Handsome heroes from period dramas

Posted by
Stylist Team
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When it comes to escapism, there's nothing quite like a period drama - especially when that drama features a handsome brooding hero who knows his way around a horse and wears a pair of breeches particularly well.

We've taken a look at our favourite leading men from period dramas past and present in the gallery below. Prepare to imagine yourself at a debutante ball or running across some moody moors...

Click an image to open the gallery, and give each gent a rating our of five using our star scoring.

  • Stephen Wraysford (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne)

    Eddie Redmayne brings a brooding intensity to the role of Stephen Wraysford in the BBC's adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, with his simmering passion for Isabelle. Eddie's a pro at pouting and gazing meaningfully into the middle distance - he's also the face of Burberry's campaign alongside Cara Delevingne.

  • Matthew Crawley (portrayed by Dan Stevens)

    As Downton’s number one eligible bachelor, Matthew has all the ladies’ corsets in a twist – not least because he’s heir to the estate and thus makes rather tempting husband material. And like all romantic heroes, he’s just that little bit unattainable – increasing his allure by tenfold….

  • Heathcliff (portrayed by Tom Hardy)

    Not only does he have a literary name, but Tom Hardy's also played one of the most iconic heroes in fiction - Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Tom's ridiculously pouty lips and wild, almost primal acting style make him one of the most successful actors to take on this role.

  • Lieutenant Richard Sharpe (portrayed by Sean Bean)

    Is it the uniform? The way he handles a sword and musket? Or the fact he can always be relied upon to come riding to the rescue when there's a damsel in distress? Whatever, Sean Bean as Sharpe is one of our all-time favourite swashbuckling heroes.

  • Thomas Barrow (portrayed Rob James-Collier)

    Brooding, complex and deliciously evil, first footman Thomas is certainly easy on the eye. He’s had more than his fair share of admirers at Downton over the years; men as well as women.

  • Fitzwilliam Darcy (portrayed by Lawrence Olivier)

    Ah, Mr Darcy - the conflicted character that has been melting women's hearts since Pride and Prejudice's publication in 1813. Lawrence Olivier kick-started a string of screen adaptations with his dashing take on the character in 1940 - clingy riding trousers and all...

  • Fitzwilliam Darcy (portrayted by Colin Firth)

    It was, of course, Colin Firth that reignited modern women's love of Mr Darcy, in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, thanks to the wardrobe department's investment in a string of unbuttoned white shirts) and the now infamous lake scene.

  • Fitzwilliam Darcy (portrayed by Matthew MacFadyen)

    Pride and Prejudice proved popular in the Nineties - another 1995 adaptation, this time for the big screen, saw Matthew MacFadyen take on the role of Mr Darcy, starring opposite Keira Knightley.

  • Edward Ferrars (portrayed by Hugh Grant)

    Another Jane Austen adaptation - namely Ang Lee's 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility - saw a young Hugh Grant portray Edward Ferrars, bringing his reserved, English gent personna to the role, much to our delight.

  • John Willoughby (portrayed by Greg Wise)

    Yes, yes - we know he's a total cad who ultimately breaks Marianne's heart, but we defy any woman not to be left a little open mouthed by him carrying her through the rain in the same 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

  • George Knightley (portrayed by Jeremy Northam)

    Despite initially falling for the young Frank Churchill, Emma is eventually won over by Mr Knightley's kindness and compassion. In the 1996 big screen version, the charming lead was played by Jeremy Northam, who later went on to appear in the Thirties-set film Gosford Park.

  • George Knightley (portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller)

    The most recent adaptation of Emma saw Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of Mr Knightley, starring opposite Romola Garai in the 2009 BBC four-part TV drama.

  • John Thornton (portrayed by Richard Armitage)

    Richard Armitage's portrayal of the brusk, northern character from Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South caused the BBC programme's online message board to crash within the first thirty minutes of broadcast, with his performance drawing comparisons to Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr Darcy and putting Armitage on the acting map.

  • Captain Wentworth (portrayed by Rupert Penry-Jones)

    With his blonde hair and chiselled features, Rupert Penry-Jones caused hearts to flutter across the UK when he stepped into the Jane Austen breeches for the TV film adaptation of Persuasion to play naval officer Captain Wentworth.

  • Rhett Butler (portrayed by Clark Gable)

    Slicked back hair and perfectly placed cravats made Clark Gable's take on Rhett Butler - the charasmatic lead in the American Civil War-set Gone With The Wind - one of the most memorable leading men in Old Hollywood history.

  • Edward Fairfax Rochester (portrayed by Orson Welles)

    Who better than Orson Welles to take on the Byronic character of Mr Rochester in 20th Century Fox's 1943 version of Jane Eyre?

  • Edward Fairfax Rochester (portrayed by Timothy Dalton)

    Dalton's strong facial features - the defined jaw and those dark, bushy eyebrows - lead to him perfectly portray the brooding nature of Mr Rochester in the 1983 TV mini-series and becoming a teengage crush for girls of GCSE age the country over.

  • Edward Fairfax Rochester (portrayed by Michael Fassbender)

    The most recent actor to take on the Mr Rochester role is former X Men star Michael Fassbender, in the 2011 Jane Eyre film.

  • Heathcliffe (portrayed by Laurence Olivier)

    Olivier won an Academy Award for his intense portrayal of one of literature's most enduring romantic heroes in the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights.

  • Heathcliff (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes)

    His role in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights marked the start of a successful film career for Ralph Fiennes, and was one that won him wide critical acclaim.

  • Thomas Lefroy (portrayed by James McAvoy)

    Supposedly the man that inspired the Mr Darcy character in Jane Austen's Jane Eyre, McAvoy played the role of Lefroy in 2007's Becoming Jane, which explored his relationship with the young Austen (played by Anne Hathaway).

  • Charles II (portrayed by Rufus Sewell)

    The 2003 BBC mini-series Charles II: The Power and the Passion certainly delivered on the passion front, with Sewell's King Charles wooing a string of women throughout the four episodes.

  • Henry VIII (portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers)

    There's a reason more than 1 million viewers tuned in to watch the debut of BBC TV series The Tudors in the US. We're not saying it's all down to Jonathan Rhys Meyers - but we're sure he helped...

  • Will Ladislaw (portrayed by Rufus Sewell)

    Proving he's a dab hand at period drama, Rufus Sewell makes not one, but two appearances in our list. His brooding portrayal of Will Ladislaw in the 1994 television adaptation of George Eliot's Middlemarch made us develop a surprisingly keen interest in Victorian literature...

  • Pip Pirrip (portrayed by Douglas Booth)

    The bicentenary of Charles Dickins has led to a rash of new adaptations of his novels, including a new version of the iconic Great Expectations from the BBC starring Douglas Booth as the orphan Pip. Like his fellow period drama star Eddie Redmayne, Douglas has also tried his hand at modelling for Burberry.