The 16 Best Shows to Watch if You Love ‘Bridgerton’
(Mrs. Doubtfire voice) Help is on the way, dear!
Even though we had all pretty much guessed it already, Netflix recently confirmed that the third season of Shonda Rhimes’s blockbuster hit Bridgerton will indeed be entered about Penelope Featherington (a.k.a. the ton’s one and only Lady Whistledown) and Colin Bridgerton and words can’t express how ready I am for it.
Like, is Colin someone who’s never actually formulated a single thought in his entire life, since he and all his older brothers pretty much share the same brain cell? Yes. Is Penelope way too good for him? Also yes, but I love Penelope and so I can’t wait to see her get her happy ending—and without waiting years as it happens in Julia Quinn’s books (on which the show is based).
There’s only one small problem—production on Bridgerton season three is probably in full swing right as we speak, meaning that we won’t get to see the finished product for a while. And let’s be honest, we’re all speed-running through it the second it drops anyway—or at least I know I am.
So, there’s a dire need for shows that will sweep us off our feet—until the fateful moment where we can return to the ton. And here is where I come in—bringing you a list of recommendations that I’ve amassed over my many years as an avid period drama watcher.
You’ll find that they’re divided into categories that explain what their Bridgeton-relevant appeal is—same atmosphere, same time period, same actors, and so on. Enjoy!
Category: Talk Period Drama Romance To Me, Baby
The title says it all. Bridgerton is, at its core, a period drama romance—lingering touches and looks, quivering breaths, and poets’ shirts. You know, the basics. The shows in this category are all pretty much textbook period dramas—even though they aren’t all set in the Regency era like Bridgerton is. I’ve actually arranged them in order of the time period they’re set in—for your perusing comfort.
The White Queen (2013)
Developed by the BBC and based on Philippa Gregory’s historical book series The Cousins’ War, the ten episodes of The White Queen are set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses in 15th century England. The show follows the stories of three women—Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), who are all scheming to get their husbands and sons on the English throne.
The series is packed full of period political drama and intrigue, as well as romance and gore. While it twists some historical events to better fit its plot line, it’s definitely the most accurate when compared to the two series that followed it—The White Princess (where Jodie Comer plays Elizabeth of York and starts off the Tudor dynasty) and The Spanish Princess (which stars Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon as she travels to England to become its queen).
If you want sweeping sceneries, brooding leading men, and family drama, then Poldark might be the series for you. Another BBC joint—no one does period romance like the British, I’m afraid—the series is inspired by the book saga of the same name by Winston Graham and it consists of a grand total of five seasons. It stars Aidan Turner in the leading role of Ross Poldark, who returns to his native Cornwall after having fought in the American War of Independence and finds that the woman he had left behind is now engaged to his cousin (Plus, his family estate is in ruins).
While the pacing of the series might seem a tad slow when compared to Bridgerton, the highs and lows of its romances make up for it—as well as Aidan Turner’s “tormented hero” with disheveled, clearly a modern actor, hair.
You didn’t expect not to find Jane Austen adaptations in this list, did you? The latest version of Sandition to hit our screens premiered in 2019 (on ITV) and stars Rose Williams as our heroine, Charlotte Heywood, and Theo James as Sydney Parker. There have been two seasons so far, with a third being commissioned after some cast changes. Austen left Sandition unfinished, after all, and that presents some problems when adapting the story and trying to bring it to a satisfying end.
Sandition is set in the same era as Bridgerton, being a Regency romance through and through—you might not find the same dazzling costumes, but you’ll definitely feel right at home amid the social conventions of the time (and the bickering) with a dose of languid looks between the two leads.
Another ITV production, Victoria stars Jenna Coleman in the titular role of Queen Victoria, one of England’s most famous rulers and quite literally the defining figure of her era. The three seasons of the show follow Victoria from her early life as heir to the throne, living in a suffocating household with her mother and her terrible advisor, to her ascension as queen which highlights both her stubbornness and her naivety. Rufus Seawell and Tom Hughes both bring the romance as Lord Melbourne—Victoria’s first prime minister—and Prince Albert—Victoria’s beloved husband and also incidentally her cousin.
The costumes of Victoria are absolutely delightful and truly one of the highlights of the series, and the actors’ performances are also very enjoyable—David Oakes, my beloved, I love that you’re not playing the villain for once—even though the plot definitely takes some liberties and skims right over some of the not-so-nice parts of Victoria’s personality and politics.
Gentleman Jack (2019)
Set against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, Gentleman Jack is based on the diaries of the real-life landowner and industrialist Anne Lister. The diaries are a very accurate chronicle of her life, largely written in code, since they document Lister’s lesbian relationships as well. Fun fact: the diaries were actually added to the register of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2011, for the “comprehensive and painfully honest account of lesbian life and reflections on her nature, […] which have made these diaries unique”.
In the two seasons of the show, which premiered on the BBC, Suranne Jones takes on the role of Lister, while Sophie Rundle—who you might recognize as Peaky Blinders’ Ada Thorne née Shelby—plays Lister’s love interest, Ann Walker. Who says that there can’t be queer period romances? And who says that they only have to involve two men?
Downton Abbey (2010)
We’re ending this first section with a bang—Downton Abbey, and its six seasons and two movies, is packed full of family feuds, petty nobility squabbles, war and peace, romance and sorrow, and fabulous costumes. I have personally rewatched it a grand total of three times because I just love Thomas Barrow and Sybil Crawley so much, crying my eyes out during all three runs—even though the whole show has a very pro-nobility and pro-monarchy stance that gets very on the nose at times. But with the creator, Julian Fellowes, being a peer himself what else can you expect? Certainly not any form of honest representation for the show’s more revolutionary characters.
While the time period isn’t the same as Bridgerton, Downton Abbey is sure to keep you entertained and give you the escapism you might need—and if you want to move slightly back in time on the other side of the pond you can try The Gilded Age, set in the late 19th century New York City. It’s not as good as Downton Abbey, in my honest opinion, but it does have the added bonus of high society parties and intrigue, which Downton Abbey somehow lacks since it centers on a family of countryside nobility.
Category: Period Dramas But Make Them Appealing To Modern Audiences
While all period dramas will inevitably twist history here and there to make their stories and characters not as jarring to modern sensibilities as they probably would be, there are some productions that try to keep a minimum of plausibility—and others that straight up throw it out of the window. The shows you’ll find listed here are not the place to go to if you want a history lesson, but they’re definitely a lot of fun— once again, they’re arranged according to the time period they’re set in.
The Tudors (2007)
When it comes to period dramas that discarded historical accuracy for a sexier version of the past, The Tudors is definitely the first on the list. The show’s four seasons follow a highly fictionalized story of the life of the infamous King Henry VIII, as well as his six unfortunate wives—among which, Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn, from her rise to the throne to her tragic ending, definitely stands out.
The show has gorgeous costumes, steamy scenes, and enough court intrigue to last a lifetime—so if that’s what you want from your period dramas then The Tudors has got you covered.
Bridgerton probably went to the Reign school of “why have historically-accurate costumes when you can have gorgeous dresses instead?” and you know what? Good for them. Both shows really have no pretense that they’re a reliable source of how people lived in their respective time periods, so why should their costumes not have some fun with the idea of 16th-century clothing—in Reign’s case—or Regency-era clothing for Bridgerton?
Costumes aside, the 2013 CW drama follows a highly romanticized version of the life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, starting from her engagement with the future King of France, Francis. Adelaide Kane plays Mary throughout the show’s four seasons, which definitely have all the intrigue and steam you might want from what is essentially a “teen drama but make it Renaissance era.”
Let’s stay in France with Versailles, a French-Canadian series that follows the life and loves of King Louis XIV—also known as the Sun King and the one who ordered the construction of the Palace of Versailles. The construction of the Palace, and the forced submission of the French nobles who the King forces to move there, is actually the major plot point of the series. George Blagden plays Louis, while Alexander Vlahos takes on the role of the King’s brother, Philippe, Duke of Orléans.
As you can expect the show’s three seasons are a collection of palace plots and scandalous affairs, one after another—so there’s plenty of entertainment to go around.
Maybe not as well-known as some other titles on this list, Harlots premiered in the US on Hulu in 2017. Loosely inspired by the essay The Covent Garden Ladies, by British historian Hallie Rubenhold, the series follows a group of prostitutes —particularly Margaret Wells (played by Samantha Morton), brothel owner, and her daughters—in 18th century London as they try to secure their future and navigate the capital’s society.
The costumes are magnificent, the dialogue witty, and the female-centric narration is always nice to follow.
Category: Half and Half
I’ll admit that the title for this category isn’t as nice as the others, but there really isn’t any other way to describe these series—they sit at the intersection between the classical period drama and the period drama that wants to cherry-pick only some aspects of the past, leaving perhaps some accuracy behind. Meaning that they’re all Extra Fun and make for a very enjoyable viewing experience.
Death Comes To Pemberley (2013)
You might have expected the Colin Firth-starring series to fill out the Pride and Prejudice quota of this list, and yet here I am—surprising you, hopefully, with a much smaller work inspired by Austen’s most famous novel. Death Comes To Pemberley is a three-part miniseries that sees the characters we know and love—Darcy and Elizabeth, by now married for six years, as well as Lydia and Mr. Wickham—busy solving a murder mystery that might put Wickham’s life at risk.
If you enjoyed Eloise Bridgerton’s subplot of trying to figure out Lady Whistledown’s identity, then you’ll definitely like the tension of Death Comes To Pemberley—plus, it’s a great occasion to see how everyone’s favorite enemies to lovers are doing after their epic early-morning confession.
The Great (2020)
One of the most recent series on this list, The Great’s subtitle explains it all—”An Occasionally True Story,” later changed to “An Almost Entirely Untrue Story,” and that’s exactly what it is. This incredibly fun satirical comedy is loosely based on the real-life ascension of Catherine the Great from consort to Emperor Peter III to Empress of All Russia, the country’s last empress-regnant, and also, incidentally its longest-ruling female leader.
Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult star as Catherine and Peter in the (so-far) two seasons of the show, portraying a hilarious and brutal relationship that is plenty entertaining.
Another period drama with a modern twist à la Fleabag, Dickinson—as the title suggests—follows the life of US poet Emily Dickinson, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The show ran for three seasons on Apple TV+— focusing on Emily’s coming of age as a headstrong and imaginative woman, as well as her relationship with Sue, who’s technically her brother’s fiancé but also Emily’s great love.
Delicate and funny, as well as incredibly modern in tone, Dickinson is set in a wildly different time period than Bridgerton but it’s definitely worth a watch as a fellow period drama that knows it’s talking to a 21st-century audience.
Based on the book series of the same name by Diana Galdon, Outlander is in this particular category by virtue of its plot device—time travel. After the end of World War 2, military nurse Claire Beauchamp in Randall is visiting Scotland with her husband Frank— but by touching a standing stone she gets transported back in time to the mid-18th century, where she meets Highlander, Jacobite rebel, and overall absolute brick-wall Jamie Fraser.
All and all, Outlander has plenty of romance, spice, and revolution to go around throughout its six seasons—and given that it’s still ongoing, there’ll definitely be more in the future.
Category: The Vibes Are Immaculate
The two shows in this category have almost nothing in common with Bridgerton—they’re not period dramas and they can’t be completely considered romances either. But they do share the same kind of atmosphere—rumors that may destroy lives, royal life, and whirlwind affairs that can turn disastrous in the blink of an eye.
Gossip Girl (2007)
What is Bridgerton but a Gossip Girl set in the Regency Era? Sure, the iconic CW show had a lot more abuse of substances and casual sex, but at the core, the two shows are very similar—a group of high society young people busy finding their way to the top and also romancing each other, and a mysterious, all-knowing gossiper who spills their secrets for everyone to see.
Starring Blake Lively and Leighton Meester in the lead roles of former-best-friends-turned-enemies-turned-best-friends-again, Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf, the show has plenty of entertainment for you throughout its six seasons of ups and downs.
The Crown (2016)
This list probably wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Crown, another Netflix blockbuster hit following the life of Queen Elizabeth II of England. With a rotating cast that ages as the characters age — Elizabeth herself was brilliantly played by Claire Foy as a young, newly-crowned Queen and by Olivia Colman as an older, more mature ruler—with stunning, Emmy-worthy performances everywhere you turn, The Crown is definitely a must-watch if you want to get more of the drama that a royal life mixed with personal passions and desires always generates.
The only setback is that we’re also stuck waiting with The Crown. The show’s fourth season was released in November 2020, introducing Princess Diana and following her disastrous marriage to Charles—the fifth season, which will have yet another renewal of the main cast with Imelda Staunton stepping to the role of Elizabeth, should arrive in November 2022.
(featured image: Netflix)
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