12 Little-Known Historical Dramas You Should Definitely Watch

Some people seem to think that the historical drama film genre only includes films based on historical events and people, but in my opinion it also encompasses films made after books set in particular time periods, even if the characters and events are fictitious. If you haven't read the books that the films are based upon, you should! I always like to compare. When the film makers are true to the book it makes my enjoyment of the movie that much more.

I'm sure you've heard of a few of these, but I feel they either need a little reminder or need to be talked about more. I've put the country in which the films take place, not necessarily which country filmed them, though many of them do match up that way.

I asked my good friend, Mairi, for some input as she is an avid fan of historical dramas as much as I am and she's seen quite a few that I haven't!

12. Our Mutual Friend (England)
 I watched this one at Mairi's urging and I'm so glad I did. The story is about a wealthy young man who is betrothed by his father to a young woman he doesn't know and isn't sure he'll like . Sailing back home from being abroad, the ship hits a storm and he is believed to be lost at sea. In reality he survives and comes back, but decides to come back incognito; he's been gone so long no one recognizes him. It is such a lark! The love story is fantastic and the intrigue is just as twisted as with all of Dickens' plots! Sometimes Dickens' villains get on my nerves as they do in this film adaptation, however, it's well worth watching as the storyline is very interesting and unique. It's been awhile since I've seen it so I can't comment on the costumes, but the movie left an impression on me.

11. Little Dorrit (England)
This is based on another book by Charles Dickens. I'm not really a fan of reading Dickens, but I am a fan of watching the films made from them. This one is wonderfully moving with interesting characters. The main story line is about a girl, Amy, whose father is thrown into debtor's prison and they lose everything. She is forced to find work all the while taking care of her father despite his pride and frustrating delusions. The whole story line is sad and delightfully twisted. I like the loves story, but it is a bit frustrating to the point of wanting to smack a certain character.  But Amy's story is so compelling, it's worth the frustration. Andy Serkis is extremely creepy as the villain too. I have to say his performance nearly gave me nightmares! I think this is one of the finest adaptations to one of Dickens' books. It's definitely worth a watch.

10. Northanger Abbey (England)
I love this new adaptation to Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey! Everyone I've asked hasn't seen it, so I wanted to include it in this list. It is the story of an ordinary girl who is a bit in love with reading gothic novels and daydreaming about herself in "gothic situations". She has the chance to go to London and makes various friends, some good and some not so good. She lets her imagination run a little wild when she is invited to stay at the dark and mysterious Northanger Abbey. Adventures and romance ensue!
The actors are wonderful and the movie makes fun of the gothic just as much as Jane Austen did in her book. This movie also contains my hands down favorite movie kiss ever. It is just so sweet and giggly! The costumes aren't remarkable, but I suppose they don't always have to be. Still, it's my favorite adaptation of a lesser-read/watched Austen. :-)

9. Enchanted April (England/Italy)
This is another film my friend Mairi introduced me to. I think it's an interesting and lovely film with wonderful clothes from the 1920s. It's about a group of people from various backgrounds who go spend a month at a villa in Italy and how they change and heal and grow apart or together. It prompts the reflection of how we can all be remarkably changed by one place or one person.

8. Barchester Chronicles (England)
(Review for this film is courtesy of my great friend, Mairi! I haven't watched this one yet, but it's on my to-watch list.)

It is surprising that Barchester Chronicles (1982) is so little known, especially considering the cast it boasts: A very young and almost feline Alan Rickman, Donald Pleasance, Geraldine McEwan, and Nigel Hawthorn. The supporting cast is very good as well, and includes Barbara Flynn, a familiar face to those who may have seen Wives and Daughters, Cranford and others. Based, I think, on several Barchester related books by Anthony Trollope, it deals with a quiet clergyman and how he deals with changes which occur to his living, and also how he deals with his sometimes volatile family, and others around him regarding these changes. It is difficult to describe the plot in more detail, and I don't want to give any of the fun away, but it is truly a delightful series and the performances in it are stellar. It's old-school BBC, so don't expect the same level of glamour that is found in later BBC productions. However, I don't really think there is anything in it to disappoint.

7. Sungkyunkwan Scandal (Korea)
If you have yet to venture into the Korean drama genre, this would be a great place to start. (This and "Rooftop Prince" which is hilarious and partly historical.) The series is set in 18th century Korea and is about a young woman who is forced to find work to support her widowed mother and ill brother by dressing as a man and working as a scribe. Through the trick of one particular character she ends up taking the entrance exam for the university at a time when the formal education of woman was forbidden.

Much of the film is about her adventures at the university with her male roommates and the risks of her being discovered. The love story is very sweet and it has one of the best kiss scenes ever! What I really love about this drama besides the story line is that they make brief mention of the American Revolution and what it represents which is so fascinating as the events happening in America are half a world away from Korea. The cool little bits of 18th century technology in Korea are pretty cool too.

You can watch this for free at Dramafever.com or Viki.com. (English subtitles)

6. Sissi (trilogy) (Austria)
I had never seen a movie set in Austria besides "The Sound of Music". So, when I saw this historical drama film trilogy streaming on Netflix I gave it a try. It's entirely in German with English subtitles and was filmed in the 1950s.

I found this movie quite enchanting!  The story is about a prince whose parents are setting up his marriage with an eligible princess, but he accidentally meets and falls in love with the princess's younger sister. The trilogy is about how their love for each other grows, their relationship, and also how she blossoms into her role as the future queen as well as the many challenges she faces. That's the best way I can describe it. It might sound pretty bland, but this is not your typical prince & princess story. Sissi and her family live deep in the country and while Sissi and her siblings are all princes and princesses they are all a little wild and raised quite informally. Some parts are rather funny and much of her story is interesting and touching. I think it's a great look at life in 1860s Bavaria. Not to mention, the costumes are wonderful! Here's a little blurb about the real Sissi.
Unfortunately, this movie is a bit hard to find now. I do believe you can get it on DVD through Netflix though.

5. Meet Me In St. Louis (U.S.A.)
This 1944 film is based on the book of the same name by Sally Benson. No, it's not technically a drama, but I had to include it. The story follows a family in St. Louis through an entire year and how the family looks forward to the 1904 World's Fair. This is one of my top favorite musicals. Judy Garland is fantastic and made the Christmas song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" written for the movie an instant classic. The "boy next door" is quite swoon-worthy and the relationship between the two older sisters is so much fun! I love so many of the songs in this film especially "The Trolley Song". The costumes are absolutely lovely, not to mention the corset scene is awesome. I can't say enough good things about this film. Watch it!

4. Anna & the King (Siam)
Many people have heard of the musical "The King and I", and I'm sure many have also watched the movie "Anna & the King" with Jodi Foster and Chow Yun Fat, but I was disappointed in how quickly it faded into the background. This film warrants a lot of discussion! Not only for the exquisite costumes, but also for the interesting political tensions in the country at the time, and the moral and ethical differences between an English female school teacher and a Siamese King. I feel the relationship between Anna and the King in this film is much more potent than the musical - maybe because they don't sing or dance around! I really loved this film. If you saw it in the past, I encourage you to give it another try.

3. Daniel Deronda (England)
This movie is based off of the book by the same name written in 1876 by George Eliot set in modern England at the time of its publishing. This film adaptation entwines two stories - one of a selfish, spoiled young woman and her quest to get everything she wants and the other of a young man she cares for - Daniel Deronda. His path is far different from her own as he falls in love with a beautiful, sad Jewish young woman and sets out on a quest to delve deeper into his own past since he was adopted as a baby by a wealthy man. It's a fantastic, fascinating story and one you wouldn't expect to come out of the 1870s. Of course the costumes are lovely and all the parts are played very well. I'm sure you'll recognize quite a few of the actors.

2. The Moon That Embraces the Sun (Korea)
This is another historical Korean drama, but a lot more on the serious side. The story is about a girl who is betrothed to the crown prince and just as they are about to be wed, she falls mysteriously sick and dies... The story moves to the crown prince as an adult who has become king and how he still pines for the girl he was betrothed to... I can't tell too much more without giving things away! It's so good. :-)

There is a lot of political intrigue and I really like how they show the royal court and their tense relations. The love story is... stressful in a word. At times it's even frustrating; it's sad and sweet at the same time. Overall the story is quite fantastic and there's even some magic & shamans woven in there. Usually that's not my thing, but I found it an interesting aspect of the story. This is just an overall fascinating look at relationships and Korean court life - an aspect of history that you don't see in American film culture at all. It's rather refreshing!
This is also available for free at Dramafever.com among other sites. (English subtitles)

1. Bright Star (England)
Set in 1818 Hampstead, England, this is a beautiful film that tells the story of the forbidden romance between the poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first watched it, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it; not so much for the story, but for the odd, yet wonderful way in which the movie was filmed. The cinematography was inspiring, as I've never seen anything quite like it. There was a lovely intimate and poetic way about it (how appropriate!). It also had a very real-life feel - as if you were there watching in person. I think it's because the music is very minimal and at times there is no music for very long stretches.

Another thing I loved about this film were the costumes! The dresses were interesting and so beautiful. I don't think I've seen a film set in the late 18-teens before and I have to say I was loving the higher hemlines, mostly because you see shoes! Exquisite, lovely, period shoes! I just loved watching the actors' feet!

Lastly, I really loved how the movie showed the bits of every day life that don't seem very film-worthy, and yet they add so much life and depth - even in things so simple as a way of sitting, miss-matching chairs, and the realistic relationship between siblings. Lovely! A must see film.

Well, that's it! Of course, there are dozens of movies I could have included (like "Nicholas Nickleby" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel"), but I think this is a good start. Any little-known historical drama films you'd recommend?


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