The 20 best period piece shows you can watch right now
Do you love intriguing historical plots, elaborate costumes and beautiful settings? These period piece shows will be right up your alley.
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Period piece shows are more popular than ever. We don't know if it's because of the dramatic portrayal of history or glorious wardrobes to match, but viewers can't get enough of them.
They provide a unique form of escapism, allowing fans to not only get lost in a different world but in simpler times when everyone actually spoke to one another instead of staring at their smartphones. That can be refreshing.
Whichever historical era is your favourite, there's a comedy or drama to cover it. And whether you're after romance, scandal or political intrigue, streaming services have a lot to offer. These shows stay true to their time period and come with a side of exceptional storytelling and great characterisation.
Without further ado, here are the best period piece series available to stream in Australia.
1. The North Water
- Year: 2021
- Cast: Jack O'Connell, Colin Farrell, Stephen Graham, Tom Courtenay
Based on Ian McGuire's novel of the same name, The North Water is set in the 1850s and follows an ex-army doctor who joins a whaling expedition to the Arctic. Little does he know, he's about to share the same vessel with a murderous harpooner.
The North Water is the kind of immersive show that gives you chills even if the weather is lovely or you're curdled up in the warmest blanket on the planet. The uneasiness is palpable.
With excellent performances and gorgeous cinematography, it will win you over in no time.
Sorry, we've found no buying or renting options for this title.
2. The Great
- Year: 2020
- Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan
The Great centres on Catherine the Great, who rose from outsider to Russia's longest-reigning female ruler. However, this isn't the story you might remember from the history books.
The series, dubbed anti-historical, has a wicked sense of humour and a top-notch cast. It's witty, modern and highly addictive.
Set in the 18th century, The Great will satisfy your desire for stunning costumes. It will also make you laugh out loud.
3. The Pursuit of Love
- Year: 2021
- Cast: Lily James, Emily Beecham, Andrew Scott, Dominic West
The Pursuit of Love is based on the beloved 1945 novel by Nancy Mitford, which means it has some big shoes to fill. Thankfully, it proves to be an entertaining adaptation.
The story follows 2 cousins who navigate love between World War I and World War II. While 1 of them settles for a more conventional life, the other is set on following her heart no matter what – even when her pursuits defy society's expectations.
With a spot-on cast and solid production values, The Pursuit of Love is charming escapism. Feel free to indulge.
- Year: 2019
- Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, Ella Hunt, Adrian Blake Enscoe
This joyful dark comedy is all about poet Emily Dickinson, wonderfully portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld, as she explores the constraints of society, gender and family in the 19th century.
Despite being set during Emily Dickinson's era, the show boasts a modern tone, painting a complex portrait of an artist who never quite fit in during her own time.
Craving a compulsive and engaging show? You're in the right place.
- Year: 2020
- Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Nicola Coughlan
Set during the Regency era in England, Bridgerton is a captivating date of lust and betrayal. With lavish costumes and sets, the show is an excellent pick for viewers craving a romance series for the ages.
The plot revolves around the Bridgerton family, with season 1 focusing on eldest daughter Daphne, who makes her debut onto London's competitive marriage market, and her (devious) relationship with the attractive Duke of Hastings.
Bridgerton is sexy, colourful and soapy. It may not be the most historically accurate entry on this list, but it's one of the most fun period shows out there.
6. Lovecraft Country
- Year: 2020
- Cast: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis
Lovecraft Country is an unsettling drama set in the 50s, with a tremendous cast and a tense atmosphere.
The action follows a young African-American man who travels across the segregated US to look for his missing father. He recruits his uncle and a childhood friend to join him for the trip, but they encounter all sorts of horrors along the way, both real and supernatural.
This is a strange show, but one that will definitely appeal to fans of genre-bending (and spooky) series. If you're not a horror enthusiast, you might want to watch Lovecraft Country with the lights on, at least at first.
- Year: 2020
- Cast: Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Josh Radnor, Jerrika Hinton
Hunters is less about the period details and more about hunting Nazis, but we consider that a plus.
The series takes place in 70s New York and follows an eclectic group of Nazi hunters as they set to bring Nazis conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the US to justice and put a stop to their genocidal plans.
Starring Al Pacino, Hunters is stylish and riveting, making for a satisfying binge. The show blends facts with fiction in an inventive way and has plenty to say about vigilante justice.
It's also an odd mix of humour, action and important subject matter. If you were looking for a provocative series to add to your list, you can't go wrong with Hunters.
Sorry, we've found no buying or renting options for this title.
- Year: 2019
- Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson
You may think that you're familiar with one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of mankind. Even so, this miniseries will surprise you.
Set in 1986, Chernobyl chronicles the unprecedented clean-up efforts that followed the nuclear disaster, focusing both on the people who caused it and those who responded to it.
This series dramatises the tragedy with a lot of flair and attention to detail. It's a bleak but powerful show, one that will stay with you long after the end credits roll.
Everything about Chernobyl is outstanding, from the writing and the performances to the cinematography. You have to give this one a stream.
9. Stranger Things
- Year: 2016
- Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown
Stranger Things may be a sci-fi series first, but it really nails the period details, which makes it worthy of a spot on this list.
Starting off, the show is set in the 80s and follows a group of kids who stumble upon secret government exploits and witness supernatural forces. Searching for answers, they'll end up unravelling a series of extraordinary mysteries.
One of Netflix's biggest hits, Stranger Things quickly earned critical and mass acclaim thanks to its wonderful cast and immersive storytelling.
A love letter to the 80s, the series steadily grows into a compelling mixture of fun and scares, with a big focus on friendship. Believe the hype. It has faced some delays, but season 4 of Stranger Things is not far away.
- Year: 2018
- Cast: Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker, Mackenzie Crook, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
A historical fantasy drama, Britannia is set in 43 A.D. and follows the Roman conquest of Britain, a land ruled by wild warrior women and powerful druids.
The series offers a bonkers mix of swords and sorcery, with plenty of gorgeous landscapes thrown in to soothe the eye. It also helps that Britannia doesn't take itself too seriously, with less focus on actual history and more on the fantasy part.
If you're into magic, folklore and witchcraft, we guarantee you'll be spellbound.
11. Boardwalk Empire
- Year: 2010
- Cast: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham
Come for the lush period detail, stay for the thrilling storytelling.
A period drama to remember, Boardwalk Empire is set during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. It follows Nucky Thompson, who runs Atlantic City and is well connected in both the political and criminal world. Consequently, the federal government takes a special interest in him.
Boardwalk Empire has plenty of substance. Over the course of 5 seasons, it delivers exciting dramatic moments, compelling romantic twists and superb visuals.
Bonus: The pilot episode is directed by Martin Scorsese, so you know you'll be in for a treat.
Catch up on period dramas with these free trials
12. The Americans
- Year: 2013
- Cast: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor
When you're facing relationship troubles, it can feel like life or death. For Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, that's often the case.
Set during the Cold War, The Americans follows 2 KGB spies who pose as an American married couple living in 1980s Washington DC. At its core a story about marriage, the show explores the 2 protagonists' bond as they struggle to lead double lives.
The series received critical acclaim since its premiere, with multiple reviewers calling it one of the best shows on television. For good reason. The Americans is smart and sleek, elegant and thought-provoking.
Thanks to its alluring premise and the engaging performances the 2 leads deliver, the series is both fun and suspenseful. A spy thriller of the highest order.
13. Call the Midwife
- Year: 2012
- Cast: Helen George, Charlotte Ritchie, Jenny Agutter, Laura Main
Call the Midwife is a delightful period drama series about a group of nurse-midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It follows newly qualified midwife Jenny who joins an eccentric community of nuns who are nurses at Nonnatus House. As time goes by she develops incredible friendships, especially since the nurses are perpetually drawn into the lives and homes of the women and families they treat.
The series is a celebration of life, filled with heart and humour. The visuals are stunning and the performances brilliant, allowing viewers to take a fascinating trip back in time.
Prepare to giggle excessively along the way.
14. Downton Abbey
- Year: 2010
- Cast: Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt
Downton Abbey is one of the most popular period dramas of all time. It's the show that revived the genre and satisfied the commoner in us all.
Set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, this sumptuous series chronicles the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era.
During the course of 6 glorious seasons, Downton Abbey depicts numerous historical events and their effects on the British social hierarchy. The list includes the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War I, the Spanish influenza pandemic and the Irish War of Independence, to name a few. It does so with flair and elegance, relying on witty dialogue, well-dosed melodrama and lavish costumes.
Alluring from episode 1, Downton Abbey isn't just an ode to early 20th-century Britain. Thanks to amazing acting and beautifully crafted characters, it's so much more.
15. The Crown
- Year: 2016
- Cast: Claire Foy, John Lithgow, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby
This acclaimed Netflix show is all about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Season 1 covers the period from her marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 to the disintegration of her sister Princess Margaret's engagement to Peter Townsend in 1955. Subsequent installments continue the story, featuring a new cast every couple of seasons.
The Crown is one of Netflix's most-praised series, receiving several accolades for its freshman run. It's an ambitious and lavish production, with impeccable acting and stunning scenery.
A family drama told on an extravagant scale, the series is also incredibly moving, relying on smart writing to keep viewers invested.
16. Mad Men
- Year: 2007
- Cast: Alison Brie, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm, January Jones
This stylish and iconic drama follows the lives of Madison Avenue advertising executives, the so-called Mad Men, in 1960s New York.
The series centres on Don Draper, a dashing creative director for ad agency Sterling Cooper. His charms extend well outside the boardroom and into the bedroom as the series follows both his career pursuits and romantic entanglements. Season 1 touches on Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and the rise of the Lucky Strike cigarette brand.
The show is sleek and sexy, perfectly capturing not only the era's spirit, but also its casual prejudice and sexual manipulation.
Mad Men is a complicated and challenging drama, one that doesn't rely on twists and cliffhangers to draw you in. Instead, it delivers a nuanced portrayal of flawed individuals, diving deep into what makes them tick.
Soon enough, you'll find yourself caring so much about these folks that you will be unable to look away.
17. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
- Year: 2012
- Cast: Essie Davis, Ashleigh Cummings, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt
Follow Phryne Fisher through the back alleys, shady markets and jazz clubs of late 1920s Melbourne.
A glamorous lady detective in a mostly male world, she goes about her work with a pearl-handled pistol and dagger-sharp wit, fighting injustice and making sure that the man responsible for the disappearance of her younger sister stays behind bars. She's keen to help those who can't help themselves, which she does so with grace and elegance.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries features a remarkable feminist heroine who fights crime and challenges the status quo, all while looking flawless. She's an unmarried woman in charge of her own life in an era when this was unusual, to say the least.
Overall, the show is glamorous, smart and sexy. A feat for the period drama-obsessed and casual viewer alike.
- Year: 2014
- Cast: Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, Tobias Menzies, Graham McTavish
Outlander doesn't cover just 1 historical period. Thanks to its time travelling element, it covers 2.
Based on the successful series of novels with the same name, the show follows Claire, a married World War II nurse who finds herself transported back in time from 1945 to the Scotland of 1743. Here, she encounters a dashing Highland warrior called Jamie and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings.
An exciting and steamy drama, Outlander is a peculiar mix of romance, magical fantasy, adventure and horror. The settings are beautiful and viewers will find it hard not to cheer for the show's charismatic star-crossed lovers.
19. Peaky Blinders
- Year: 2013
- Cast: Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson
If grittier series are more your thing, Peaky Blinders should definitely be on your watchlist.
The epic gangster drama is set in the lawless streets of post-war Birmingham on the cusp of the 1920s. It centres on the Peaky Blinders gang and their ambitious and cunning boss Tommy Shelby, whose main purpose is to move up in the world by any means necessary.
A visual treat, the show is well-acted and pays incredible attention to detail. As any respectable gang drama, it features a lot of brutal violence, sex and drugs, but also delivers intriguing storylines and swoon-worthy character development.
Recommended for those looking for a solid dose of bloody fun.
20. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- Year: 2017
- Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Marin Hinkle, Michael Zegen
This charming comedy-drama follows 2 women as they take on the man's world of 50s stand-up comedy.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel centres on Midge, a housewife who seems to have everything she has ever wanted – but when her husband unceremoniously leaves her, she discovers a hidden talent he wasn't aware of.
Her life takes an unexpected turn as she goes from the comfort of the Upper West Side through the cafes and nightclubs of Greenwich Village, trying to make a name for herself.
The show instantly catapults the viewer into late-50s New York thanks to beautiful sets and a wardrobe to die for. The ensemble cast is perfect, with Rachel Brosnahan offering a breakout performance as Midge. The show was created by the minds behind Gilmore Girls, so funny banter and witty dialogues are a given.
To sum it up, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is stylish, feminist and fun. If you haven't seen it, you're missing out.
Loved our list? You might also want to check out some Bridgerton fashion trends to shop.
What changed on our list?
- The North Water
- The Great
- The Pursuit of Love
Didn't make the cut
- The Nevers
- The Irregulars
- Cable Girls
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