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.
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.