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The Best Costume Dramas On Netflix Right Now

By Rebecca Pahle | Streaming | September 10, 2016 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Streaming | September 10, 2016 |

With the weekend coming up, you all—hopefully, God willing—have a lot of time where you can lounge around and do absolutely nothing. For the period drama-receptive among you, might I recommend a Netflix or ten? Sure, it may have a movie problem, but there are still good things to be found.

Related: The Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

Red Cliff
A caveat: You shouldn’t actually watch this on Netflix, because the version of Red Cliff it has is the non-Asian release that smooshed what was originally two movies into one. The point, I gather, is that the events at the center of the story—an epic battle that took place in China in the 3rd century AD—wouldn’t be of enough interest to non-Western audiences to justify a running time of four-plus hours. But the one-movie version is so choppily put together, and omits so much, that I only made it 20 minutes in before I was so confused as to what was going on that I abandoned ship and went to find the two-movie version. Why would you want one John Woo-directed historical epic when you can have two?! That said, if Netflix is your only option, Red Cliff is fucking amazing.

North & South
Back before Richard Armitage’s career was murdered by the Hobbit franchise (Did you know he’s, like, twelfth billed in Alice Through the Looking Glass? Because I didn’t until two days ago. It’s so sad.), he co-starred in in North & South, a 2004 BBC miniseries about a woman from the edenic south of Britain who moves with her family to the industrialized north. Armitage plays John Thornton, the dictatorial factory owner with a secret smooshy center; it’s your typical ~*~brooding, tortured-by-love swoonmeister~*~ period romance type, and he’s really good at it.

Jane Eyre
Speaking of ~*~brooding, tortured-by-love swoonmeisters~*~, Michael Fassbender plays Rochester to Mia Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic drama about ostensibly moral people being complete assholes to everyone around them. Look, I’m an Austen girl, OK? Not least because Brontë’s description of Rochester, which includes the phrases “full nostrils” and “square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair” makes him sound like some sort of physically deformed Justin Bieber. That said, Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre is well-acted and looks great, so it’s worth a watch if you can get over wanting to punch Rochester in the face all the time.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Amy Adams does that “chipper but not in a way that you want to punch her” thing she does so well in Bharat Nalluri’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a 1930s-set comedy/romance about a dowdy middle-aged woman (Frances McDormand) who mistakenly takes a job as the social secretary of flamboyant actress/singer Delysia Lafosse (Adams). As Miss Pettigrew helps Delysia juggle relationships with three different men, she herself begins falling for a lingerie designer played by Ciarn Hinds. Please tell me I convinced you to watch this movie at “lingerie designer played by Ciarn Hinds.” Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a delightful little confection of a film with an amazing cast that also includes Shirley Henderson, Mark Strong, and Lee Pace as a lounge pianist. Lee Pace sings. I don’t know what else you want here.

Anna Karenina
Lovers of Joe Wright’s of Pride & Prejudice (aka all reasonable people) may bristle at Wright casting Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen as brother and sister in this adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (They’re Lizzie Bennet and Darcy! It’s fucking wrong!), but that blatant bit of casting trollery aside, this is a really excellent film. It’s gorgeous, first off. And I don’t just mean the costumes—the whole film takes place on a big stage, and Wright and his team handle set design and transitions in such a way that it practically took my breath away. You haven’t seen something quite like it in a big-budget Hollywood movie before.

The Girl King
Mika Kaurismäki’s The Girl King is the odd film out in this list, in addition to being the most recent. (It had a very limited theatrical release last December.) I don’t know if I’d call it good, necessarily, but it’s absolutely riveting in its pulpy theatricality. Malin Buska plays Christina, the 17th century Swedish monarch who was famous for being a lesbian… or trans… or intersex… no one really knows. (She was previously played by Garbo in 1933’s Queen Christina.) The Girl King goes with “fiercely feminist lesbian tomboy.” I honestly can’t tell if Buska’s clipped, intense line readings are some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen of evidence of thespian mad genius, but either way, you can’t take your eyes off her. Martina Gedeck chews scenery like a motherfucker as Christina’s conniving, mentally unbalanced mother, and Sarah Gadon steams up the joint as her handmaiden/lover, Countess Ebba Sparre. Oh, and the clothes are great.

For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.