Best ever costume dramas

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Stylist Team
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The release of new 19th-century romp Bel Ami (out March 9), starring Stylist cover star Uma Thurman alongside Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci and Kristen Scott Thomas, gives us the perfect excuse to revisit some of our favourite costume dramas from the worlds of film and TV.

Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @StylistMagazine.

  • Downton Abbey

    Needing virtually no introduction, Downton Abbey has become the most successful British costume drama since Brideshead Revisited aired back in 1981 - even entering the Guinness Book of Records. Charting the lives and loves of the inhabitants of the fictional Downton Abbey estate, from the aristocratic Crawley family to the below-stairs servants, Julian Fellowes' series has managed to capture the heart of the nation.

  • The House of Eliott

    Devised by the creators of the original incarnation of the hugely successful series Upstairs and Downstairs, The House of Eliott was screened by the BBC between 1991 and 1994. Literally about sisters doin’ it for themselves, the series follows Beatrice and Evie Eliott as they set up their fashion business, The House of Eliott, after being left orphaned and penniless by the sudden death of their father. Despite being set in the 1920s, the programme tackled themes still prevalent today - like how to live a fulfilling life as an independent woman.

  • The Edge of Love

    Set against the backdrop of WWII, The Edge of Love charts the complicated love triangle that developed between poet Dylan Thomas, his wife Caitlin McNamara (played in the film by Sienna Miller), and first love and mistress Vera Philips (played by Keira Knightley). Despite the obvious rivalry between Caitlin and Vera, the film shows how the two women became good friends – also managing to make real-life BFFs of Miller and Knightley in the process.

  • Mad Men

    We bet even creator and director Matthew Weiner could not have predicted the runaway success of American series Mad Men when it first aired back in 2008. Set in the fictional advertising agency Stirling Cooper during the early 60s, a time of real social change, Mad Men centres mostly around the life - and many loves - of the mysterious creative director Donald Draper and deals with themes such as adultery, sexism and female dissatisfaction. Boasting an award-winning costume department headed up by Janie Bryant, the show has even managed to spawn its own fashion moment.

  • Camomile Lawn

    Based on the novel by Mary Wesley, the TV adaptation of Camomile Lawn was aired back in 1992 with a cast that included Felicity Kendal, Jennifer Ehle, Tara Fitzgerald and Rebecca Hall. The drama centres around Richard and Helen Cuthbertson and their five nieces and nephews, recounting their last carefree summer holiday in Cornwall before the outbreak of WWII.

  • Atonement

    Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Ian McEwan and starring James McEvoy, Keira Knightley and Romola Garai, Atonement is set against the backdrop of pre- and post-WWII Britain, and tells a tragic tale of mistaken identity, unrequited love and dramatic consequences.

  • Brideshead Revisited

    Boasting a cast that included Laurence Olivier and Jeremy Irons, Brideshead Revisited - a screenplay adapted from Evelyn Waugh's novel of the same name - first hit UK TV screens in 1981, later going on to win numerous BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and awards.

  • Upstairs Downstairs

    Picking up where the 1970s series left off, Upstairs Downstairs brought the lavish residence 165 Eaton Place back onto our screens in 2010. With it came actresses Keeley Hawes and Claire Foy wearing beautiful gowns, jewels and decadent furs 'upstairs', while the 'downstairs' cast - including Jean Marsh from the original series - had to make do with dour starched uniforms, and failed attempts at overcoming the circumstances of their class.

  • Vanity Fair

    A big budget adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, the 2004 film Vanity Fair was a stylish period romp starring Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Witherspoon plays the main character Becky Sharp, the orphaned daughter of a painter and singer, who uses everything in her arsenal - from stunning looks to her linguistic abilities - to climb the social ladder.

  • Dangerous Liaisons

    Set in France around 1760, and featuring an all-star cast including Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malkovich and an 18-year-old Uma Thurman, Dangerous Liaisons is a seamy tale of sex, seduction, jealousy and revenge.

  • Elizabeth

    She may be Australian by birth, but Cate Blanchett is absolutely faultless in the role of Queen Elizabeth I, where she plays the newly-ascended monarch getting to grips with ruling the country while fending off attempts to get her married off.

  • The Duchess

    Keira Knightley plays gentlewoman Georgiana Spencer as she becomes the Duchess of Devonshire on her marriage to the Duke in 1774. Set during the height of the Georgian period, a time of fashion, decadence and political change, the film recounts the life of the Duchess as she wins public favour for her spirited political views and trend-setting wardrobe but, with a cheating husband, a disloyal best friend and a passionate but impossible love, finds her private life totally falling apart.

  • The Jewel In The Crown

    Based on the Raj Quartet novels by Paul Scott, The Jewel In the Crown TV series was shown on ITV in 1984. Starring Geraldine James, Art Malik and the dashing Charles Dance, the action is set during WWII and charts the final days of the British Empire in India.

  • Amazing Grace

    No stranger to a costume drama, Romola Garai - and her fabulous costumes - take centre stage alongside Ioan Gruffudd and Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2006 film Amazing Grace. Set in 1782, the stately biographical drama follows William Wilberforce (Gruffudd) as he leads the campaign against slavery, eventually steering through legislation which banned the despicable trade in Britain.

  • Pan Am

    First airing on our screens in 2011, US TV series Pan Am focuses on the gorgeously groomed crew of Pan Am Airlines during the golden era of commercial air travel in the early 60s. Despite the show’s immaculately-dressed cast, which includes Christina Ricci and Kelli Garner, and careful attention to period details, it appears to have failed to emulate the achievments of fellow retro drama Mad Men, with rumours swirling about Pan Am being cancelled after just one season.

  • The Forsyte Saga

    Adapted from a series of novels by John Galsworthy, the most recent TV version of The Forsyte Saga was screened on ITV in 2002. Chronicling the lives of three generations of the upper-middle-class British family, the Forsytes, from the 1870s to 1920, actor Damian Lewis won critical acclaim in his role as the greedy and malicious Soames Forsyte.

  • Emma

    Kate Beckinsale took the title role (also occupied by Gwyneth Paltrow and Romola Garai in other adaptations) of meddling matchmaker in the 1996 television series of Jane Austen's classic novel shown on ITV.

  • Rome

    Set in the 1st century BC and focusing on two soldiers, Lucius Vorenus (played by Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (actor Ray Stevenson) - whose lives are intertwined with key historical events - Rome tells the story of the great city from its ancient beginnings, through to being a republic and then an empire.

  • Dr Zhivago

    Doctor Zhivago (played by Hans Matheson) is still married when he meets the beautiful Lara (Keira Knightley), who already happens to have two other suitors. Despite the good doctor's commitments, they embark on a passionate affair and their love unfolds against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, eventually affecting the doctor's career, family, and his love for Lara.

  • Enchanted April

    The second film adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel of the same name, Enchanted April was released in 1992 and tells the story of four very different women, who decide to leave damp and rainy 1920s England for a sun-filled holiday in a secluded castle off the coast of Italy.

  • Remains of the Day

    A heart-breaking tale of love and loyalty, Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins star as housekeeper Miss Kenton and old-fashioned butler James Stevens in the 1993 film Remains of the Day. Stevens' world of manners and decorum is thoroughly tested by the arrival of a Miss Kenton, who falls in love with him in post-WWI Britain. The possibility of romance and his master's ties with the Nazi cause challenge his carefully maintained veneer of servitude, leading him to question his whole life.

  • Pride and Prejudice

    The small-screen adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel, about the prejudice that occurred between the 19th century classes and the pride that could keep lovers apart, made an unexpected heartthrob of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. Who knew breeches could have such an effect?

  • Love in a Cold Climate

    Based on the 1949 novel by Nancy Mitford, Love In a Cold Climate first appeared on British TV screens in 1980 and starred Judi Dench. Perfectly capturing the foibles and fancies of the English upper class, the action is set in the privileged world of the country house party and the London season in the 1930s.

  • Jane Eyre

    Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender revived Charlotte Brontë's iconic tale of tortured love with a simmering big-screen adaptation that hit cinemas last year.

  • House of Mirth

    Terence Davies' film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth appeared in 2000 and starred Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd and Laura Linney. A tragic love story set against a backdrop of wealth and social hypocrisy in turn-of-the-century New York, the drama focuses on Lily Bart (played by Anderson) - a ravishing socialite at the height of her success, who quickly discovers the precariousness of her position when her beauty and charm starts attracting unwelcome interest and jealousy.


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