Victorian London was a world away from the city we know today.
A place of “pea-souper” fogs, twisting alleys, and cobbled streets, it was filled with crime, poverty, and illness. It was also a place of innovation and invention, of ever-changing fashions, lavish balls, and incredible decadence.
It’s this duality that makes it such a fascinating setting for period dramas. Here, we take a look at five of the best that are set in or inspired by the wonderful world of Victorian London.
Starring Matthew Macfadyen alongside Jerome Flynn, Adam Rothenberg, and MyAnna Buring, Ripper Street has a sterling cast and gripping storylines. Set in the Whitechapel during the Ripper era, it begins six months after the infamous murders. Following two policemen, an army surgeon, and a brothel madam as they investigate the crimes, it takes viewers on a white-knuckle ride through the dark underbelly of Victorian London.
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Bleak House stars some of British TV’s finest actors. First released in 2005, it’s stood the test of time well, so it’s as enjoyable a watch today as it was 16 years ago. Charting a long-standing estate battle between several potential heirs, it’s filled with twists and turns that will keep you glued to your screen through all 15 episodes.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke
Starring Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin as Victorian investigators, this is a show that turns period-drama stereotypes on their heads. Very much a product of its 2020 release date, its female lead is a heroine rather than a love interest. Clever, feisty, and determined, she’s a joy to watch on screen as she does her best to crack cases alongside rival, colleague, and sometime-beau, William.
Released in 2008, Little Dorrit stars Victorian period drama mainstay Matthew Macfadyen alongside Claire Foy, Tom Courtenay, and Judy Parfitt. Based on the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, it follows Amy Dorrit from humble beginnings in a debtor’s prison to finding she’s heir to a fortune. With plenty of clever twists along the way, this is a winding tale that’s wonderful to watch.
Naturally, Sherlock had to be included on this list too. Based on the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, its source material has inspired numerous books, films, and TV shows. Conan Doyle’s larger-than-life character even encouraged several online slots, with their presence on review sites that guide players through the most popular titles demonstrating Holme’s enduring appeal in pop culture. Among these popular titles are Sherlock of London and the Sherlock and Moriarty Wowpot, putting this famous Victorian character in a new context.
While Sherlock is set in the present day and might seem an incongruous addition to this list, it’s inspired by the original Victorian-era novels. It has a grittiness to its aesthetic that harks back to this setting, and there’s a one-off fantasy episode set during the period. Praised for the quality of its writing and acting, it brings to life enough of its source material to still appeal to period drama enthusiasts.
What are you waiting for? Isn’t it time you started to watch (or re-watch) the five fantastic Victorian-era titles on this list?