Period Dramas & Books for When You Miss Downton Abbey
I miss Downton Abbey. It was my favorite show for years. It was the show I would sit down to watch live every single week. It was the first show I really connected to after moving to Europe. Most importantly, it was the show that brought me to my online community and even to half the Attic editors. I remember gushing over Cora's fabulousness with Lee in 2011, meeting Rory because of the Bransons in 2012, and sharing endless aesthetic moments over Lady Mary with Raquel (will we ever get over Mabel Lane Fox asking her why she always shows up "looking like a cross between a Vogue fashion plate and a case of dynamite?"?? #goals forever).
There's no use trying to figure out why Downton pulled us in so much. It may have taken place in an unattainable world, but it had everything from a snarky Dowager Countess to a socialist chauffeur to the most elegant character to ever grace our screens. It was perfection when it came to entertainment, despite its countless flaws in plotting. (There are things, Julian Fellowes, for which we shall never forgive you.)
Needless to say, Downton's end was momentous for all of us. We had all gotten used to sitting down every Sunday for eight weeks a year (plus Christmas Day), in our respective corners of the world. Sometimes, Rory and I would sit down together with glasses of prosecco. Gone was our shared experience. I haven't sat down to regularly watch a show live since then.
Here, then, are the period dramas and books I turn to when I miss Downton and wish we had more of it:
- Gosford Park – Another Julian Fellowes creation, another wonderful Maggie Smith performance – there's a reason why Gosford Park is usually the first film people recommend when someone asks for more Downton. A murder mystery set at a country house in the 1930s, it has everything you love about Dowton, plus a little side of Agatha Christie. (trailer)
- Howard's End – Whether you sit down with E.M. Forster's 1910 novel, watch the 1992 Merchant Ivory film (trailer. dvd), or even watch the 2017 BBC miniseries (trailer– I have yet to watch the series!), you can't go wrong with Howard's End. It deals not with nobility in the early twentieth century, but with a more intellectual milieu. It'll take you from London to the English countryside and provide with stirring drama.
- Mr Selfridge – Another ITV drama that came about before Downton ended, Mr Selfridge covers more historical ground than Downton, starting in 1908 and going on til the late 1920s. Mr Selfridge is the story of an American family in London (points from me!) setting up a now-famous department store. Far more engaging than The Paradise that came out around the same time with a similar plot (set instead in the Victorian countryside), Mr Selfridge is one of my favorite period series. (trailer. dvd)
- The Buccaneers – Did you think Edith Wharton wasn't going to make an appearance somewhere? If Cora was your favorite part of Downton, then The Buccaneers is exactly what you need. Set in the late nineteenth century as American society mothers began taking their daughters to London, The Buccaneers brings to life the world that Cora would have known as a young woman. (book)
- The Shuttle – Frances Hodgson Burnett's little-known adult novel is much like The Buccaneers, but full of psychological trauma. (book)
- Parade's End – Did you think Downton rushed through the First World War and wish it had explored more of its complexities? Then Parade's End is for you. I couldn't get through Ford Madox Ford's novel, but I did devour the 2012 miniseries and highly recommend it. It, too, had aesthetically incredible moments. (trailer. dvd)
- Upstairs Downstairs – Upstairs Downstairs is probably the show Downton was most compared to when it came out, considering the balance both shows liked to give to their society and working characters. Still, I never watched the original 1970s series, but I was blown away by the 2010 revival. Taking place in the 1930s and 1940s, Upstairs Downstairs has everything you love from Downton, just a couple of years later and in a city setting. (trailer. dvd)
- A Room With a View – Again, whether you read E.M. Forster's 1908 novel or watch the Merchant Ivory film (trailer. dvd), you can't go wrong with A Room with a View. Set in the early twentieth century, it is a coming of age story that takes you from England to Florence and back again.
- Brideshead Revisited – Brideshead's another one where it doesn't matter if you're reading the book, watching the miniseries (trailer) or watching the film (trailer). All three are amazing (yes, I even love the 2008 film) and will take you away from the heteronormativity of the rest of this list. Taking place in the 1920s-1940s, Brideshead is an aesthetic and emotional wonderland.
- Titanic – Let's not forget that Downton literally began with the sinking of the Titanic. The topic clearly interested Downton's creator because he also wrote a miniseries about the sinking of the ship. I loved watching it when it aired, but it also made for some of the most upsetting period drama scenes I've ever seen. (trailer. dvd)
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