10 of the BBC’s best Victorian period drama series based on classic novels

There are many wonderful BBC period dramas based in the Victorian era.

Set approximately during the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, which took place from 1837 until her death in 1901, these TV series offer strong social commentary through richly drawn characters, exceptional acting, and compelling plots.

While this is only a small selection of the myriad television adaptations made over the years, here our guest writer Delicia Johnson selects ten highly recommended Victorian mini-series that embody the storytelling of that time period:


Bleak House

Various characters await the outcome of the seemingly ceaseless legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in this Dickens adaptation.The deservedly harsh indictment of the particulars and injustices of the 19th century legal system are masterfully illustrated through the tribulations of those affected.

This BBC period drama from 2005 has an atmospheric air of suspense and dreariness perfect for a cool autumn night and still with the romance, tragedy, and humour one can expect from a Victorian period drama.

Bleak House is available to watch on BritBox.


Little Dorrit

This 2008 mini-series tells the story of Amy Dorrit, who has lived in the Marshalsea Prison for debt since her birth and works as a seamstress for the cold and irritable Mrs. Clennam. When Mrs. Clennam’s son returns to England, the lives of the Dorrit family are forever changed. Little Dorrit offers the perfect weaving of suspense, tragedy, and romance.

Period drama veterans Claire Foy and Matthew McFayden star in this grand BBC adaptation of one of Dickens’ most complex novels.

Little Dorrit is available on DVD on Amazon.


The Barchester Chronicles

Based on the first two novels of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles series, the local church becomes a target for social reformers railing against the self-enrichment of the Church of England at the expense of the poor. Social commentary on the Church of England and the personal failings and faults of churchmen is wonderfully set against a backdrop of romance, drama, and subtle humour.

The BBC’s classic 1982 mini-series features fine acting from a brilliant ensemble cast, including the late Alan Rickman in his breakthrough role as the conniving chaplain Obadiah Slope.

The Barchester Chronicles is available on DVD on Amazon.


Cranford / Return To Cranford

The lovable, idiosyncratic residents of the small rural town of Cranford grapple with industrial changes such as the new railway system and cutting edge medical techniques. The revolutionary world clashes with the traditional, gentle Cranford.

This cozy BBC period drama ran from 2007-2009 and features an ensemble cast of some of the most esteemed English actors including Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Eileen Atkins, and Deborah Findlay.

The complete Cranford collection is available on DVD on Amazon.


North and South

North and South is the story of Margaret Hale, a young woman from southern England, who moves to a Northern industrial town.

Margaret’s growing mutual attraction to  the mill owner, John Thornton, collides with her sympathies towards the destitute mill workers and contempt for Thornton’s labor practices.

Both Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage give wonderful, swoon-worthy performances as Margaret and Thornton, respectively in the BBC’s four-part serial from 2004.

North and South is available on DVD on Amazon.


David Copperfield

Before Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe and Dame Maggie Smith starred together in this wonderful, coming of age BBC period drama from 1999 based on Dickens’ novel of the same name.

David Copperfield is a kind orphan who suffers unfair treatment at the hands of his stepfather and later, due to his stepfather’s influence, at a boarding school. He navigates this harsh, unjust world with gentleness, humility, and good friends.

David Copperfield is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.


Daniel Deronda

Hugh Dancy stars as the intelligent titular character with Romola Garai as the beautiful Gwendolen Harleth. Daniel and Gwendonlen’s stories spellbindingly overlap as Gwendolen aims to marry rich and Daniel seeks to become more than his obscure origins will allow him to be.

Adapted from George Eliot’s 1876 novel by the BBC in 2002, Daniel Deronda is a charming story that tackles such issues as gender, class, and antisemitism.

Daniel Deronda is available on DVD on Amazon.


Wives and Daughters

A gentle love story based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s unfinished novel, Molly Gibson’s life changes when her widowed father decides to remarry. Molly must deal with a vain, class conscious stepmother and a vivacious stepsister who also becomes a romantic rival.

Luscious countryside scenery and strong-willed female characters makes 1999’s Wives and Daughters a must see for BBC period romance lovers.

Wives and Daughters is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.


Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s timeless novel comes to life with Ruth Wilson as the titular character and Toby Stephens as the brooding Mr. Rochester. The BBC’s 2006 period drama captures the life of Jane Eyre, a mistreated orphan who endures her cruel charity school and eventually becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, under the eye of her new master Rochester.

A turn of events foreshadowed by strange noises throughout the night threatens to devastate Jane’s world. This adaptation of Jane Eyre is the perfect Gothic romance to curl up by the fire with.

Jane Eyre is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.


Tess of the D’Urbervilles

The spirited, innocent Tess Durbeyfield falls prey to her manipulative ‘cousin’ with devastating consequences. Gemma Arterton gives a beautiful, spell-binding performance as the titular character.

Tragic and violent, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is not for the faint of heart, but the BBC’s 2008 mini-series is strongly recommended for its insight on the status of women in late Victorian England.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is available on DVD on Amazon.