A collage featuring some of PBS Masterpiece's best period dramas. Top left is Downton Abbey, bottom left is Sanditon, top right is Les Miserablés, and bottom right is Around the World in 80 Days.

Discover the Best Period Dramas on PBS Masterpiece

Who doesn’t love a good sweeping piece of period fiction? The costumes, the drama, the music—there’s nothing quite like it.

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We here at The Mary Sue have rambled on plenty about how much we love period crime shows like Endeavour and Grantchester, and while PBS Masterpiece does boast many captivating detective series, there’s so much else to discover, too. You’ll also find Jane Austen-esque romance, high-stakes royal drama, family-focused comedies, globe-trotting tales of adventure, and so much more. Here are the best period dramas to watch on PBS Masterpiece.

Victoria (2016-2019)

Jenna Colman as Queen Victoria in the ITV's Victoria

Jenna Colman stars in this historical and fictional depiction of Queen Victoria’s long reign. The sweeping period drama chronicles Victoria’s ascension to the throne at the tender age of 18, her romance and marriage with Prince Albert of Germany (Tom Hughes), the Royal Family’s enduring conflicts, and Victoria’s developmental journey as one of the youngest Monarchs in British history. If you’re looking for a series to tide you over until The Crown returns on Netflix, Victoria is certainly worth a look.

All Creatures Great & Small (2020-Present)

Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot and Rachel Shenton as Helen Aldersen in All Creatures Great and Small season 3, during their wedding scene
(Channel 5)

All Creatures Great & Small follows the adventures of Scottish veterinary surgeon James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) as he embarks on a new life in the Yorkshire Dales. An adaptation of veterinarian James Alfred Wright’s semi-autobiographical novels as written under the pen name James Herriot, All Creatures Great & Small is a gorgeous, cozy, heartwarming drama that depicts James falling in love and finding a new family, all the while taking care of the animals he holds so dear. If you haven’t watched this yet, now is as good a time as any—All Creatures Great & Small season 4 is set to premiere on PBS Masterpiece in January 2024 and will reveal how James and his new family deal with the looming threat of World War II.

Around the World in 80 Days (2021-Present)

Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, David Tennant as Phileas Fogg and Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fortescue, all standing in front of a steam train in Around the World in 80 Days

Interested in a bit more of an action-adventure vibe? Then the BBC’s new (and somewhat loose) adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days is for you. Following Phileas Fogg’s (David Tenant) reckless desire to prove to his peers he’s more ambitious than they give him credit for, he embarks on a perilous journey around the globe. Joining him is Ibrahim Koma’s Passepartout and Leonie Benesch’s Abigail “Fix” Fortescue, completing a trio that is both wonderfully charismatic and compelling. The BBC was so confident in this show that they ordered a second season before the first had even premiered, so if you enjoyed this as much as I did, rest assured that there is more on the way.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016-2019)

The Durrell family having a picnic in the ocean in The Durrells in Corfu

Based on world-renowned naturalist and conservationist Gerald Durrell’s memoirs, The Durrells in Corfu sees Keeley Hawes’ world-weary yet determined widow Louisa uproot her very English and slightly eccentric family to the Greek island of Corfu. There, each member of the Durrell family (re)discovers their true passions and their love for one another while surrounded by the bluest ocean you’ve ever seen on screen. If you’re looking for something genuinely funny, comforting, and sun-soaked, then The Durrells in Corfu should be your next watch.

The Long Song (2018)

Tamara Lawrance as July in The Long Song

This three-part TV miniseries, nominated for a Peabody Award in 2022, is based on author Andrea Levy’s award-winning debut novel of the same name. The story, set during the final days of slavery in colonial Jamaica, follows July (Tamara Lawrance), an adept and indomitable enslaved young woman forced to work on a sugarcane plantation owned by the horrible, ridiculous, and deeply insecure Miss Caroline (Hayley Atwell). As reported by RadioTimes.com, Sir Lenny Henry, who plays a slave called Godfrey in the series, said this about the adaptation: “It’s a fantastic mixture of heartbreaking and humorous,” and continued, “And both are stronger for being next to each other, I think.” All in all, this is a moving yet harrowing and brutally honest adaptation of Levy’s powerful and historically significant narrative.

Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

Downton Abbey poster featuring from left to right Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates, Jim Carter as Charles Carson, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, and Brendan Coyle as John Bates

Downton Abbey might be the most famous period drama in existence. Created by acclaimed writer Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey follows the lives of the esteemed aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants, set on a grand country estate in Yorkshire. While the Crawley family is forced to deal with their fair share of drama, and their love for one another is truly palpable, it’s those living downstairs that make the show so compelling. There are six seasons for you to enjoy, and if, after all that, you’re still looking for more, there are two feature films to watch, too.

Les Misérables (2018)

Olivia Colman, Adeel Akhtar, Dominic West, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo, Josh O'Connor and and Ellie Bamber in the BBC's 2018 adaptation of Les Miserábles

If you were looking for something star-studded, look no further. While the BBC’s mini-series adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables might not contain any songs or musical dance numbers, it does contain a plethora of talent—Lily Collins, Dominic West, David Oleyowo, Josh O’Connor, Ellie Bamber, Joseph Quinn, Adeel Akhtar and even the one and only Olivia Colman star in this sweeping, heartbreaking yet reaffirming tale of desperation, hope, love, and compassion. If, by chance, you enjoyed the BBC’s grand adaptation of War & Peace, you’ll likely be a fan of this, too—the same writer, Andrew Davies, is credited as a lead writer for both productions.

Sanditon (2019-2023)

Rosie Graham as Alison Heywood, Rose William as Charlotte Heywood and Crystal Clarke as Georgiana Lamb in Sanditon season 2

Based on Jane Austen’s final unfinished novel, Sanditon follows Charlotte Heywood’s (Rose Williams) adventures in the seaside town of Sanditon, where she finds friendship and love (multiple times) as she tries to figure out what it is she wants to do with her life. Crystal Clarke plays eventual co-lead and Antiguan heiress Georgiana Lamb, who is coming to terms with her fortune, her place in society, and her attempts to track down her birth mother, while the Parker family tries to build a seaside resort in a town that might not be ready for such a massive venture. There’s plenty of gorgeous drama, heartbreak, and swooning to be had, but above all, this show provides a genuinely happy ending for all your favorite characters.

Tom Jones (2023)

Sophie Wilde as Sophia Western and Solly McLeod as Tom Jones embracing each other in the ITV miniseries Tom Jones

If you’re looking for something with a more comedic tone, then Tom Jones is the mini-series for you. Based on Henry Fielding’s classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, this modern adaptation boasts all our beloved rom-com tropes: a random meet-cute, a yell-at-your-TV lack of communication, matchmaking shenanigans, and two unlikely but ultimately perfectly-suited lovers. There are also gorgeous costumes aplenty and a talented cast, including Solly McLeod as the titular Tom, Sophie Wilde as Sophia Western, and everybody’s favorite football club owner, Ted Lasso‘s Hannah Waddingham.

Miss Scarlet & The Duke (2020-Present)

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin in Miss Scarlet and the Duke season 2

Okay, I couldn’t resist adding one crime show to this list. Miss Scarlet & The Duke has everything—a female detective trying to make it in a male-dominated profession, a slow-burn will-they-won’t-they romance, action, adventure, humor, and plenty of mysterious cases to keep you on your toes. It’s a genuine delight, and the chemistry and repartee between Eliza (Kate Phillips) and William (Stuart Martin) will have you begging for more. And you’re in luck! Season 4 of Miss Scarlet & The Duke is set to premiere on PBS Masterpiece this coming January. Who knows, we might finally see Eliza and William admit what the audience has known since the show’s very first episode.

(featured image: ITV / BBC / PBS)

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El Kuiper
El (she/her) is The Mary Sue's U.K. editor and has been working as a freelance entertainment journalist for over two years, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV (she's seen every episode of Midsomer Murders ever made) and franchises like Marvel and Pokémon. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.