5 of Lily James’ best period dramas

It’s ten years since English actress Lily James shot to fame in Downton Abbey!

Since then her career has given her the opportunity to play quite a number of characters in period drama films and series.

Born on 5th April 1989 in Esher, Surrey, Lily celebrates her 33rd birthday today.

To celebrate, our guest writer Gaëlle Jalla takes a look back at five of her finest roles so far, listed here in chronological order:

 

Downton Abbey (2012-2015)

In Julian Fellowes’s beloved household period drama, Lily James appeared as Lady Rose MacClare, Lord Grantham’s young cousin.

Her father answers to the delightful nickname of Shrimpie, when he really is the Marquess of Flintshire, with a title in Wales and the beautiful estate of Duneagle – aka Inveraray – in Scotland. Her mother is Susan MacClare, Lady Violet Crawley’s niece.

Lady Rose taunts and provokes, leading the life of a 1920s flapper, but also preciously fills the hole in Cora and Robert’s hearts left by Sybil’s horrific untimely death. She gets on well with everybody except her mother.

Rose is an endearing character motivated by her passion for life and affection for her fellow human beings regardless of their status or origins.

Downton Abbey: The Complete Collection box set is available on DVD on Amazon.

 

War and Peace (2016)

Sanditon creator Andrew Davies wrote the BBC’s 2016 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in which Lily James starred as Natasha Rostova.

Directed by Tom Harper, the six-part mini-series was shot on location in Russia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Natasha Rostova is the second eldest child of Count Rostov who falls on hard circumstances after his son Nicolai gambles the family fortune away. She flirts first with Boris Drubetskoy believing herself madly in love like any young girl would.

Years later, she meets Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, a widower quite a few years older than her and a good friend of Pierre Bezukhov, the hero of the novel.

This star-studded production of War and Peace with Paul Dano, James Norton (Grantchester), and Tuppence Middleton (Downton Abbey movie) is another favourite among British period dramas fans.

War and Peace is available on DVD on Amazon.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Lily James stars as novelist Juliet Ashton in post-WW2 London in this adaptation of the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Juliet’s interest is peaked by a letter from a mystery man from Guernsey, Dawsey Adams, who is a member of the fabulously-titled Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been meeting every Friday night since 1941 during the German occupation of the island.

Lily James finds herself again with Downton Abbey co-stars Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay and Penelope Wilton, alongside Tom Courtenay and Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones).

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is available on DVD on Amazon.

 

Rebecca (2020)

Lily James’s young Mrs de Winter is a slightly more modern, more decisive version of Daphne du Maurier’s character, previously immortalized by Joan Fontaine in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, Joanna David in the 1979 BBC adaptation, and then David’s own daughter Emilia Fox in 1997.

Rebecca is the stuff of legend in which a not-too-young but handsome and terribly wealthy widower in possession of a fine castle named Manderley meets the young and beautiful companion of a filthy rich and vulgar New York upstart in Monte Carlo, sweeps her off her feet, marries her and takes her back with him to Manderley where Mrs Danvers awaits…

Each adaptation rekindles the passion of the reader for the original book and its timeless quote: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Rebecca is available to watch on Netflix.

 

The Dig (2021)

The Dig is based on the real life story of Edith Pretty (played by Suffragette star Carey Mulligan) and Basil Brown (superbly played by Ralph Fiennes), the amateur archaeologist who unearthed the Sutton Hoo burial mounds in 1939 in Suffolk.

Lily James plays the part of Peggy Piggott, the archaeologist who brought the proof of the burial mounds being Anglo-Saxon, giving a performance as the young, bright and neglected wife which is as endearing as in her previous films.

Trivia fans may also note that she’s reunited with her Cinderella father, Ben Chaplin; here playing her husband, Stuart Piggott.

The Dig is available to watch on Netflix.

 

Lily James has now established herself as one of the finest British period dramas actresses of her generation. Once you’ve seen all five of the above titles, we’d also highly recommend Joe Wright’s World War II drama Darkest Hour, Disney’s Cinderella remake, and Emily Mortimer’s 2021 adaptation of The Pursuit of Love.

The Pursuit of Love is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.