If You Like….

It’s Downton Abbey season again! So I’m straying temporarily from books to another favorite topic: BBC costume dramas. Specifically, BBC costume dramas set in the 1920s and 1930s.

If you like 1920s and 30s set BBC costume dramas, you’ll probably like…

The House of Eliott, one of my all time favorite mini-series, in which two sisters slough off their Edwardian upbringing and found a fashion dynasty in the midst of the roaring Twenties;

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons’s hysterically funny novel, translated to screen with Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, and others;

Love in a Cold Climate, which combines two of my favorite books, Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, into one (and very deftly, too);

Bright Young Things, a not entirely successful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1920s satire, Vile Bodies;

— and Brideshead Revisited, an entirely successful adaptation of Waugh’s classic novel (how can you go wrong with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews?);

Upstairs Downstairs, the new series, set in the 1930s, which isn’t quite up to its Edwardian predecessor, but makes for fun watching all the same;

— and, of course, a host of mystery series, including the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Campion, the Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Tommy & Tuppence.

What are your favorite 1920s and 30s set costume dramas?


  1. Christine on January 13, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I really loved the new Upstairs, Downstairs, but I never saw the original. I was really disappointed when it got canceled. I found them On Demand right before the episodes expired and binge-watched them over a weekend.

    Not quite the 20s or 30s, but Call the Midwife and Bletchley Circle, both 50s dramas, are both fantastic.

  2. E on January 13, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Probably my favorite out of that list is Cold Comfort Farm. I ended up liking it more than the book, which is probably sacrilegious to say…the cast for that adaptation was pretty great and really brought the material to life.

    Since I sort of think of Cold Comfort Farm as a dramedy or really a comedy, rather than a pure drama, I’m going to throw out some of my favorite comedies that are close to that time period: Blandings and Jeeves and Wooster – both PG Wodehouse, of course.

    ITV has been setting their Poirot series during the 1930s, I believe. I’m not sure if their Marple adaptations are around the same time or a bit later. Sometimes it’s hard for me to pin down exact time periods unless there is something overly obvious about it that ties it to a certain decade. And while the BBC puts out some great period drama/comedy stuff, I think if you limit yourself to just the BBC, you can miss out on some great stuff. One of my favorite minis (The Devil’s Whore, which is set around the English Civil War) was aired by Channel 4 in the UK.

    Also, I’d be remiss to not mention Supersizers Go/Eat, which is sort of a humorous documentary series that explores what people ate during certain eras. It’s not on DVD (the BBC should really get off their butt and release it), but it’s on Hulu/IMDB for streaming in the US. From what I remember, their Twenties episode was pretty fun. IIRC, I think they made Sue into a flapper.

  3. Pam on January 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Being Julia is quite fabulous (with Jeremy Irons and Annette Bening you can’t really falter), and the last scene is just…oh, it’s fantastic.

    Death on the Nile is another gem and one of my go-to sick movies, along with Cold Comfort Farm, Being Julia, and Gosford Park. If I’m really ill, though, nothing but all twelve glorious hours of Brideshead will do.

    Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian series staring the magnificent Essie Davis as a glamorous femme-fatale with a heart of gold lady detective, is really great and the second season has just finished airing Down Under (first season is streaming on Netflix).

    I don’t remember if it quite gets into the 1920s, but the 2002 adaptation of the Forsyte Saga is pretty good. When I first started watching Homeland I was immediately suspicious of Damian Lewis’s character and couldn’t figure out why I reacted so strongly to him until I realized he was Soames, and so clearly must be a scoundrel.

    (I don’t believe any of these have BBC affiliation–the Forsyte Saga was ITV–but they are nevertheless favorites!)

  4. Pat D on January 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I enjoyed watching Cold Comfort Farm. But what was the something nasty that old broad saw? I want to know! The Duchess of Duke Street was great fun. I still have visions of chamberpots flying over the fence into the snotty neighbors’ yard. I recommend watching Flambards too. It was on PBS years ago and took in early aviation and the Great War along with English country life. Great cast filled with heroes and villains and everything in between.

  5. Vanessa on January 13, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    “Something nasty in the wood shed?” I would like to know what that “nasty something” was too! I loved Cold Comfort Farm, it was beautiful and hilarious!

  6. Elizabeth Lefebvre on January 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, he posits what was in the woodshed, and it was indeed nasty!

    I’m actually devoting all February to Downton Abbey books on my blog, but off the top of my head, Jane Sanderson, amazing series.

    Also, personally, I love the newer Upstairs Downstairs, it was a nice continuation of the series that was sadly cancelled.

  7. HJ on January 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    I agree with E that this adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm is exceptional. Kate Bekinsale is wonderful, and the rest of the cast is pretty good too! I also like Brideshead Revisited, with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons.

    I think my favourite 1920s and 30s set costume dramas are:

    Jeeves & Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie: superb; and

    The Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Waters. They were exactly right for the characters as written by Dorothy L Sayers.

  8. Lara on January 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    My husband and I spent the holidays revisiting Jeeves and Wooster. It’s such a comforting series.

    Another one of my favourite series is Miss Fisher’s Mysteries based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. There’s a few differences between the books and the tv show but it’s still really good. Can’t wait for Season 2.

    Any Poirot adaptation gets a thumbs up!

    I’ve watched both the original and the new Upstairs, Downstairs and can appreciate both. It really is too bad that the new series was cancelled.

    I tried watching Mr. Selfridge but didn’t quite catch on to it. I think I have to give it another try.

  9. Sue Luce on January 13, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Oh, the Campion series is wonderful.

  10. Suzanne on January 13, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I loved all of the series named above. There was also a really funny series made in the 70s called “The PG Wodehouse Playhouse” with John Alderton and Pauline Collins. Sadly it seems to have disappeared and I have not been able to get it on DVD so far.

    I also have a soft spot for Phryne Fisher as I live in Melbourne and I met Kerry Greenwood many years ago. When watching the series it is also a lot of fun playing spot the places I know.

  11. Lynne on January 14, 2014 at 1:05 am

    All of the above mentioned productions are great. Add most of the Poirot series – such terrific settings. But Downton takes the cake this year – just because the costuming is fabulous. I have a soft spot for the early 20’s dresses – embroidered and beaded details are total eye candy.

  12. E on January 14, 2014 at 7:17 am

    I also forgot about Dancing on the Edge, which I believe was set in the early 1930s in London. It’s refreshing since it focuses on black characters and music, two topics that often get overlooked when it comes to period/costume/historical drama.

    And I misremembered the Twenties Supersizers episode a bit. Sue goes from Louise Brooks on a diet to bohemian to general Bright Young Thing to flapper. Giles is a bit boorish at times, per usual. ;-P But I really do highly recommend the series. It’s almost like a scripted comedy, rather than a documentary, so if you find them generally stuffy and boring, I think you should give them a try if you are interested in historical settings. They use period cookbooks, period cooking techniques, get into daily life (albeit middle to upper classes, usually)… *determined to turn everyone here into Supersizer Go/Eat fans, since they go all the way back to the Roman Empire with their shows* ;-D

    Also, for those of you outside the US, the episodes are also on Youtube, so you really have no excuse. WATCH IT, WATCH IT! (Also, Lauren, I think if you haven’t seen them before, they might be a nice change of pace from solely reading books for research.)

  13. Jessica S. on January 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    On Leaving Charleston, by Alexandra Ripley.

  14. Yvette R on January 14, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    LOVED Mrs Bradley! That series encouraged me to read the books by Gladys Mitchell. Both wonderful, but I was really surprised by the Mrs Bradley in the books (cackling crone with yellow, claw-like hands and a wickedly incisive mind). Diana Ring is wonderful, but very different from the character as drawn by Gladys Mitchell.

  15. Yvette R on January 14, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Darn that spell check! I typed Rigg, and it changed it.

  16. Rachel Beecroft on January 15, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I love the way that I thought I’d have plenty to add to this, living in England, the home of costume drama – but no, to my surprise, lots of programmes I have never even heard of, let alone watched. So, moving straight onto something I can comment about: I’d also second the excellence of Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley books, but they bear absolutely no resemblance to the tv series. Also, she wrote about 100 of them and I think sometimes she must have been a little distracted because for every brilliant one, there is at least one stinker.

  17. Suzanne on January 16, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I forgot to mention “Dance To The Music Of Time”. It was absolutely brilliant and a good social commentary of Britain from the 20s to the 60s.

    I understand Rachael’s comment about not knowing a lot of the shows we mentioned. When I first got the internet and starting searching for my favourite British costume dramas I discovered that most weren’t available on video/DVD from Britain but you could get almost all of them from the US. Very strange.

  18. Nancy Kvorka on January 17, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    I did not know that Phryne Fischer is a TV series. I am excited to see that, thanks for postig it. I love the books and have mentioned them a couple of times here. Bletchely Circle was also a very good series. As was Mrs. Bradley.

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