TV & Movies

20 Period Romances To Watch if the ‘Pride & Prejudice’ Hand Flex Lives in Your Head Rent-Free

written by MICHELLE LEMA
period piece romances"
period piece romances
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

I received my first copy of Pride & Prejudice in middle school. I, like many readers, flew through the story and developed an obsession with Mr. Darcy. Perhaps more importantly, in retrospect, I fell in love with Elizabeth Bennett and everything she stood for. When I later discovered there was a BBC series based on the book, starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, I watched that nearly six-hour romp with joy. And then it happened. The 2005 film Pride & Prejudice premiered, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen (who had yet to debut as Tom in Succession) as Mr. Darcy. It was, and I mean this with no irony, the best movie I had ever seen at the time.

If you too have seen this version of Pride & Prejudice, you will know of a certain moment. It happens when Elizabeth and the Bennett family are leaving the Bingley house. After having a very funny and cold exchange with Caroline Bingley, Elizabeth steps up into a carriage, helped by the hand of Mr. Darcy. We see their hands meet, we see Elizabeth’s face, and then we see Mr. Darcy walk away, followed by a close-up of his hand, flexing. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the most simple and yet most memorable moments in any period romance ever. It led to many future dates in which I would grab someone’s hand to say goodbye and then stare at it as they walked away from me, just to see if it would flex. Most times, it did not.

I’ve spent many hours trying to find shows and movies that invoke the same feeling as that hand-flex moment. Below is a list of some that come close, and some that, dare I say it, even match it. Take a look:


1. Downton Abbey

If Mr. Darcy’s hand flex was a song, it might be the now iconic intro music of Downton Abbey. The show started in 2010 as part of PBS Masterpiece in the U.S. It includes six seasons and two movies, covering around two decades of life in the Crawley household. Each episode has longing looks for days, plenty of historical drama, some lighthearted comedy (mostly provided by Maggie Smith), and an ever-changing cast of characters.
Stream on Netflix

2. The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is a new period piece from the creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellows. The series takes place in New York City in the late 1800s, and like Downton, it revolves around a large cast of characters. The main conflict is between the “old money” and “new money” of New York, a tale as old as time in the world of period romances. One of its many stars is Louisa Jacobson, who just happens to be Meryl Streep’s daughter. I found this series a little difficult to get into at first, as the pacing and dialogue can be quite slow and oddly emotionless at times, but Season 2 offers new storylines and intrigue that keep me coming back for more.
Stream on Max

3. The Buccaneers

This is a brand new show, and so far it has me invested. Like The Gilded Age, it follows Americans in the late 1800s, but focuses on a group of five friends who travel to London. The show explores friendship, love, and the limits in society for women who want more. It also explores the merits of two characters swimming in the ocean, emerging from the water, and finding they are not alone—a classic period romance trope I will never tire of. The series so far is a little bit Bridgerton, a little bit Downton, and full of great chemistry.
Stream on AppleTV+

4. Bridgerton

Does one even need to say anymore? Bridgerton is probably the most iconic and successful period romance book series to be brought to streaming, with the expert eye of Shonda Rhimes, of course. Each season covers one of the Bridgerton books written by Julia Quinn, which in turn follows one of the Bridgerton children’s quest for love. It’s brought us several iconic period romance moments that rival Darcy’s hand-flex—and there’s even more of that in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. The Bridgerton series gets my award for the steamiest show on this list, with the exception of maybe Outlander.
Stream on Netflix

5. Outlander

If you get sad when your favorite series ends, watch Outlander because it will be a long journey to get through all seven seasons. Based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon, it’s absurd how much the main characters endure over decades of time, and yet it’s absolutely impossible to stop watching. The heart of the show is the love story between Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall, and their connection and chemistry do not disappoint. Season 7 recently took a mid-season break, and I literally cannot wait to see what’s next.
Stream on Netflix

6. Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair, originally a book by William Makepeace Thackery (what a name), has seen many iterations in movies and television. While there is a 2004 movie starring Reese Witherspoon that I remember enjoying, the more modern and fresh take lies in the 2018 series starring Olivia Cooke as Becky Sharpe. It’s funny, it’s tragic, and there are more than a few budding romances and epic disappointments. The show’s music and set pieces give off a modern twist, landing stylistically somewhere between shows like Dickenson and The Buccaneers.
Stream on Amazon Prime

7. Poldark

While Poldark lacks the lightness and comedy that Pride & Prejudice often provides, it doubles down on the drama. Much like Downton, the writers are not afraid to kill off characters or make their lives absolutely miserable at the very least. This may seem a little too dreary for a period romance, and sometimes it is, but the love stories that bloom throughout the seasons are epic and complicated. Poldark himself has a bit of a Mr. Darcy vibe, and you’ll see plenty of sweeping views of the sea while various characters ride horses through fields. Perfection.
Stream on Amazon Prime

8. Mr. Selfridge

While Mr. Selfridge revolves around the title character’s career ambitions, the best part of the show is the storylines that unfold within the staff at the Selfridges department store. It’s like Downton Abbey, but if it were a workplace drama where the divide is between the people who own the store and the people who work in it. There are love triangles, hidden romances, and longing looks galore.
Stream on Amazon Prime

9. Death Comes to Pemberley

This is a must-watch for Jane Austen fans and mystery fans alike. It takes place after the events of Pride & Prejudice and includes many scenes in the halls of Pemberley. Unfortunately, there is not an actual hand flex in this series (what were they thinking?), but there are plenty of other moments that suffice. The performances of Matthew Rhys as Mr. Darcy and Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth are amazing, and a lot of favorite characters come back to stir things up as the mystery unfolds.
Stream on Amazon Prime

10. Miss Scarlet & The Duke

For fans of murder mysteries and shows like Sherlock who also want some romance in the mix, Miss Scarlet & The Duke is for you. It’s filled with satisfying moments and quips where the main character, Miss Scarlet, defies the expectations of London society in the late 1800s and takes on the business that her late father, a private investigator, left her. As is probably clear from the title, her main nemesis, and also her love interest, is a detective named the Duke. It gives will-they-won’t-they vibes throughout the seasons, and a new season is coming next year.
Stream on Amazon Prime

11. Sense & Sensibility

You may have seen the 1995 classic movie version of Sense & Sensibility. It’s based on the Jane Austen novel, and stars Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. However, might I suggest the 2008 series that stars none other than Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley… I mean, actor Dan Stevens. Seeing as how the only trailer that could be found for the series starts with “coming to DVD,” it may seem very dated, but I assure you the series is worth a watch if you love all things Jane Austen.
Stream on Hulu

12. The Paradise

This show only had two seasons, but it’s a fun viewing if you liked Mr. Selfridge. Set in yet another department store, it follows a new-to-town character who gets a job at The Paradise and falls into all the drama of her co-workers while developing a crush on the boss. It’s not as spicy as Bridgerton, but it provides plenty of love-triangle intrigue before ending far too soon.
Stream on Amazon Prime

13. Sanditon

The final season of Sanditon has already aired, so there will be no waiting around to finish this story for you. My personal favorite season is the first one, but all three are delightful. Sanditon is based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel following Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood as she moves to a beachside town and seeks opportunities to discover who she is. The town, of course, provides her with plenty of love interests as well. The first season introduces Theo James, of Divergent and White Lotus, as Sidney Parker, and the chemistry between the two leads is, dare I say it, Bridgerton-level steamy.
Stream on Amazon Prime


14. EMMA.

I really enjoyed this version of Emma, based on yet another Jane Austen novel. There’s a reason why so many of Austen’s novels get remade again and again. This latest remake is so fun, and stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma, who brings as much unique playfulness to this character as she does in everything else she’s in (like The Queen’s Gambit). Her scenes with Johnny Flynn (who is also in Vanity Fair, for anyone tracking all the actor crossovers on this list) are reminiscent of Darcy and Elizabeth’s banter in the best way.
Stream on Peacock TV

15. Belle

Based on a true story, Belle is both a romance and an epic that addresses racism and the laws of 18th-century England. It has an incredible cast, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle, who is being raised by her aristocratic great uncle in a society that judges her by the color of her skin. Her love story and her part in influencing British politics are the center of the movie, with plenty of heart-racing moments to spare.
Stream on Hulu

16. Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane

I somehow missed this movie when it first came out in 2007, but it’s more than worth a watch. Anne Hathaway stars as Jane, James McAvoy stars as a Mr. Darcy-like love interest, and for good measure, Maggie Smith is thrown into the mix and gives off some pre-Downton Abbey, Dowager Countess energy. The movie follows the story of Jane Austen growing up, as she experiences her own romance before she wrote her greatest books. It’s a mix of both fact and fiction but delivers the tension that Austen has become known for.
Rent on Prime Video

17. The Favourite

You may remember this film as being a darling of 2018’s award season. The Favourite stars Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz and is just as unexpected as a show like The Great (which would come after) and equally funny, disturbing, and brilliant. The plot will keep you guessing and the love triangle rivalry between the main characters is beautiful and hilarious all at once.
Stream on Amazon Prime

18. Marie-Antoinette

The appeal of this movie version of Marie Antoinette is not only the famous queen’s story, but the way in which her story is told. The costumes, set pieces, and colorful shots mixed with modern music are somewhat of a calling card for director Sofia Coppola, who also directed the recent movie Priscilla, among many others. While we know how the story will end based on history, the movie has plenty of romantic moments on the grounds of Versailles to warrant a spot on this list.
Rent on Apple TV

19. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This film is a diversion from the usual 18th and 19th-century period dramas, taking place in the World War II era. It’s based on the book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It stars Lily James, AKA Lady Rose in Downton Abbey, playing a writer who travels to a small island that was occupied during WWII. She has a fiancé but meets the man who has been writing her letters—and sparks fly. It gives off The Notebook meets your favorite book club vibes for days.
Stream on Netflix

20. Brooklyn

This is one of my favorite films of all time, and may hold my personal award for “movie that has made me cry the most.” It stars Saoirse Ronan as an Irish woman who travels to Brooklyn in the 1950s. It’s about love, leaving home behind, loss, and change. It has an epic quality about it, much like when Elizabeth journeys around the countryside in Pride & Prejudice. The themes of love and family have sat with me for a long time.
Rent on Prime Video