely proto-feminist battle-cry for the #MeToo generation.” – The Telegraph

“This latest Wilkie Collins adaptation strikes a very modern note while hanging on to the original’s gothic creepiness.” – The Guardian

 

Take a look at our list of 2017’s best British period drama series here.