TV's 10 Best Period Dramas

From the Victorian Era to 1980s NYC

Did you ever wish you could be in another time, or have you ever thought you belonged in a different time? Unfortunately, if the answer is yes to either of these questions, it's not going to happen. That's where period dramas come in. Now you can sit back and enjoy 1800s England, 1960s New York City, 1980s Washington D.C. and more. If you are feeling like transporting to another time, here are 10 of the best TV period dramas you should watch! 

01
of 10

North & South (2004)

North & South
 BBC

This BBC mini-series follows Margaret Hale's move from a house in the south of England to a house in the industrial north and the obstacles she faces along the way. The series, based on the Victorian novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, takes place in the 1800s in the midst of a cross-class love between Margaret and the dashing John Thornton. This show grips its viewers from the first episode, and more than ten years later, it is still one of the best TV period dramas. The four-episode adaptation stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret, Richard Armitage as John Thornton, Tim Pigott-Smith as Richard Hale and Sinead Cusack as Hannah Thornton. Watch the series on Netflix.

Launch For Matthew Weiner's Book 'Mad Men'
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

"Mad Men" zeroes in on one particular ad agency in New York City and its star creative director, Don Draper, in the '60s. Although the series, one of the most recent period dramas on TV, looks at life as an ad man, it also gives viewers a looks at the '60s through its characters relationships, homes, career problems, racial issues and families. The seven-season series stars Jon Hamm as Don Draper, Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell, January Jones as Betty Francis/Draper, Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris and John Slattery as Roger Sterling. More »

03
of 10

Reign (2013)

Reign
The CW

Although the costumes or the story aren't authentic, this underrated series is addictive. "Reign", loosely based on Mary, Queen of Scots, is full of romance, political intrigue, drama, Queen Catherine's scheming and the scary world of the French court in 1557 France. The CW series stars Adelaide Kane as Queen Mary Stuart, Megan Follows as Queen Catherine, Torrance Coombs as Sebastian, Anna Popplewell as Lola, Celina Sinden as Greer and more. You can find the latest look at the series here.

04
of 10

Downton Abbey (2010)

Downton Abbey
 lafiguradelpadre Congreso/Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

This upstairs/downstairs drama surveys a British aristocratic family, the Crawleys, and the servants that work for them on an estate called Downton Abbey. This romantic series, which begins in pre-World War I England just after the RMS Titanic sank, tells the stories of inheritance, class differences, marital tribulations and more. "Downton Abbey" stars Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley, Jim Carter as Charles Carson, Brendan Coyle as John Bates, Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, Joanna Froggatt as Anna Bates, Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow, and more.

05
of 10

Boardwalk Empire (2010)

Boardwalk Empire
 Wicker Paradise/Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

This series takes viewers back to the U.S. during the Prohibition era in the 1920s alongside an Atlantic City politician who doesn't always choose to stay on the right side of the law. The federal government takes an interest in him when they realize his lifestyle is too luxurious for his political status and that he has relationships with politicians and mobsters. Although this Terence Winter-created HBO series can be slow at times, it is intense. The series stars Steve Buscemi as Enoch 'Nucky' Thomspon, Stephen Graham as Al Capone, Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano, Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Thompson, Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden and more. 

06
of 10

Peaky Blinders (2013)

Peaky Blinders
 Youtube

"Peaky Blinders" is set in a similar time period as "Boardwalk Empire," 1919, but this time, viewers are taken to England. The series follows a gangster family who sews razor blades at their caps' peaks and boss Thomas (Tommy) Shelby, played by the incredibly fierce Cillian Murphy, as he continues to move up the food chain. Although the show has been criticized for its inaccurate accents, the cinematography and plot are unique and engaging. If you love Victorian crime shows like "Sherlock Holmes" or "Ripper Street," you'll be a fan of this. Along with Cillian Murphy, "Peaky Blinders" stars Sam Neill, Paul Anderson, Helen McCrory, Joe Cole, Sophie Rundle and Eric Campbell. 

07
of 10

Outlander (2014)

'Outlander'
Photo credit: Starz

Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall, a combat nurse from 1945 who is married to Frank Randall. She seems to be living a normal life until she's inexplicably taken back to 1743 and falls in love with a Scottish warrior, leaving her torn between two worlds--and men. If you're looking for an epic romance in more than one century, look no further. The series stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser and Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall. 

08
of 10

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

'Pride and Prejudice'
Photo: BBC

This TV series tells a great, classic tale about prejudice between classes in the 19th century and the pride that tears love apart, just as Jane Austen did in her novel "Pride and Prejudice." Although Keira Knightley plays an excellent Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film on the story, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle are an exquisite pair, and their ability to share their chemistry throughout an entire series (instead of in the two hours a film provides) makes it hard not to fall for them. Jennifer Ehle plays Elizabeth Bennet, Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy, Susannah Harker plays Jane Bennet, Julia Sawalha plays Lydia Bennet, Alison Steadman plays Mrs. Bennet, Benjamin Whitrow plays Mr. Bennet, Crispin Bonham-Carter plays Mr. Bingley and more. 

09
of 10

The Americans (2013)

The Americans
Photo credit: FX.

"The Americans" follows two married KGB spies posing as Americans in Washington D.C. in the '80s, just after Ronald Reagan was elected President. Although their marriage was arranged, Philip and Elizabeth's chemistry heats up by the minute as does the Cold War. This intense and suspenseful FX series stars Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. Watch "The Americans" on Hulu.

10
of 10

The Paradise (2012)

'The Paradise'
Photo credit: PBS/Masterpiece - BBC One

"The Paradise" follows a country girl, Denise Lovett, who brings some clever ideas to an elegant Victorian-era department store (England's first) and gets caught up in a new world. She also gets caught up with the store's owner, John Moray. Aside from the love story, the show's ability to layer each character so deeply is its strength. The Bill Gallagher-created series, based on Emile Zola's novel "Au Bonheur des Dames," stars Joanna Vanderham as Denise, Emun Elliott as Moray, Stephen Wight as Sam, Sonya Cassidy as Clara, Elaine Cassidy as Katherine Glendenning and Finn Burridge as Arthur.