“Downton Abbey” is everything one can ask for when it comes to English period dramas about the early 20th century. Despite becoming closer to a soap opera in its later seasons, the quality of the performances provided by great British actors such as Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Penelope Wilton, Brendan Coyle and, of course, the magnificent Maggie Smith, made for one of the best shows of this decade.
But there’s more than the amazing performances that deserve admiration. The costumes, the production design, John Lunn’s score (including the superb main theme song) and, more than anything, its ability to wind its way into the viewer’s affection are also just as praiseworthy.
The series was well received by critics and has earned numerous awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries in 2011, three Emmy Awards for Maggie Smith, a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe award for Joanne Froggatt and many others.
Below are 10 movies which fans of “Downton Abbey” might find enjoyable. Please let us know in the comments what other films would you add to this list and what are your thoughts on “Downton Abbey.”
1. Gosford Park (2001)
Nine years before “Downton Abbey,” Julian Fellowes served as screenwriter for this period mystery film which might be the closest thing to his famous British television series.
“Gosford Park” is directed by Robert Altman and stars a British ensemble cast which only the Harry Potter series might top: Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Eileen Atkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Fry, Emily Watson and Clive Owen, just to name a few.
“Gosford Park” and “Downton Abbey” differ in scope, but share a lot of common ground in setting, characters and execution. While “Downton Abbey” tells a story that spans over a much longer period of time and features a lot more character development and intricate plot lines, “Gosford Park” is much more restrained. A group of British and American aristocrats gather together for a shooting at Gosford Park, Sir William McCordle’s (Michael Gambon) country house. When a murder occurs, both the people upstairs and downstairs must try to find the murderer.
“Downton Abbey” was initially conceived as a spin-off for “Gosford Park,” later being developed into its own thing. However, the similarities between the two are still pretty striking, especially when it comes to Dame Maggie Smith’s character. The snobby yet witty Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” is so similar to Lady Constance Trentham, Smith’s character from “Gosford Park,” that you might think they are one and the same person. So, if you’re looking for another dose of biting remarks and cynical humour, you’re in for a treat.
2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Renowned British actress Emma Thompson wrote the script for this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 romance of the same name and won the Best Adapted Screenplay award at the 68th Academy Awards, thus making her the first person to have won an Oscar for both acting and screenwriting.
Alongside Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility” stars numerous other English household names including Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Hugh Grant and the late Alan Rickman.
The story follows Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet), two sisters from a wealthy family who, after their father’s death, are left with no money. Therefore, they find themselves compelled to marry for financial reasons. They meet Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), an older man who falls in love with Marianne, but she, in turn, falls in love with the handsome John Willoughby (Greg Wise) when he carries her home after falling in the rain. Meanwhile, Elinor grows feelings for Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), the brother of her sister-in-law.
If you love the sentimental aspects of “Downton Abbey” and have a knack for romantic period dramas, you should definitely watch this film.
3. The Remains of the Day (1993)
Not even Mr. Carson, the uptight butler from “Downton Abbey” superbly played by Jim Carter, comes close to Anthony Hopkins’ character from “The Remains of the Day” in terms of aloofness.
The film takes place in two different periods of time. At first, it’s the 1950s and we are seeing Hopkins’ character, Mr. James Stevens, as an older butler and sole employee at Darlington Hall, a country manor owned by American Congressman Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve). After receiving a letter from a former work colleague, Mrs. Kenton (Emma Thompson), Mr. Stevens decides to meet her for the first time in 20 years.
We are then taken back to the 1930s, where Darlington Hall is a populated place, no different than Downton Abbey, led by Lord Darlington (James Fox), an influential man in touch with the politicians of the time. Mrs. Kenton is a recently employed housekeeper who gets enamored with Mr. Stevens, but his cold demeanor makes her hold her feelings back.
Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name and directed by James Ivory, “The Remains of the Day” is a study of morality, sense of duty and self-discipline, carried by one of Anthony Hopkins’ most memorable performances.
4. Jane Eyre (2011)
Cary Fukunaga, best known as the director and executive producer of the first season of HBO’s acclaimed TV show “True Detective,” was behind the helm of this adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel. And this is noticeable, for the film looks and feels like no other period film.
There were many other adaptations of this novel, but neither of them managed to capture its gothic elements as well as Fukunaga did with this one. From the use of bleak imagery and candlelit rooms, to the pacing, camerawork and brilliant sound design, this film manages to bring a new perspective to the romantic genre.
Thus, the film indeed feels different than other period romances with similar plots. This includes “Downton Abbey,” so if you are plunging into this film expecting something very similar in terms of looks and atmosphere, you might be disappointed. But if you want to see how themes such as the search for self-identity, gender inequality and female emancipation (so many resemblances between Edith Crawley and Jane Eyre) mix within a darker take on this romantic story, Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” is the film to watch.
5. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
One of the best adaptations of Jane Austen’s homonymous novel, Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a film that will appeal to the “Downton Abbey” fandom.
The film stars Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Pride and Prejudice,” the story is pretty simple, yet beautifully executed. Elizabeth is one of the five daughters of the Bennets, an English family of landowners.
When Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman, moves into Netherfield, a neighboring estate, he gives the impression of being a snobby, unlikable character. However, there’s more to him than meets the eye. After seeing Elizabeth at an assembly ball, Darcy falls in love with her, but the social status gap and his disdainful behavior gets in the way.
Despite the fact that “Pride and Prejudice” takes place more than a century before “Downton Abbey,” you will find a lot of similar themes being addressed in both of them, from the social class differences, love, courtship and arranged marriages to the period’s rigid moral code and specific family dynamics.