Has the new Downton Abbey film got you in the mood for period drama? Come with us on a grand journey into the past with some of these brilliant films…
Two advisors – Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) – vie for influence and affection in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). The Queen’s ailing health, mental and physical, leads to plenty of surreal situations, but all three women are playing dangerous games in the gossipy and insular world of the court. Yorgos Lanthimos’s film is anything but conventional, and its darkly comic tone is completely irresistible.
Mrs Bennett (Brenda Blethyn) tries to find appropriate husbands for her five daughters in Joe Wright’s adaptation of this Jane Austen classic. It’s an obvious choice, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to resist it. No, it’s not completely faithful – the setting and family dynamics have all been tweaked – but Keira Knightley’s Lizzy Bennett still feels like the definitive version. Swoon.
In the mood for more Austen? Autumn de Wilde’s take on Emma is a must-see. Anya Taylor-Joy is the perfect combination of wilfulness, poise, and heart as the titular heroine on a quest to match-make everyone around her, while Regency era England has never looked so pastel-perfect. This film was nominated for the Best Costume Design Oscar, and it’s not hard to see why.
Not a ghost story, just a story with ghosts in it. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak follows the fortunes of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an American heiress who marries the impoverished British baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), only to discover the ghosts of his previous wives still haunt his crumbling family home. Visually lavish and thematically rich, Crimson Peak is quintessential del Toro.
In 1760s France, Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil schemes to get revenge on her former lover by arranging for his virtuous young fiancée to be scandalously seduced. Stephen Frears’s adaptation of the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an all-star affair, boasting Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Therman, Peter Capaldi and Keanu Reeves in its cast, but the real star might be the dialogue – this won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Director Park Chan-wook transforms Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith by moving the action from Victorian England to early 20th century, Japanese-occupied South Korea. Korean con man ‘Count Fujiwara’ (Ha Jung-woo) attempts to scam Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) by seducing her… but his plan goes sideways when she falls instead for his accomplice, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri). Psychologically and visually rich, twisty and satisfying.
It seems only appropriate to finish our list with another Keira Knightley film. In Wash Westmoreland’s biopic, she plays Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the wife of playboy writer Willy Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) who ghostwrote some of his most popular works before striking out alone. Infamous in her day for her scandalous books and her same-sex love affairs, Colette is a fascinating figure whose story deserves to be better known, and Knightley’s portrayal brings her to vivid life.
Downton Abbey: A New Era is now showing at Regent Street Cinema