If you’re looking for visual and aural inspiration about the clothing, manners and day-to-day activities of Victorian people, the following movies and TV miniseries will help you! Here are fifteen of my favorite choices.
The painting at left is so typical of the Aesthetic period, with the blue and white china, the color scheme, and the young woman’s distinctively pre-Raphaelite eyebrows, that I thought I’d just add it here.
1. North & South (2004 TV mini-series) BBC production starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. Based on the novel by Elizabet Gaskell, this is the story of Margaret Hale, a gently-bred parson’s daughter from the pastoral South of England who is uprooted and moved to “dark Satanic mills” of industrial Milton in the North, where she meets the stern, outwardly cold cotton-mill owner John Thornton. Their clash of wills produces sparks that soon turn into a conflagration. Excellent performances by all involved.
2. Mrs. Brown (1997 movie) BAFTA-winning performance by Judi Dench as widowed and grieving Queen Victoria, who finds her joy in life reawakened by her Scots ghillie, or groom, John Brown (played by an excellent Billy Connolly). This true story traces their 20-year friendship, which began when the Queen’s closest advisers brought Brown to the Isle of Wight to encourage her to go out riding for a little fresh air. Brown proved to be a loyal, protective and utterly devoted friend to his Queen, despite the rumors and catty remarks about their relationship.
3. The Young Victoria (2009 movie) Emily Blunt brings to life the young princess and heir to the English Throne who falls in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and finds enduring happiness with him despite the political machinations and intrigues going on all around them.
4. Jane Eyre (2006 TV miniseries with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson) A “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess falls in love with her complicated, brooding employer. But the secrets of his past will not stay hidden, and will threaten their happiness.
5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2008 TV mini-series with Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne; see also the 1979 movie version with Nastassia Kinski and Peter Firth). Tragic story of a young peasant girl torn between the rich man who seduced her and the conventional man who married her without knowing about her past.
6. Cranford (2007 TV mini-series) Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and many other prominent British actresses appear in this delightful series of tales about life, love and gossip in a rural market-town in the 1840s, just on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.
7. Wives and Daughters (1999 TV mini-series) Another wonderful story from Elizabeth Gaskell, this time about a country doctor’s daughter who finds herself dealing with a flighty new step-mama, an impetuous step-sister, the gossip of their neighbors, and her own unrequited love for a man who thinks of her just as a friend.
8. Our Mutual Friend (1998 TV mini-series) Paul McGann stars in Charles Dickens’ tale of love, greed and secret identities in 1860s London.
9. Penny Dreadful (2014-present TV series with Eva Green and Timothy Dalton) Gothic horror series in which an adventurous explorer, a psychic medium and an American gunslinger team up to battle all kinds of unnatural evil threatening London, including Frankenstein, werewolves and deathless Dorian Gray.
10. Copper (2012-present TV series) In the 1860s, a rugged Irish policeman must navigate New York City’s tumultuous immigrant neighborhood, the fancy residents of uptown Manhattan, and the black community. Starring Tom Weston-Jones
11. Murdoch Mysteries (2008-present TV series) Starring Yannick Bisson. In the 1890s, Detective William Murdoch uses brand new forensic crime techniques like fingerprinting and trace evidence to solve the most baffling crimes.
12. Effie Gray (2014 movie) Starring Dakota Fanning, directed by Emma Thompson. After a six-year courtship, teenage Effie Gray marries the much older Victorian art critic John Ruskin. But when Ruskin refuses to consummate their marriage, Effie finds herself drawn to Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. It was a true story that shocked Victorian society.
13. Ripper Street (2012-present TV series) Starring Matthew MacFadyen. Scotland Yard detectives in 1889 are investigating a series of Jack the Ripper-style copycat murders in London’s East End.
14. Desperate Romantics (2009 TV series) Starring Aidan Turner, Rafe Spall, Samuel Barnett and Zoe Tapper. The vibrant lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as they grow from penniless artists wooing their models and their Muses with equal fervor, into the most celebrated painters of their generation.
15. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House (2011 TV movie) Based on the true story of Mr. Whicher, one of Scotland Yard’s first detectives, who is called upon to investigate a dreadful murder in a quiet rural area. The unpalatable truth shocks the community and shakes their faith in the nascent science of criminal investigation.