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The Best British History Series & Period Pieces 

Ranker TV
Updated July 31, 2020 4.1k votes 607 voters 27k views 59 items

List Rules Vote up the best British television series that are set in a specific historical period.

Thanks to having a bit of a longer history than the United States, historical TV shows from the UK include everything from relatively modern kings and queens to ancient tales from the first millennium. The popularity of British period pieces extends well beyond BBC period dramas and there are many American-British joint projects available on streaming services like Netflix. If you’ve been looking for the best British period dramas that will take you on a trip through time, this list of the best British historical series of all time will help you figure out what needs to go into your queue and what older shows you might need to hunt down and watch immediately.

Period pieces are usually historical dramas (though there are some satires!) that feature era-specific costumes, sets, and dialogue. They examine issues of their time or expand on classic literature as adaptations. Thanks to the unique nature of British television, some of the best British period dramas are only ten or fewer episodes long, such as The White Queen and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, while other historical British shows ran on for multiple series and have lots of episodes to dive into when you want costume drama. The Tudors, the 2015 version of Poldark, and Call The Midwife ran on for many seasons and have dozens of beautiful episodes set in specific eras.

What are the best British period TV shows ever? Vote up the best British historical dramas, then vote down the shows that don't bring the seem out of place, and add any period dramas from England that are missing.

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list ordered by
1
Downton Abbey is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern

Premiered: 2010

Downton Abbey (PBS, 2010) is a British historical drama television series created by Julian Fellowes. A chronicle of the lives of the British aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in ...more
2
The Crown is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby

Premiered: 2016

The Crown (Netflix, 2016) is an American-British biographical drama series created by Peter Morgan. A young Queen Elizabeth II's (Claire Foy) political rivalries and romances guide the events ...more
3
Victoria is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes, Peter Bowles

Premiered: 2016

Victoria (ITV, 2016) is a drama television series created by Daisy Goodwin. The show depicts first few years of the reign of Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman), from her accession to the throne at ...more
4
Call The Midwife is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Laura Main

Premiered: 2012

Call the Midwife (BBC, 2012) is a British period drama series created by Heidi Thomas. The lives of a group of midwives living in East London are documented in the late-1950s to mid-1960s.
5
Poldark is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Poldark Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ruby Bentall

Premiered: 2015

Poldark (BBC One, 2015) is a British-American drama television series created by Debbie Horsfield, based on the novels by Winston Graham. Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returns home after American ...more
6
Peaky Blinders is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson

Premiered: 2013

Peaky Blinders (BBC Two, 2013) is a British television action drama created by Steven Knight, based upon the exploits of the historical gang. In 1919 Birmingham, England, leader Tommy Shelby ...more
7
The Last Kingdom is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Alexander Dreymon, David Dawson, Tobias Santelmann

Premiered: 2015

The Last Kingdom (BBC America, 2015) is a British historical fiction television series based on Bernard Cornwell's The Saxon Stories series of novels. In 872 England, an unlikely hero (Alexander ...more
8
The Tudors is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill, Anthony Brophy

Premiered: 2007

The Tudors (Showtime, 2007) is a historical fiction television series created by Michael Hirst. In 16th-century England, King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) protects his throne from enemies ...more
9
The Six Wives of Henry V... is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Patrick Troughton, Anthony Quayle, Annette Crosbie

Premiered: 1970

The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a series of six television plays produced by the BBC and first transmitted between 1 January and 5 February 1970. The series was later aired in the United States ...more
10
The White Queen is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Rebecca Ferguson, Amanda Hale, Faye Marsay

Premiered: 2013

The White Queen (BBC One, 2013) is a British historical drama television miniseries based on the novel series by Philippa Gregory. In 1460s England, three women - Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca ...more
11
Poldark is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Judy Geeson, Ralph Bates, Angharad Rees

Premiered: 1975

Poldark is the original version of the BBC television series adaptation of the novels of the same title written by Winston Graham. The adaption was first transmitted in the UK between 1975 and
12
Rome is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker

Premiered: 2005

Rome (HBO, 2005) is a British-American-Italian historical drama television series created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller. A down-to-earth account of the lives of both ...more
13
The Pillars of the Earth... is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne

Premiered: 2010

The Pillars of the Earth (Starz, 2010) is an eight-part TV miniseries based on the 1989 novel by Ken Follett. Set against a backdrop of war, religious strife and power struggles which tears ...more
14
The Borgias is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Jeremy Irons, François Arnaud, Holliday Grainger

Premiered: 2011

The Borgias (Showtime, 2011) is a historical-fiction drama television series created by Neil Jordan. In the fifteenth century, Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) tries to control all power in ...more
15
The Forsyte Saga is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
msm4504 added Damian Lewis, Ioan Gruffudd, Rupert Graves

Premiered: 2002

In 2002, the first two books and the first interlude of John Galsworthy's trilogy The Forsyte Saga were adapted by Granada Television for the ITV network. Additional funding for this production ...more
16
'Allo 'Allo! is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Gorden Kaye, Carmen Silvera, Vicki Michelle

Premiered: 1982

'Allo 'Allo! is a BBC television sitcom broadcast on BBC1 from 1982 to 1992, comprising eighty-five episodes. A repeat is aired in the 'Afternoon Classics' on BBC2 since 27 March 2015. The story ...more
17
I, Claudius is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
msm4504 added I, Claudius Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Siân Phillips

Premiered: 1976

I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC Television adaptation of Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Written by Jack Pulman, it starred Derek Jacobi as Claudius, with Siân Phillips, Brian ...more
18
Manhunt is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Martin Clunes, Katie Lyons, Claudie Blakley

Premiered: 2019

Manhunt (ITV, 2019) is a British television drama based on the true story surrounding the initial investigation into the death of French student Amélie Delagrange. Led by Detective Chief ...more
19
Elizabeth R is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Glenda Jackson, Robert Hardy, John Shrapnel

Premiered: 1971

Elizabeth R is a BBC television drama serial of six 85-minute plays starring Glenda Jackson in the title role. It was first broadcast on BBC2 from February to March 1971, through the Australian ...more
20
Les Miserables is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Lily Collins

Premiered: 2018

Les Misérables (2018, BBC) is a miniseries adaptation of Victor Hugo's French historical novel of the same name. The series, adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Shankland, stars ...more
21
The Black Adder is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
alanviets added Rowan Atkinson, Brian Blessed, Elspet Gray

Premiered: 1983

The Black Adder is the first series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder, written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, directed by Martin Shardlow and produced by John Lloyd. The series was originally ...more
22
Vanity Fair is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Michael Palin, Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie

Premiered: 2018

Vanity Fair (ITV and Amazon Video, 2018) is an American-British period drama television series based on the 1848 novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. Set during and after the ...more
23
Goodnight Sweetheart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Michelle Holmes, Nicholas Lyndhurst, David Ryall

Premiered: 1993

Goodnight Sweetheart is a British sitcom that ran for six series on BBC1 from 1993 to 1999. It stars Nicholas Lyndhurst as Gary Sparrow, an accidental time traveller who leads a double life ...more
24
Winston Churchill: The W... is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years Robert Hardy, Tim Pigott-Smith, Nigel Havers

Premiered: 1981

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years is an 8-part 1981 drama serial based on the life of Winston Churchill, and particularly his years in enforced exile from political position during the ...more
25
The Frankenstein Chronic... is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Sean Bean, Tom Ward, Richie Campbell
The Frankenstein Chronicles (A&E, 2015) is a British television period crime drama series created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford, and a re-imagining of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel. ...more