Top 20 British period dramas to binge-watch this autumn: Downton Abbey to Sanditon

With the nights drawing in, there’s no better time to cosy up with our pick of the top period, historical and costume dramas - and the best bit is they’re all available to stream on BritBox.

By Sophia Moir Published: 16 September 2022 - 12.55pm
BritBox BritBox period dramas

Summer may be all about the big-budget movie blockbusters, but autumn is undoubtedly reserved for the best telly on the box.

There’s a whole host of new TV shows to look forward to in the schedules, but sometimes you can’t beat a cosy period drama to warm your cockles.

There’s no denying that us Brits do it best when it comes to posh TV, so we’ve rounded up the 20 best ever British period dramas for you right here.

We’ve included all-time classic box sets that you can catch up on to your heart’s content (including Downton Abbey and Victoria), recent series like Sanditon and Belgravia, our pick of the best Jane Austen adaptations, and more.

The best bit is they’re all available to stream on BritBox, so bookmark this page, because once you’ve binge-watched one series, you'll want to move straight onto the next.

Check out our pick of the top 20 British period dramas to stream now.

The best period dramas on Netflix >

Best of the rest: More period drama on BT TV

Get BritBox with BT TV

From original shows like The Dry and Hotel Portofino to the best of British comedy and drama, there's something for everyone at BritBox.

1. Sanditon

Sanditon ITV / BritBox

How many episodes? Season 1 has eight episodes; Season 2 has six episodes. Both seasons are on ITV Hub and BritBox. A third and final season is expected to air in 2023

Sanditon was Jane Austen’s final novel, and it remained unfinished until period drama king Andrew Davies adapted it into a series for ITV and Masterpiece PBS in 2019. Set during the Regency era, the first season followed unconventional heroine Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), who is unexpectedly transported to the seaside town of Sanditon, where she meets the charming but wild Sidney Parker (Theo James). 

Read more: What will happen in Sanditon season 3?

2. Jane Eyre (1983)

How many episodes? One season of 11 episodes on BritBox

BBC adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel starring a brooding pre-Bond Timothy Dalton. When a reserved young governess (played by Zelah Clarke) starts working for her enigmatic employer, she cannot imagine the dark secrets he keeps.

3. Lady Chatterley

How many episodes? One season of four episodes on BritBox

Sean Bean and Joely Richardson star in Ken Russell’s 1993 BBC adaptation of this infamous love story. When a young woman’s husband returns from World War I injured, she takes to wandering the woods out of loneliness, only to find herself drawn to another. A new adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's 1928 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover is coming to Netflix later this year, starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell in the lead roles.

Top 15 films coming to Netflix this year >

4. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

How many episodes? One season of six episodes on BritBox

Follow the lives and loves of the Bennet sisters and their marriage-obsessed mother in this spirited costume drama, adapted from the Jane Austen novel of the same name. Can Mrs Bennet get all five daughters married off? Not if they have anything to do with it. This six-part series features the iconic ‘Colin Firth lake scene’, which you can also watch above.

5. The Forsyte Saga

How many episodes? Two seasons; the first season has six episodes, the second season has four, both on BritBox

Boasting an all-star cast including Damian Lewis and Gina McKee, The Forsyte Saga is an opulent period drama set in the gilded houses of 1850s London. The social-climbing Forsytes wrestle with love, loss and jealousy as fraught family conflicts play out through the generations.

6. Downton Abbey

How many episodes? Six seasons, with 7-9 episodes per season. There are also Christmas specials, and two spin-off films. All six seasons are streaming on BritBox, as well as Peacock with NOW. Seasons 1-3 are on ITV Hub

Arguably the biggest TV period drama ever (it’s won an Emmy and a Golden Globe), if you’re one of the few yet to watch Downton Abbey then you’re in for a treat. The series is set in a fictional country estate in Yorkshire and depicts the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in the early 20th century. Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville star. 

Downton Abbey film: Trivia and Easter eggs >

7. Victoria 

Victoria ITV / BritBox

How many episodes? Three seasons with eight episodes each, plus a Christmas special at the end of season 2, all on BritBox

Victoria is a landmark drama series that originally premiered on ITV in 2016. Jenna Coleman stars as Queen Victoria, the great-great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. It depicts her ascension to the throne and her marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes).

8. Emma (2009)

How many episodes? One season of four episodes on BritBox

Another Jane Austen adaptation on the list, comic drama Emma boasts acting heavyweights Michael Gambon and Johnny Lee Miller. Romola Garai stars as the rich and beautiful Emma, who can't help interfering in the affairs of others. When she meddles too much, suddenly things go awry.

9. Hotel Portofino

Hotel Portofino BritBox

How many episodes? One season of six episodes on BritBox - season 2 is confirmed for 2023

One of the more recent releases on this list, Hotel Portofino is a decadent mystery drama set on the sun-drenched Italian Riviera in the 1920s. The six-parter sees a rich businessman's daughter set up a luxury hotel in Italy amidst the roaring 20s era and the creeping rise of fascism. Natascha McElhone, Adam James and Anna Chancellor star in the series which was released exclusively on BritBox earlier in 2022.

10. Tess of the D'Urbervilles (2008)

How many episodes? One season of four episodes on BritBox

Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne star in Thomas Hardy’s passionate tale of lost innocence. When a poor young girl is sent to work for her relatives, she gets caught in an impossible situation that she must try to escape to redeem herself in society's eyes.

Get BritBox with BT TV

From original shows like The Dry and Hotel Portofino to the best of British comedy and drama, there's something for everyone at BritBox.

11. Ripper Street

Ripper Street Prime Video

How many episodes? Two seasons on BritBox with eight episodes each. Seasons 3-5 are available on Prime Video

Released in 2012, Ripper Street is set in Whitechapel in the East End of London, in the aftermath of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders in 1889. The action centres around the notorious H Division - the police precinct from hell - which is charged with keeping order in the area’s chaotic streets. Matthew Macfadyen stars as a troubled detective, alongside Jerome Flynn, Adam Rothenberg and MyAnna Buring.

12. Sense & Sensibility (2008)

How many episodes? One season of three episodes on BritBox

Adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel starring Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens and Mark Gatiss. When their father dies, the Dashwood sisters are forced to leave their childhood home and adjust to their new life. Meanwhile, they take their first faltering steps in love.

13. Call The Midwife 

Call The Midwife BBC / BritBox

How many episodes? 11 seasons; Season 1 has six episodes; Seasons 2-11 have eight episodes. Plus, there’s all the Christmas specials. All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer. Seasons 9-10 are also available on BritBox

This fan favourite period drama, based on the best-selling memoirs of nurse and midwife Jennifer Worth, is set in 1950s and '60s East London, where midwives and nuns work to help the Docklands community. Cast past and present include Jessica Raine, Helen George, Emerald Fennell, Charlotte Ritchie and Miranda Hart.

Call The Midwife cast: Where are they now? >

14. Belgravia

Belgravia ITV / BritBox

How many episodes? 1 season of six episodes on BritBox

Belgravia began life as a best-selling novel by Julian Fellowes - the creator of Downton Abbey - which he then adapted into a TV series for ITV. Set in London in the early 1800s, Belgravia focuses on the Trenchards, a family invited to the now-legendary ball of the Duchess of Richmond, a precursor to the Battle of Waterloo. Alice Eve, Tamsin Greig and Dame Harriet Walter lead the cast. 

Why Downton Abbey fans will love Belgravia >

15. Indian Summers

How many episodes? Two seasons of 10 episodes each on BritBox

Julie Walters stars in this stunning tale set in the summer of 1932, documenting the turbulent last years of British rule in India. In the foothills of the Himalayas, the British try to hold on to power while the locals long for independence.

16. Endeavour

How many episodes? Eight seasons, with a mix of three to six episodes per season, on BritBox. All seven seasons of Inspector Morse are also streaming on BritBox

Stylish prequel series to Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, starring Shaun Evans in the lead role. Amid the social upheaval of the 1960s, a young Endeavour Morse hones his detective skills on the streets of Oxford alongside veteran Fred Thursday (Roger Allam).

17. Grantchester

How many episodes? Six seasons with six episodes a season, plus a Christmas special, on BritBox

Set in the real Cambridgeshire hamlet of Grantchester in the 1950s, the period crime drama focuses upon the life of Sidney Chambers (played by James Norton), a charismatic, charming clergyman who turns investigative vicar when one of his parishioners dies in suspicious circumstances.  The series also stars Robson Green as his partner, police inspector Geordie Keating.

18. Father Brown

How many episodes? Eight seasons with 10-15 episodes a season, on BritBox

Ever astute but delightfully unassuming, Father Brown (Mark Williams) is the Cotswold priest with a knack for solving crimes thanks to his penetrating insight into the human condition. Gentle daytime drama adapted from G.K. Chesterton's short stories.

19. The Durrells

The Durrells ITV / BritBox

How many episodes? Four seasons. There are six episodes in seasons 1-2, eight episodes in season 3, and six episodes in season 4. Seasons 1-2 are on ITV Hub - all four seasons are on BritBox

ITV’s gentle period drama The Durrells enchanted audiences for four series and followed the titular family’s adventures in Corfu in the mid-1930s. In an attempt to avoid the family’s financial problems, widow Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) decides to move her family from Bournemouth to Corfu, taking up residence in a ramshackle old house among colourful Ionian scenery and even more colourful neighbours.

Josh O'Connor and Callum Woodhouse co-star as sons Larry and Leslie Durrell, with Milo Parker playing youngest child Gerry, on whose memoirs the series is based.

Where is The Durrells filmed? >

20. Mr Selfridge

How many episodes? Four seasons with 10 episodes each on BritBox

Thrilling period drama about the incredible story of London’s best-known department store, Selfridges. When an ambitious Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) lands in London from Chicago, he’s set on creating the most exciting shopping experience the world has ever seen.

Best of the rest: Period dramas on BT TV

The Crown Season 5 Netflix

All Creatures Great & Small

Critically acclaimed veterinary drama based on the early career of James Herriot.  Stream seasons 1-2 on My5. Season 3 coming 15 September.

 

The Crown

Historical drama that dramatizes the story of Queen Elizabeth II, and the political and personal events that shaped her reign.
Stream seasons 1-4 on Netflix. Season 5 coming this November.

 

Outlander

Romantic historical drama following a married combat nurse from 1945, who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743 Scotland. Stream seasons 1-6 on STARZPLAY, a Prime Video channel.

 

Bridgerton

Inspired by Julia Quinn's novels, period drama about the Bridgerton siblings looking for love and happiness in London high society.  Stream seasons 1-2 on Netflix.

 

Poldark

Brooding drama set in 18th-century Cornwall. Ross Poldark is passionate about turning round the fortunes of his late father's estate. Stream seasons 1-5 on Netflix.