We continue our look back at the best British period dramas set in each decade of the 20th Century.
Upstairs Downstairs – Season 5 (1919-1930)
The last season of the original Upstairs Downstairs series covers an entire decade.
Much happens within its sixteen episodes, including marriages, suicides and the departures of several characters.
The events of the 1920s do not influence the storylines very strongly; Ruby rejects a man because he’s not like Rudolph Valentino and Georgina wholly embraces the party-hard lifestyle. Lord Stockbridge’s plot may be the only one directly involved with real events; he invests in Wall Street and loses all of his money. But for the end of a hugely popular show, it was a strong season to go out on.
Upstairs Downstairs is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Downton Abbey – Seasons 3-6 (1920-1925)
ITV’s hit series started slowing its pace with Season 3, which is why it only spans one year.
These latter seasons encompass some of the biggest plot points of the show – marriages, deaths, births, and the addition of new characters. The decade subtly influences the character-driven plot lines: Mary and Edith take positions usually reserved for men, Tom is implicated in some Irish rebelling, and Edith’s beau is killed by the Brownshirts in Germany. Under everything is the threat of the fall of the elite.
Downton Abbey: The Complete Collection box set is available on DVD on Amazon.
The Grand (1920)
Set at a Manchester hotel, Granada Television’s short-lived series focused on the family that runs it, starring Starring Paul Warriner (Father Brown), Rebecca Callard (Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters), Susan Hampshire and Tim Healy.
Amongst the love triangles, melodrama, and scandals, there are plot lines influenced by the progressive 1920s.
The son Stephen is a World War I veteran suffering from shell shock, and Jacob Collins, the hall porter, is swindled by two men masquerading as a veteran’s charity. A guest at the hotel is recuperating from an abortion, and the female servants are treated to a sex education class.
The Grand is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Peaky Blinders – Seasons 2-5 (1922-1929)
Amongst the many storylines, Tommy considers dealing alcohol to America, which was under Prohibition, and deals with threats from rival families (the Russians in Season 3, the Italians in Season 4) and sidesteps Communism, all while trying to become legal. Real-life historical figures include Oswald Mosley, who went on to lead the British Union of Fascists, and Winston Churchill.
Come for the fashion and the haircuts, stay for the gritty drama.
Peaky Blinders is available on DVD on Amazon.
Mrs Dalloway (1923)
This 1997 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel stars Vanessa Redgrave (Call the Midwife), Rupert Graves (The White Queen), Natascha McElhone (Designated Survivor), Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones).
The movie follows Clarissa Dalloway as she goes to buy flowers for a party. Over the course of the day, she reflects on a formative summer thirty years before, filled with love and broken hearts. The story also follows Septimus, a World War I veteran dealing with shell shock. A study of life and the choices one makes, it’s an example of the boundary-pushing artists were making post-war.
Mrs Dalloway is available on DVD on Amazon.
Chariots of Fire (1924)
Most well known for its iconic soundrack, this fact-based 1981 movie is centered around the 1924 Olympics in Paris and it was nominated for seven Oscars.
The story focuses on Eric Liddell, a Scottish Christian, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew. Both men run for personal reasons and they struggle to hang onto their identity while balancing normal life and running.
Chariots of Fire is available on DVD on Amazon.
The House of Eliott (1924)
Hailed as “one of the greatest BBC costume dramas of all time,” this series from the creators of Upstairs Downstairs follows sisters Bea and Evie as they struggle with the creation and sustainability of their own fashion house.
Featuring real-life film director Jack Maddox and the rise of mail-order, ready-wear fashion, The House of Eliott is steeped in 1920s history and ran for three seasons in the early ’90s.
The costumes are historically accurate, a great reason to watch if you’re a vintage fashion enthusiast.
The House of Eliott is available on DVD on Amazon.
A classic tale of love, revenge, and murder, ITV’s two-part adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel starred Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Emilia Fox (Silent Witness) and Diana Rigg (Victoria).
The story sees Maxim de Winters meet a bright young thing in Monte Carlo and marry her. After moving to Manderly, she learns more about Maxim’s first wife Rebecca and the hold she apparently had on the household.
A gothic 1920s tale set, Rebecca contemporizes the genre and is still creepy today.
Rebecca is available on DVD on Amazon.
Mr Selfridge – Season 4 (1928-1929)
Set in the latest two years of the decade, the final season of ITV’s drama series is the most influenced by the time period as compared to the previous three seasons.
Selfridge creates a technology department in his store, the Dolly Sisters (and Selfridge) become involved in film production, London’s criminal underground gets involved (with Selfridge), and there are parties galore (hosted by Selfridge).
Mr Selfridge is available on DVD on Amazon.