The 20 Best Period Piece Drama Movies of All Time, Ranked

These incredible period piece drama movies transport us to the past, immersing us in time periods unlike our own.
The 20 Best Period Piece Drama Movies of All Time, Ranked

If you buy something using our links, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

It can be nice to escape modern troubles by leaping back in time and experiencing the opulence of past time periods. That's the magic afforded to us by period piece drama movies!

Stunning wardrobes, idyllic countrysides, war-torn romances, all taking place in worlds far away from our current lifestyle of ubiquitous technology and instant gratification.

Of course, that's not to say life back in the day was any better or easier than how we have it today. It's just fun to indulge in a little sugar-coated movie drama every now and then!

From Jane Austen adaptations to films about medieval royalty, here are my picks for the best period piece drama movies that take place between the 16th and 19th centuries.

20. Anna Karenina (2012)

Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Drama, Romance (2h 9m)

6.6 on IMDb62% on RT

Keira Knightley has appeared in her fair share of historical films and period piece dramas, from 2007's Atonement to 2011's A Dangerous Method (neither which appear on this list).

This isn't the first time you'll see her name pop up, but we're starting with Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright and adapted from Leo Tolstoy's novel that was published in 1878.

Presented as a hybrid of stage theater and cinema, the Russian tragedy is a dazzling aesthetic achievement with an all-star cast, including Jude Law, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Macfadyen, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

19. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Directed by Justin Chadwick

Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana

Biography, Drama, History (1h 55m)

6.7 on IMDb43% on RT

Loosely based on the life of 16th century aristocrat Mary Boleyn, The Other Boleyn Girl tells the lesser-known story of Anne Boleyn's sister.

Directed by Justin Chadwick, this romance drama is a sobering account of Anne as a usurper, in which Chadwick proposes that it was actually Mary who was intended to be Queen.

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson give great performances as the feuding siblings, which—alongside the gorgeous wardrobe and set design—make up for some slightly clunky pacing.

18. Becoming Jane (2007)

Directed by Julian Jarrold

Starring Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters

Biography, Drama, Romance (2h)

7.0 on IMDb58% on RT

Jane Austen is the world-renowned name behind many of the internationally recognized movies on this list.

The famous English novelist wrote countless classics towards the end of the 18th century. But what about the author herself?

Julian Jarrold's heritage biopic Becoming Jane stars Anne Hathaway as the feisty young bachelorette, who lacked any real interest in her suitors (despite all the romance in her novels).

But all of that is shattered when the brawling bad-boy lawyer Thomas Lefroy (James McAvoy) comes along!

17. The Young Victoria (2009)

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany

Biography, Drama, History (1h 45m)

7.2 on IMDb76% on RT

Queen Victoria is perhaps the most famous queen in British history. She was the longest-reigning monarch until her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II broke her record in 2015.

Coronated in 1838, Queen Victoria is known for leading the country during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. She's also known for only wearing black... every single day... for over 40 years.

But Jean-Marc Vallée shows us the Victoria before all of this—before her husband died, before she spearheaded an empire.

Emily Blunt gives an intelligent performance as the stubborn, young queen, who was one of the few royals in British history to genuinely love her arranged husband! If you want a smart movie period piece, The Young Victoria is a fantastic one to watch.

16. Belle (2013)

Directed by Amma Asante

Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson

Biography, Drama, Romance (1h 40m)

7.3 on IMDb85% on RT

Despite the rose-tinted imagery of fancy clothes, intimate love letters, and candle-lit courtships, we know the 18th century wasn't actually that pretty. The period is heavily romanticized.

In fact, war, torture, poverty, sexism, and slavery were all normal things in 1761, the year Dido Elizabeth Belle was born.

The central character in Belle and played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dido was a mixed race gentlewoman, illegitimately born to a Royal Navy officer and forced to lived precariously in Hampstead, London.

Director Amma Asante speculates on Dido's life story in Belle, a socially conscious period drama that was inspired by the only known painting of Dido from 1779.

15. Ammonite (2020)

Directed by Francis Lee

Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones

Biography, Drama, History (1h 57m)

6.5 on IMDb69% on RT

The slow silence of a world without cars, phones, and corporations is echoed in the stillness of Francis Lee's Ammonite.

Set in the quiet coastal town of Dorset during the 1840s, fossil collector Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) reluctantly cares for a rich geologist's wife (Saoirse Ronan) when he finds her bedridden.

Inspired by the speculative romance between the two real women, who are known for their findings of Jurassic marine fossils, Ammonite is a touching and transcendent love story.

14. Emily (2022)

Directed by Frances O'Connor

Starring Emma Mackey, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Fionn Whitehead

Biography, Drama, History (2h 10m)

6.9 on IMDb88% on RT

Writers are known to be eccentric and introverted, and that's a perfectly fitting description for Emily Brontë.

Emma Mackey gives a standout performance that brings forth Emily's moody and contradictory disposition: shy yet rebellious, sulky yet giggly (especially at inappropriate moments).

The Wuthering Heights author refused to do what society told her. Instead, she turned up to church high on opium, slept with clergymen, and wrote a book about terrible people (according to director Frances O'Connor anyway, which should be taken with a pinch of salt).

And as the most recently released film on this list, Emily is a solid contender as one of the best new period piece dramas of late.

13. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Directed by Ang Lee

Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, James Fleet

Drama, Romance (2h 16m)

7.7 on IMDb97% on RT

Famed director Ang Lee elegantly translated Jane Austen's classic 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility to the big screen in 1995.

When the wealthy Dashwood sisters are suddenly destitute, they turn to their respective suitors to haul them out of poverty.

Star and screenwriter Emma Thompson—a huge lover of Jane Austen's work—spent five years drafting script revisions before giving us this film, sparking a 1990s resurgence of Jane Austen in cinema.

Alongside Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility features a fully British ensemble cast of high-caliber actors, including Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, and Tom Wilkinson.

12. Little Women (2019)

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh

Drama, Romance (2h 15m)

7.8 on IMDb95% on RT

Over the years, there have been several film adaptations of Little Women, the infamous 1868 coming-of-age novel by Louisa May Alcott.

It all started with George Cukor's pre-Code drama back in 1933, and then we got Gillian Armstrong's remake in 1994, but most recently we were treated to Greta Gerwig's Oscar-winning version in 2019.

Little Women stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, and Laura Dern, who make up the tight-knit March family living in Massachusetts. The daughters are completely different, and yet they're forever bound in love.

Prepare to laugh, cry, and feel welcomed as part of the family in this extraordinarily emotional period piece drama.

11. A Room With a View (1985)

Directed by James Ivory

Starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott

Drama, Romance (1h 57m)

7.2 on IMDb100% on RT

E. M. Forster's classic 1908 novel A Room With a View got a critically-acclaimed film adaptation in 1985, which imbued the story with pastoral charm thanks to James Ivory's direction.

Helena Bonham Carter stars as the young Lucy Honeychurch, who falls in love with the philosophical George (Julian Sands) in Florence despite a fiancé waiting for her back home.

A Room With a View won three Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design—as it deserved!

10. Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell

Drama, Romance (2h)

7.3 on IMDb85% on RT

There have been numerous Jane Eyre adaptations—both in cinema and television—which shouldn't be a surprise given that it was Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel!

We can think of at least ten such adaptations, but our favorite one remains Cary Joji Fukunaga's 2011 movie.

In Jane Eyre, Michael Fassbender plays Edward Rochester, your usual brooding Byronic heartthrob. Alongside him is Mia Wasikowska as the troubled governess Jane Eyre herself.

Despite its dreamy cinematography, there's something dark lingering beneath the surface of this pretty period piece romance drama.

9. Marie Antoinette (2006)

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn

Biography, Drama, History (2h 3m)

6.5 on IMDb57% on RT

You can watch this film for the aesthetics alone! Dreamy pinks and Baroque architecture make Marie Antoinette feel like it's coated in sugar.

As the famous last Queen of France before the French Revolution, Antoinette indulged in all things silk and expensive. That's perfect material for a Sofia Coppola movie!

Get swept away by the feminine antics of Kirsten Dunst's archduchess, who marries the Dauphin of France at 14 years of age but struggles to produce an heir for him.

8. Elizabeth (1998)

Directed by Shekhar Kapur

Starring Cate Blanchett, Liz Giles, Rod Culbertson

Biography, Drama, History (2h 4m)

7.4 on IMDb83% on RT

When it comes to the most famous female British monarchs, the only other one who can compete with Queen Victoria is Queen Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth I has been played by many actresses throughout cinema, including Margot Robbie, Judi Dench, Quentin Crisp, Glenda Jackson, and Vanessa Redgrave.

In Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, it's Cate Blanchett who gives an Oscar-nominated portrayal of the 16th century ruler. The film takes us through the first chunk of Elizabeth's life, which is when she took the throne and warded off plotters.

Fun fact: Cate Blanchett and Shekhar Kapur reunited for the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007. In it, she goes through several crises from the latter years of her life, but the film as a whole isn't nearly as good as this one.

7. Emma (2020)

Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth

Comedy, Drama, Romance (2h 4m)

6.7 on IMDb86% on RT

The "female gaze" has been popularized in recent years, which Eleanor Catton sublimely presents in her adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma.

As an Austen story, Emma is filled with all things romantic and artsy, but also has a nice dusting of comedy. Pastel color palettes, charming characters, and a playful tone make Emma a timeless, joyful watch.

It's all brought to life by Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, and Bill Nighy.

6. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Directed by Stephen Frears

Starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer

Drama, Romance (1h 59m)

7.6 on IMDb94% on RT

Based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, Christopher Hampton wrote both the play adaptation and the Hollywood movie adaptation called Dangerous Liaisons.

The three-time Oscar-winning film is a morality play that was originally written to expose the corruption of French nobility in 1782.

Stephen Frears directs a dazzling cast that includes Glenn Close as the central Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil and John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont who intentionally sabotages the lives of those around her.

It's all fun and games until someone falls in love! Dangerous Liaisons is one of the best period piece romance movies and you won't want to miss it if that sort of thing is your jam.

5. Amadeus (1984)

Directed by Miloš Forman

Starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge

Biography, Drama, Music (2h 40m)

8.4 on IMDb89% on RT

Back in the 1700s, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri were two competing classical composers from different European countries, who shared a fierce history of bickering with each other.

Director Miloš Forman investigates their famous rivalry with a healthy sprinkling of fictionalization, posing the question of what would happen if Salieri confessed to killing Mozart.

Adapted from Peter Shaffer's 1979 stage play, Amadeus won eight Academy Awards. A genius movie of grandeur and style, it's one of the best period piece dramas we've seen.

4. Lady Macbeth (2016)

Directed by William Oldroyd

Starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton

Drama, Romance (1h 29m)

6.8 on IMDb88% on RT

Florence Pugh made her grand entrance to the Hollywood limelight with her 2016 breakout role in Lady Macbeth.

No, we're not talking about that Lady Macbeth. There are no Shakespearean witches or floating daggers in this one.

Instead, William Oldroyd's chilling slow-burner is based on Nikolai Leskov's 1865 Russian novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

On the surface, Lady Macbeth doesn't look like much more than a woman sat bored in an empty room... but this taut and cleanly directed period drama is riddled with tension and emotion.

3. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Directed by Joe Wright

Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn

Drama, Romance (2h 9m)

7.8 on IMDb87% on RT

We hope you like Jane Austen because she's here yet again! Pride & Prejudice is Jane Austen's most well-known and beloved novel, and Joe Wright's film adaptation is one of the more spectacular ones.

Pride & Prejudice follows the not-like-other-girls protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, who—to her own dismay—falls in love with the miserable-but-rich gentleman Mr. Darcy.

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen star as the aloof couple, guided by Joe Wright's skilled direction and all his experience as one of the masters of period piece drama films.

2. The Favourite (2018)

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Biography, Comedy, Drama (1h 59m)

7.5 on IMDb93% on RT

Here's the thing about Yorgos Lanthimos's films: you either love them or you're completely weirded out by them. That certainly applies to The Favourite, which is phenomenal but not to everyone's tastes.

The Greek director's films are often just as wacky, wonderful, and gorgeous as they are disturbing, unorthodox, and unafraid to break the traditional rules of Hollywood films.

In The Favourite, it's Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and the great Olivia Colman who star as a royal lesbian trio in 18th century Britain (with Olivia Colman winning an Oscar for her performance).

A fictionalized take on the story of Queen Anne, The Favourite is a one-of-a-kind dark comedy period piece movie that we can't get enough of!

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Directed by Céline Sciamma

Starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luána Bajrami

Drama (2h 2m)

8.1 on IMDb97% on RT

Winner of the Queer Palm Award at Cannes and heralded by critics, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a true masterpiece of modern cinema.

In this passionate and personal study of two women in 18th century France, Céline Sciamma shows us what it means to love in secret.

The film follows a painter (Noémie Merlant) who's commissioned to produce the portrait of reluctant bride-to-be Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).

And indeed, the movie's title is fitting since the film itself has the beautiful intricacies of any great painting. It's my personal pick as the greatest period piece romance film out there.