Period films are one of the most tricky genres to perfect. Along with all the usual intricacies that involve filmmaking, period films have the added burden of perfecting historical references. But, when done right, they easily become some of the most celebrated works of cinema.
These are 10 of the very best period films you must watch if you haven’t already.
1. Potrait Of A Lady On Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a prime example of what cinema is in its purest form. “Show, don’t tell”. Beautiful through and through, from the sets, the costumes, and breathtakingly intimate cinematography, Sciamma has a magnificent capability of making her work seem like 18th-century prose that wouldn’t feel out of place in a classic novel, and the kind of intellectual exchange that simmers long after it is conveyed.
On a remote island in Brittany, France, a female painter commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant bride-to-be, without her knowledge. The painter spends an increasing amount of time with the bride, sparking a unique bond, while going back to her room at night, all the while, trying to finish the portrait. This one is definitely a stunner and one of the best period films out there.
Portrait of A Lady On Fire is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Kiera Knightley is always brilliant with her period dramas, and Colette does anything but disappoint. Absolutely stunning in its cinematography and cast, the movie revolves around one of the most influential female writers in history, and definitely one of the most wronged.
Newly married and thrust into the glittering city of Paris, Gabriel is pushed by her husband to write novels under his name. Though initially critical of her work, they become a huge success and so he pushes her to produce sequels while he continues to rack up debts. One of the best period films out there, Collette takes a soft approach, rather than the in-your-face feminism that’s so popular today. Just like our protagonist herself, Colette is bold, fierce, and unapologetically herself, without caring about the societal structures that surround her constantly. Unlike the pseudo-feminist movies and shows doing the rounds, this one does not villanize men but instead strengthens the women.
Colette is now streaming on Netflix.
3. The Personal History of David Copperfield
A refreshing take on Dickens’ classic tale of a young orphan who is able to triumph over many obstacles, The Personal History of David Copperfield possesses a supremely refreshing tone to it, which distinguishes it from other Dickens adaptations, usually associated to be drab and dour.
It combines the elements of live theatre with classic farce, woven together with an obvious love for the source material. The performances are perfectly tuned to the array of idiosyncratic characters, with none of the cast outshining each other. It evolves through episodes that tie together beautifully towards the end, with the last line adding the flourish of a bow. Definitely one of the most entertaining period films you can find.
Personal History of David Copperfield is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
An autobiographical account of her life in Iran during the Shah regime, Persepolis is based on the adult graphic novel of the same name. It explores the life of “Marji” Satrapi as she witnesses firsthand the defeat of the dictator and the subsequent war that follows.
Precocious and outspoken, Marji does not fit in and has to be sent away at an early age to keep her from getting into trouble with a narrow-minded and patriarchal society. Slightly different and certainly more recent than the others included in this list of the best period film, Persepolis is easily the most impactful. Satrapi’s work is perfectly French: witty, intellectual, and utterly sarcastic with a great eye for detail. Slightly different from the others in this list, but easily one of the best period films of all time.
5. Little Women (2019): The Best Period Films
We know what you’re thinking. Another Little Women adaptation? Don’t we have enough? So what makes this version any better? The answer is simple: Everything. The Greta Gerwig-directed adaptation of the famous literary classic by Louisa May Alcott is nothing short of stunning. It is difficult to take a piece of literature that has been adapted into shows and films and plays multiple times over and still add a newfound vision to it. Gerwig opts for a non-linear storyline, and we bop in and out of flashbacks and the present and then to the future. While this may sound overwhelming, it is so tastefully done, that the film comes across as smooth anyway.
Perhaps you can tell that this is our favourite on this list of the 5 best period films, and rightfully so. Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, and none other than Meryl Streep, among others make up the main cast. The juxtapose between these actors that are, or once were at the top of their fields, is nothing short of inspired. A must-watch on all levels.
Little Women is streaming on YouTube.