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For your viewing pleasure: Movies and shows set in the Georgian and Regency eras

'The Duchess,' 'The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister,' and the 'Poldark' series are examples of movies and shows set in the Georgian and Regency eras.
From left: Keira Knightley in “The Duchess,” and Anna Madeley and Maxine Peake in “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister,” and Aidan Turner in the “Poldark” series.

Film adaptations of Jane Austen’s works may be our favorite movies set in the Regency era, but there is a vast array of others set in or around that same period that merit attention as well.

For this list, we look at a few TV shows and movies set in the Georgian era, from 1770 onward (since Austen was born in 1775) and primarily set in England.

‘The Duchess’ (1770s)

Released in 2009, this biopic stars Keira Knightley as the titular Duchess of Devonshire and follows her rocky marriage to her husband, played by Ralph Fiennes. Available for streaming on Netflix.

Natalie Dormer plays "The Scandalous Lady W."
Natalie Dormer plays the titular “Scandalous Lady W.”

‘The Scandalous Lady W’ (1770s-1780s)

Another unhappy marriage leading to scandal: This 2015 mini-series stars Natalie Dormer as Lady Seymour Worsley, who leaves her awful husband for his friend. Based on the true story of Lady Worsley and Hallie Rubenhold’s nonfiction book, “Lady Worsley’s Whim.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in 'Belle.'
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle in “Belle.”

‘Belle’ (1780s)

Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was a real person: the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy. His uncle, Lord Mansfield, raises Dido alongside another great-niece. The 2013 film partly follows the landmark case Lord Mansfield rules on, which is seen to contribute to the abolition movement. Available for rent on multiple streaming platforms.

‘Poldark’ (1783-1801)

There have been multiple adaptations of these historical novels by Winston Graham, the most recent of which started airing in 2015 and recently ended with its fifth season. Ross Poldark, upon returning to Cornwall from fighting in the American Revolutionary War, finds a very different place — his sweetheart having married his cousin. Drama ensues. Available on Amazon Prime (1996, 2015-) or Acorn TV (1977-).

Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren in “The Madness of King George.”

‘The Madness of King George’ (1788)

In this 1994 movie, Nigel Hawthorne plays King George III, whose mental health declined dramatically in his latter years. Those closest to him have to try to prevent his political enemies, including his own son (played by Rupert Everett), from usurping his power. Helen Mirren also stars. Available for streaming on VUDU or rent on other streaming platforms.

‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ (1792)

Another entry with multiple adaptations, including one released in 1982 with “Austenland” alumna Jane Seymour: The novels feature an English nobleman, Sir Percy Blackeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel, helping French aristocrats escape the guillotine in France. The 1934 version is available for streaming on Amazon Prime; the 1982 version on Acorn TV.

‘A Royal Scandal’ (1795)

This short 1997 movie almost feels like a docu-drama, complete with voice-over narration. Richard E. Grant (who also happened to play the titular hero in a 1999 “Scarlet Pimpernel” mini-series) plays the Prince Regent, who has just married Caroline of Brunswick. The movie follows their disastrous marriage, a common theme apparently. Of Caroline, Austen said: “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” Sisterhood! Available on Amazon Prime.

Olivia Cooke and Tom Bateman play Becky Sharp and Rawdon Crawley in the latest adaptation of “Vanity Fair.”

‘Vanity Fair’ (1800s)

William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel has been adapted at least a dozen times on the small and silver screens. The story’s heroine (or anti-heroine?) is Becky Sharp (played on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon in the Mira Nair-directed 2004 movie), an unapologetic social climber and heartbreaker. The 2018 version is available for streaming on Amazon Prime; the 2004 version on various other streaming platforms.

‘Mary Shelley’ (1815)

One of the more recent entries, this 2017 film depicts Mary Wollstonecraft’s elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley and the writing of her magnus opus, “Frankenstein.” The film stars Elle Fanning as Mary. Available for purchase on Amazon Prime; for streaming on various other platforms.

‘Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’ (1815 -)

Based on the diaries that Anne Lister wrote partly in code, this BBC movie, released about 10 years before HBO’s 2019 series “Gentleman Jack,” covers a larger period of her life and starts in 1815 (as seen in her writing a diary entry and the Regency clothes). What is perhaps especially notable about her diaries is the account of her relationships with women. Available for purchase on Amazon Prime.

Abby Cornish and Ben Wishaw play Fanny Brawne and poet John Keats in "Bright Star."
Abby Cornish and Ben Wishaw play Fanny Brawne and poet John Keats in “Bright Star.”

‘Bright Star’ (1818)

Another movie about writers: “Bright Star,” written and directed by Jane Campion and released in 2009, is about the tragic love story between poet John Keats (played by Ben Wishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

Peterloo (1818)

The cavalry charges on the demonstrators in “Peterloo.”

Director Mike Leigh’s two-and-a-half hour epic released last year depicts the Peterloo massacre — Peterloo is a portmanteau of St. Peter’s Field and Waterloo — when the cavalry descended on tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators demanding parliamentary reform. Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.


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