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The Best British History Series & Period Pieces 

Ranker TV
Updated October 18, 2019 3.3k votes 506 voters 22.2k views 57 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

Number of Seasons: 6

Number of Episodes: 52

Network: ITV

Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom and Ireland on ...more
2
Victoria is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Jenna Coleman, Tom Hughes, Peter Bowles

Premiered: 2016

Network: ITV

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
3
The Crown is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby

Premiered: 2016

Network: Netflix

The Crown (Netflix, 2016) is an American-British biographical drama series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The series begins with the 1947 wedding of young Elizabeth ...more
4
Call The Midwife is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Vanessa Redgrave, Helen George, Laura Main

Premiered: 2012

Number of Episodes: 15

Network: BBC One

Call the Midwife is a BBC period drama series about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. It stars Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Helen George, Bryony ...more
5
Poldark is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Poldark Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ruby Bentall
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

Number of Episodes: 6

Network: BBC Two

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
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

Number of Seasons: 4

Number of Episodes: 38

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation, Showtime, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC Television, TV3

The Tudors (Showtime, 2007) is a British-Irish-Canadian historical fiction television series created by Michael Hirst and produced for the American premium cable television channel Showtime. The ...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

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation

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
Poldark is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Judy Geeson, Ralph Bates, Angharad Rees

Premiered: 1975

Number of Seasons: 2

Number of Episodes: 29

Network: BBC One

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
11
The White Queen is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Janet McTeer, Rebecca Ferguson

Premiered: 2013

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 10

Network: BBC One

The White Queen is a British television drama series in ten parts, based on Philippa Gregory's historical novel series The Cousins' War. The first episode was premiered on BBC One on 16 June ...more
12
The Pillars of the Earth... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 8

Network: Starz

The Pillars of the Earth is an eight-part 2010 TV miniseries, adapted from Ken Follett's novel of the same name. It debuted in the U.S. on Starz and in Canada on The Movie Network/Movie Central ...more
13
Rome is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker

Premiered: 2005

Number of Seasons: 2

Number of Episodes: 22

Network: Rai 2, British Broadcasting Corporation, HBO

Rome is a British-American-Italian historical drama television series created by Bruno Heller, John Milius and William J. MacDonald. The show's two seasons were broadcast on HBO, BBC Two, and ...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

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 29

Network: Showtime

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
'Allo 'Allo! is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Gorden Kaye, Carmen Silvera, Vicki Michelle

Premiered: 1982

Number of Seasons: 9

Number of Episodes: 85

Network: BBC One

'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
16
Manhunt is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Martin Clunes, Katie Lyons, Claudie Blakley

Premiered: 2019

Network: ITV, Acorn

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
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

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 13

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation

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
Elizabeth R is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Glenda Jackson, Robert Hardy, John Shrapnel

Premiered: 1971

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 6

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation

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
19
Les Miserables is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Lily Collins

Premiered: 2018

Number of Episodes: 5

Network: BBC

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
20
The Frankenstein Chronic... is listed (or ranked) 20 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
21
The Forsyte Saga is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
msm4504 added Damian Lewis, Ioan Gruffudd, Rupert Graves

Premiered: 2002

Number of Seasons: 2

Number of Episodes: 10

Network: ITV

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
22
Les Misérables is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Lily Collins

Premiered: 2018

Network: BBC

Les Misérables (BBC, 2018) is a British television miniseries based on the French historical novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Set in early 19th-century France, the series follows ...more
23
Winston Churchill: The W... is listed (or ranked) 23 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
24
Vanity Fair is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
Michael Palin, Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie

Premiered: 2018

Network: Amaon Video

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
25
The Black Adder is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best British History Series & Period Pieces
alanviets added Rowan Atkinson, Brian Blessed, Elspet Gray

Premiered: 1983

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC One

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