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7 Shows like Downton Abbey: Classy Period TV Dramas

Eileen O'Sullivan itcherDownton Abbey (Carnival films, 2010) is set in a Britain where people knew their place – especially when that place is a massive mansion! British period dramas are in a class of their own and like Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs (both versions), Mr Selfridge and Wolf Hall are all about class.
~ Eileen O’Sullivan
Big House, Big Budget, Big Viewing Figures

If you’ve never heard of British period drama Downton Abbey, then you don’t watch TV, period. Created by Julian Fellowes it’s won every telly accolade going, including a Golden Globe Award. The final series (Series 6) was scheduled for 2015.

So what’s it about? Downton Abbey follows the trials and triumphs of the aristocratic Crawley clan, owners of the biggest house (or Abbey) in the world, well in Yorkshire at least. Oh and it’s also about the servants, who according to Fellowes, were all pretty chummy with m’Lord and m’Lady. Which British historian A N Wilson claims is all just (quote) ‘bollocks’. But who can resist the lure of gorgeous stately homes and fabulous frocks?

I can’t, and if you can’t either, check out these shows similar to Downton Abbey.

‘Upstairs Downstairs’ (London Weekend Television,1971)

This period drama was also set in Edwardian England and also about the posh lot ‘upstairs’ and the common servants ‘downstairs ’. A theme is emerging! The show aired on ITV for five series, until 1975. Expect lots of sentiment from 165 Eaton Place, London, plus servant/master relationships that ‘cross the line’ – or the young M’Lud’s bedroom door – and lots and lots of fabulous frocks!  Plus scheming, history, unlikely plots and then more history.

‘Upstairs Downstairs’ (spin off TV mini-series) (BBC Wales/Masterpiece, 2010)

Back at Eaton Place in 1936, the scene is set for pre-war shenanigans with dapper young gents, earnest young girls and more master/ mistress/ servant goings on. Throw in the odd Fascist or two and the inevitable love affair. It’s all jolly good fun and totally unrealistic, but why let authenticity get in the way of a good historical yarn?

Similarity Match: 90%
Very much like Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs (1971) was the original Master and Servant TV vehicle to showcase life both ‘up’ and ‘down’ stairs in the early 20C. Upstairs Downstairs (2010) follows the same pattern, so gets the same rating.

‘Mr Selfridge’ (Masterpiece/WGBH/ITV Studios, 2013)

Mr Selfridge is based on the life of flamboyant American Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded Selfridge & Co, the iconic London department store. Set in the 1910s, this period drama will appeal to shoppers and history buffs alike. The Edwardian women wear fabulous frocks, the store sells fabulous frocks! Throw in séances, seductions, chorus girls, family breakdowns. What’s not to like?

Similarity Match: 80%
Like Downton Abbey , Mr Selfridge mixes ‘ordinary’ folk with their ‘betters’, and implies anyone can do well with hard work and self belief. Unlike Downton, it’s set in a big shop!

‘Brideshead Revisited’ (Granada Television, 1981)

Rated second by the Guardian newspaper in The Top 50 TV Dramas of All Time, Brideshead Revisited is based on the Evelyn Waugh novel of the same name. The original television ‘bromance’, it’s about the relationship between Charles and Sebastian following their meeting at Oxford University in the 1920s. Though it deals with complex themes like class, sexuality, God and Catholicism, the series will probably be best remembered (by literary philistines like me) for Sebastian (played by grown-man Anthony Andrews) carrying his teddy bear around. The title refers to a house incidentally, and it’s massive! Possibly even as big as Downton Abbey itself.

Similarity Match: 80%
Well like Downton it’s an iconic TV series, it’s a period drama and it’s class based, though it takes itself a lot more seriously.

‘Wolf Hall’ (BBC 2 Productions, 2015)

There was all sorts of media hoo-ha about this TV series, based on the Booker prize winning novel by Hilary Mantel. We were to expect the second coming, it seemed. Set in 16C England, it focuses on the life of Thomas Cromwell, a man of humble beginnings who becomes the indispensable sidekick of Henry VIII. Cue scheming and skulduggery on a right royal scale, complete with beheadings, torture and intrigue. There’s another series in the pipeline, so Thomas, you’d better hold on to your hat (and your head).

Similarity Match: 70%
Well like Downton Abbey it’s a historical drama and it’s about a big manor house, but its tone is much more scholarly.

‘Poldark’ (BBC Productions, 1975)

Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, the original TV bodice ripper aired in the 1970s. Its heroine, Demelza was famously played by Angharad Rees, who set the hearts of all lusty male viewers racing.

‘Poldark’ (BBC Productions, 2015)

Now it’s the boys turn – Aidan Turner, who plays Captain Ross Poldark in the contemporary 2015 version – has set the TV viewing female population aflutter.  He takes his top off, sweatily scythes corn and even rivals Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy (in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice) in the ‘best naked TV torso’ stakes.  All very silly Mills and Boon style historical fluff, it’s set in Cornwall in the 18C and it looks great.  A real page turner…well, compulsive TV.

Similarity Match: 70%
I threw this one in because of Aidan Turner’s chest. Well actually, it’s a historical drama and it’s all about class, so yes, it’s like Downton Abbey.


The Best of British Period Dramas

Don’t you just love a good historical drama? I do, and so do millions of you out there. British period drama is amongst the very best, and this crop of TV greats are set to run and run around the world. Some of them may even be remade when we’re history ourselves!

So Did I Miss out Some Essential Viewing?

There are more historical dramas out there than you can shake a TV remote at. Do you want to share your favourites?

I’d love to hear your suggestions for series like Downton Abbey.

itcher Mag is the place for entertainment recommendations across movies, books, music and games.
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