The Best Shows To Watch if You Love ‘Bridgerton’
(Mrs. Doubtfire voice) Help is on the way, dear!
Although we had pretty much put it together already, Netflix recently confirmed that the third season of Shonda Rhimes’s hit series Bridgerton will indeed center on 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 the series of Bridgerton novels by Julia Quinn.
There’s only one small problem: production on Bridgerton season 3 is probably in full swing 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 we can finally return to the ton. And here is where I come in with a list of viewing recommendations that I’ve amassed over my many years as an avid period drama fan.
You’ll find that they’re divided into categories that explain what their Bridgerton-relevant appeal is—same atmosphere, same time period, same actors, and so on. Enjoy!
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. I’ve actually arranged them in order of the time period they’re set in for ease of reading.
The White Queen (2013)
Developed by the BBC and based on Philippa Gregory’s historical book series The Cousins’ War, the 10 episodes of The White Queen are set against the backdrop of the War 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 even some gore. While it twists some historical events to better fit its plot, The White Queen is 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 scenery, 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 as 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 modern hair.
You didn’t expect not to find Jane Austen adaptations in this list, did you? The latest version of Sanditon 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 Sanditon unfinished, after all, and that presents some problems when trying to bring the story to a satisfying end.
Sanditon 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, highlighting both her stubbornness and her naivety. Rufus Sewell 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), though the plot definitely takes some liberties and skims right over some of the not-so-nice parts of Victoria’s personality and politics.
War & Peace (2016)
More or less around the same time as the Bridgertons are waltzing through London’s ton, Napoleon is advancing on Russia—a massive historical event that shook Europe and that sits at the heart of Leo Tolstoy’s famous War and Peace.
This 2016 BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s work covers the vast span of the novel in six parts, following the myriad characters that come onto the scene as they ride to war or dance in ballrooms, lose themselves and find themselves again. The series stars Lily James as Natasha Rostova, Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov, and James Norton as Andrei Bolkonsky. You’ll find a huge variety of known British faces among the rest of the cast, like Tuppence Middleton of Sense8 fame as Hélène Kuragina and Brian “Father of the Year, Logan Roy” Cox as the real-life General Mikhail Kutuzov.
The series is especially visually stunning, with broad landscapes and beautiful cinematography that help make Russia—part of the series was filmed there, as well as in Lithuania and Latvia—a living and breathing character alongside Natasha, Pierre, Andrei, and the rest.
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 and aired on HBO, 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. With six seasons and two movies, Downton Abbey is packed with 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—though the series as a whole has a very pro-nobility and pro-monarchy stance that is very on the nose at times. But with 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 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 nobles.
Period dramas with modern sensibilities
While all period dramas will inevitably twist history here and there to make their stories and characters less jarring to modern sensibilities, some productions try to keep a minimum of plausibility—and others straight-up toss it out of the window. The shows listed here won’t give you a history lesson, but they’re definitely a lot of fun. Once again, they’re arranged according to the period in which they’re set.
The Tudors (2007)
When it comes to period dramas that discard 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 them, 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. Neither show claims to be a faithful depiction of how people lived in their respective periods, so why shouldn’t they have some fun with the idea of period-appropriate clothing?
Costumes aside, the 2013 CW drama follows a highly romanticized version of the life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, starting with her engagement to the future King of France, Francis. Adelaide Kane plays Mary throughout Reign‘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.”
I have a particular soft spot for Medici because nothing will beat seeing a historical drama starring Richard Madden on our beloved national Italian television—you best believe the whole country was watching, because if there’s one thing we all love, it’s affectionately complaining about period dramas set in momentous periods of our history.
You won’t find all that realism in Medici, but you’ll definitely be entertained as you follow the story of how one family of bankers manages to rise through the ranks of Renaissance Florence to end up as the city’s rulers. The first season follows Cosimo de’ Medici, played by Madden, through the main events of his life—like his dream of completing the construction of Florence’s Duomo, something he works on with architect Filippo Brunelleschi, the mind behind the Duomo’s famous dome.
The second and third seasons follow Cosimo’s grandson, who would become known to history as Lorenzo the Magnificent, played by Daniel Sharman. He and his brother Giuliano (Bradley James) have to once again navigate the dangerous waters of Florence politics and deal with the Medici’s most bitter enemies, the Pazzi family, led by Jacopo Pazzi. The fact that he’s played by Sean Bean might give you a clue as to what happens to him.
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, Louis XIV is 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 a 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.
Harlots may not be as well-known as other titles on this list. The series, which premiered in the US on Hulu in 2017, is loosely inspired by the essay The Covent Garden Ladies by British historian Hallie Rubenhold and follows a group of prostitutes—particularly brothel owner Margaret Wells (played by Samantha Morton) 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.
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, which sit at the intersection between the classical period drama and the period drama that wants to cherry-pick 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 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. 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-regent and also, incidentally, its longest ruling female leader.
Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult star as Catherine and Peter in The Great, now on season 3, portraying a hilarious and brutal relationship that is plenty entertaining.
Anne With an E (2017)
While definitely tamer than Bridgerton, Anne With an E is still a beautiful coming-of-age story filled with female friendships and female power—though it’s all scaled back to a small town on Prince Edward Island in Canada rather than the middle of London’s most glittering salons.
An adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s early 20th century book Anne of Green Gables, the show’s three seasons—Netflix sadly axed it after its third season, which was definitely way too soon according to fans—follow the titular Anne (Amybeth McNulty), an orphan adopted by elderly siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and brought to live on their farm, Green Gables, in the fictional town of Avonlea.
Anne, who has had a particularly hard life but is still a talkative girl gifted with immense powers of imagination, navigates life in Avonlea with the help of her new parents—who love her very much, though Marilla especially takes some time warming up to her—and her best friend, the aristocratic Diana Barry (Dalila Bela).
And if you’re looking for some enemies (more specifically academic rivals, I should say)-to-lovers excellence, Anne With an E has it—Anne and Gilbert Blythe (Lucas Jade Zumann) start off as the two best students in their class until their relationship develops much further.
Another period drama with a modern twist à la Fleabag, Dickinson—as the title suggests—follows the life of 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 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 Gabaldon, Outlander is in this particular category by virtue of its plot device: time travel. After the end of World War II, military nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall is visiting Scotland with her husband Frank. When she touches a stone, Claire is transported back in time to the mid-18th century, where she meets Highlander, Jacobite rebel, and 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 ongoing, there’ll definitely be more in the future.
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 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 substance abuse and casual sex, but at their core, the two shows are very similar: a group of high society young people busy finding their way to the top while romancing each other, and a mysterious, all-knowing gossiper who spills their secrets for everyone to see.
Starring Blake Lively and Leighton Meester as 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 along with the characters—Elizabeth herself was brilliantly played by Claire Foy as a young, newly-crowned Queen and by Olivia Colman as an older, more mature ruler—and stunning, Emmy-worthy performances everywhere you turn, The Crown is definitely a must-watch. Especially if you love the drama that a royal life mixed with personal passions and desires always generates.
Young Royals (2021)
Intrigue and gossip are everywhere, including at a fictional boarding school for the future protagonists of the Swedish elite—including a crown prince. Netflix’s Young Royals is exactly what you need if you want more teen drama vibes without giving up the whole ambience of royalty, especially if you’d like to branch out beyond the English-speaking world and throw in some LGBTQIA+ representation.
The main characters are Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding), the youngest of the current Queen’s two sons, and Simon Eriksson (Omar Rudberg), who meet at the prestigious boarding school Hillerska, where Wilhelm is sent as punishment and where Simon is attending thanks to a scholarship. The two are immediately pulled into each other’s orbit, and their relationship will have a huge impact on their lives—especially once videos of them surface online.
Brilliantly acted and true to the teen drama style of Scandinavian products, like the Norwegian Skam, you’ll find yourself finishing Young Royals’ two seasons before you know it. A third and final season is in the works, though it’s unclear when it might be released.
Bonus: Do it for the actress
Derry Girls (2018)
The three seasons of Derry Girls are the true peak of comedy and some of the best television you could ever see—and they’re an excellent way of getting to see more of Nicola Coughlan before she takes her turn at being the leading lady of a Bridgerton season, which is why Derry Girls is on this list when it’s not really along the same lines as the other titles above.
Released on Channel 4 and available to stream on Netflix, Derry Girls follows the lives of five teenagers who live in Derry during the Troubles. Actual historical events, like the 1994 ceasefire announcement, Bill Clinton’s visit in 1995, and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, mix with the lives of Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle, and James as they deal with the usual events of their secondary school years—from weeping Virgin Mary statues to weekend retreats and building bridges between Catholics and Protestants.
It’s hard to convey in “simple” words just how hilarious and brilliant Derry Girls is, from the love/hate relationship between Michelle and her English cousin James (played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell and Dylan Llewellyn, respectively) to the dynamics within the Quinn-McCool household—in which cousins Erin and Orla (played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson and Louisa Harland) live with their respective mothers, their grandfathers, and Erin’s father and youngest sister—to Clare’s incredibly amusing but still immensely touching coming out.
Still, the best character has to be Sister Michael, the nun who runs Our Lady Immaculate College. Brilliantly played by Siobhán McSweeney, who won a BAFTA for her work as Sister Michael, literally every single moment she is on screen is made iconic by her mere presence.
(featured image: Starz / Hulu / The CW / BBC)
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