Over the past decade or so, Netflix has built a formidable reputation for churning out ravishing costume dramas—both of the prestige TV variety (The Crown), and frothy crowd pleasers (Bridgerton) that inspire trends and spoon-related fan accounts alike. But, even as the streaming giant continues to produce further seasons and spin-offs of these beloved behemoths, it’s also rolled the dice on a spate of other smaller and more unusual projects, from the German-language The Empress and Italian-language The Law According to Lidia Poët, to the sexy and subversive The Queen’s Gambit and the candy-coloured, almost Wes Andersonian World War II drama Transatlantic. Below, we shortlist nine of the platform’s most stylish period dramas, be it film or TV, to watch now.
The OG—Peter Morgan’s lavishly rendered, decades-spanning account of Queen Elizabeth II’s tumultuous marriage and reign—is arguably still the best period drama on the platform. Yes, the later seasons have been somewhat patchy, but the first two are almost flawless, spearheaded by a stoic Claire Foy alongside Matt Smith’s mercurial Prince Philip and Vanessa Kirby’s devastatingly glamorous Princess Margaret. However, even when they pass the baton to the likes of the supremely talented Olivia Colman, Josh O’Connor, Emma Corrin and Elizabeth Debicki in subsequent instalments, there are countless joys to be found in the intricacies of their performances, the jaw-dropping locations, the epic set pieces recreated from history and the meticulously detailed costumes, all the way from the former monarch’s wedding gown to Princess Diana’s unforgettable revenge dress.
Raucous balls set to Ariana Grande, tree bonks, nods to both Pride and Prejudice and Bollywood classic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Julie Andrews as a sharp-tongued narrator, and a stellar on-screen cast which includes Regé-Jean Page, Phoebe Dynevor, Simone Ashley, Jonathan Bailey, Nicola Coughlan and Golda Rosheuvel as a snuff-snorting Queen Charlotte—Shonda Rhimes’s swoon-worthy Regency romance has it all. No wonder then, that it became a thrillingly bingeable, reassuringly escapist overnight sensation when the first season dropped in the depths of lockdown. Since then, its colour-conscious casting and refreshing lack of reverence for the past or historical accuracy, has rewritten the rulebook for the genre. Also undeniably crucial to its appeal? The incredible sets and extravagant costumes, which run the gamut from towering headpieces to delicately embroidered silk frocks.
The Queen’s Gambit
Scott Frank and Allan Scott’s dark, sultry, ’50s and ’60s-set drama charting the unlikely rise of an orphan chess prodigy (an utterly captivating Anya Taylor-Joy) was a stealthy surprise, arriving on Netflix with little to no fanfare and promptly becoming a mega hit that sent the sale of chess sets rocketing. It opens with our heroine, the troubled Beth Harmon, learning the game from her orphanage’s custodian and quickly surpassing him, all the while developing an addiction to tranquillisers. Cue tense tournaments, flirtations with fellow champions played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Harry Melling, and crippling substance abuse, as she climbs to the top of her field. All the while, she’s impeccably dressed in looks that pay tribute to her craft: shifts with graphic geometric prints, checked Courrèges coats, and a final, all-white ensemble that symbolises her transformation into the queen of the proverbial chessboard.
The rebellious and famously elusive 19th-century Austrian empress Elisabeth of Bavaria, known as Sisi and embodied with fierce passion and reckless abandon by Devrim Lingnau, is at the heart of Katharina Eyssen’s spectacular German-language historical saga. We meet her as a teenager, when her future is upended by a twist of fate: her sister’s intended fiancé, Emperor Franz (Philip Froissant), falls in love with her instead. Together, they embark down a dangerous road, attempting to rule in a volatile climate rife with revolutions, assassination attempts and attempted coups – though, you’d be forgiven for missing the intricacies of the palace intrigue and getting swept up by the ornate interiors and over-the-top costuming, which combines feathered fascinators and hoop skirts with playful modern touches like golden Dries Van Noten shoes, sunglasses and punk-rock fishnet tops. Marie Antoinette eat your heart out.
For this delightfully freewheeling, Carrie Cracknell-helmed Jane Austen adaptation, costume designer Marianne Agertoft dressed Dakota Johnson—in the part of the tragic late-twenty-something spinster Anne Elliot—in louche shirting and muddy boots that reference Patti Smith and Debbie Harry. It’s fitting, certainly, for a slow-burning 19th-century love story in which our rock-and-roll lead spends more time making awkward comments at the dinner table, spilling gravy on herself and trying to take a leak in the woods than sipping tea and wooing suitors. Add Cosmo Jarvis as her long-lost love, the quietly tormented naval captain Frederick Wentworth, Henry Golding as the rakish Mr Elliot, and Richard E Grant as Anne’s vain, scenery-chewing father, and you have a romp that is both sugary-sweet and gloriously unpredictable.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
DH Lawrence’s scandalous early 20th-century novel is given a new lease of life in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s sensual retelling, which sees Emma Corrin take on the part of the titular aristocrat who, frustrated by her marriage to a paralysed veteran (Matthew Duckett), finds comfort – not to mention euphoric sexual pleasure—in the arms of her rugged gamekeeper (Jack O’Connell). In between wild swimming, muddy trysts in the wilderness and dancing naked in the rain, Constance Chatterley is dressed in authentic pieces from the era as well as floaty, bohemian, ’20s-inspired looks from a range of contemporary brands including Zimmermann and Vilshenko. The effect is subtly subversive, singling out our protagonist as a woman unquestionably ahead of her time; a free spirit in a sea of stiff jackets and starched shirts.
This Shonda Rhimes-penned, India Amarteifio-led Bridgerton prequel, which charts the early years of Queen Charlotte’s reign and her turbulent relationship with the secretive King George III (a sensitive Corey Mylchreest), is somehow even more opulent and elaborately costumed than its predecessor. As she gets to grips with her new position of power and simultaneously navigates a hostile court and her husband’s rapidly changing moods, the revolutionary monarch dons silver-speckled velvet robes, sumptuous satin ball gowns and copious amounts of glittering jewellery. Each and every piece deserves a closer look, with the show’s costume designer, Lyn Paolo, hiding details in them that give you insights into Charlotte’s true feelings. (Note, for instance, the miniature stars and astrological signs that appear on her dresses—a nod to George’s interest in astronomy and her growing love for him, with many of these motifs placed literally close to her heart.) Bonus points, too, for Arsema Thomas’s ambitious and elegant Lady Danbury, who always dresses with her new, elevated status in mind.
The Law According to Lidia Poët
You might expect the origin story of Italy’s first female lawyer to be weighty, worthy and visually pared-back, if not altogether austere, but not so for Guido Iuculano and Davide Orsini’s pacy, Italian-language thriller which casts The Undoing’s Matilda De Angelis as the trailblazer of the title. Decked out in jaunty hats, jewel-toned blouses and wasp-waisted jackets, she investigates murders, and fights to continue practising law following a 1883 court ruling designed to prevent her—and any other woman—from doing so. Weaving together punch-ups, shoot-outs and a juicy love triangle, it makes for a fleet-footed caper without a hint of stuffiness.
From showrunners Daniel Hendler and Anna Winger (she of the deeply moving Unorthodox), comes this surprisingly whimsical take on a complex and fraught slice of recent history: that involving the Emergency Rescue Committee, an organisation committed to evacuating prominent artists, writers and intellectuals out of Europe after France fell to the Nazis in 1940. Somehow, it works, combining the eccentric antics of these revered bon vivants with the palpable danger that lurks just around the corner in their sun-soaked and painterly setting of Marseille. Jodhi May’s Peggy Guggenheim and Alexa Karolinski’s Hannah Arendt are predictably stylish, though the best looks are reserved for Gillian Jacobs’s Mary Jayne Gold, a flighty heiress who is nevertheless deeply committed to the cause—think surreal, Schiaparelli-esque skirt suits, corsets made of leather gloves and sculptural hats. Magnifique.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.