When we think of romantic period films, more often than not, they’re based in the European countryside and feature actors wearing yards and yards of expensive fabric while making dramatic declarations of love. Movies like Shakespeare in Love, Atonement and Titanic are go-tos when we’re in the mood for this particular brand of throwback.
Watching two people meet, fall in love — occasionally fall out of love — and eventually find their happy ending is something every romantic wants to see. What makes period films so great is that they allow audiences to see how the expectations of love may have changed or stayed the same over time. Certain films are considered to be timeless because of their lasting appeal to devoted fans and new viewers alike, no matter what year or decade they’re being seen. Sure, we may become quivering masses of tears and emotions by the end of them, but that’s because there’s nothing more beautiful and soul-stirring than when the protagonists gaze longingly into each other’s eyes and admit those feelings they’ve been hiding.
Whether the movie is set in the Austrian mountaintops or an Elizabethan theater, there’s a period romance film out there to suit all tastes and moods.
The Sound of Music
Picture it… Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, snowcapped mountains and romantic waltzes. What more could be asked for in a romance film? Set in 1938 Salzburg, Austria, The Sound of Music follows Maria (Andrews) from the abbey where she’s training to be a nun to the home of the dashing but stern Capt. Georg von Trapp (Plummer).
As Maria uses music to teach his children how to have fun, the Captain (as he is fondly referred to) falls in love with her honest, no-nonsense and endearing nature as audiences are treated to some of the most memorable songs ever written. When they start to sing “Edelweiss,” your eyes might just well up a tad.
Shakespeare in Love
Who better to base a romantic comedy on than the man who wrote the most tragic of all love stories, William Shakespeare? It is 1593 and women are forbidden to perform onstage by law, but that doesn’t stop Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) from disguising herself as a man in order to audition in the playwright’s newest production. After discovering her true identity, Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola begin their secret affair as they each try to get themselves out of tricky situations and scandals.
While the relationship between Shakespeare and Viola in Shakespeare in Love is fictional, it is no less dramatic than any play written by the man himself.
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) isn’t your typical 1770s British period film protagonist. As she struggles to find her place in a society that discriminates against her, Belle meets the dashing John Davinier (Sam Reid). Belle and John form a relationship that many, including her family, don’t approve of.
Directed by Amma Asante, Belle is the first 1700s period film to feature the romance of an interracial couple, and since its release in 2013, it remains the only film to do so. If you want to see to people go against society’s expectations and a man make seriously swoonworthy declarations of love, this is the film for you.
The Young Victoria
As heir to the throne of England, young Princess Victoria of Kent (Emily Blunt) knew she would have many enemies inside and outside of the royal court. Victoria was expected to marry a man chosen for her, but what she didn’t expect was to fall in love with him. Through their regular correspondence, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) proves to be a true confidant and friend.
The marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert has been known to be filled with love, devotion and mutual respect — and what could be more romantic than that?
Pride and Prejudice
In this adaptation of Jane Austen’s famous drama, a bad first impression ends up leading to misunderstandings, jealousy and mistrust. When Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is first introduced to Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), she mistakes his reserved nature as disapproval of her and her family, and she comes to the conclusion that she will never like a man as judgmental as he is. But, alas, the two are constantly thrown together.
Based on Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel, Atonement is a tale about what happens when misunderstandings, lies and betrayal underscore the romance of a young couple meant for each other, but through no fault of their own, are destined to be apart. After 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) finds out about what she believes to be an illicit act between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), she falsely accuses him of a crime. These events rip the couple apart and change the course of their lives forever.
Spanning multiple decades, Atonement is filled with heartbreaking performances and is backed by a beautiful score that sweeps you up and keeps you hoping for the happy ending Cecilia and Robbie deserve.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
This classic adaptation of the famous fairy tale Cinderella stars Brandy Norwood as the titular character and Paolo Montalbán as the oh-so-handsome Prince Christopher and has been a favorite since its television debut. Rather than being stereotypes, both Cinderella and Christopher are independent individuals who know what they want and deserve out of life and love.
As a musical, Cinderella is filled with songs and dialogue that a serve up a meaningful message. With a cast made up of famous stage and screen actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber and Bernadette Peters, the diverse take makes it one of the most beloved TV films of the late ’90s.
Inspired by the story of Cinderella, Ever After imagines what would happen if the fairy tale character were a real girl named Danielle living in France during the Renaissance era. Years after her father’s untimely death, 18-year old Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is struggling to keep her home from falling apart, but one day, she meets crown Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) after mistaking him for a thief. With the fantastical elements removed, the story of Danielle and Henry is more grounded, which makes their romance that much more believable.
In a time when women were expected to follow certain rules, Danielle was outspoken, fair and honest in her beliefs. Rather than trying to change her, Henry is the one who ends up being changed.
Barriers like social status and time meant nothing to Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) in this epic and steamy drama of love on the high seas. As the Titanic makes its maiden voyage, the two passengers eventually fall in love. Inevitably, their newfound relationship is doomed when the ship meets its fate.
For over 20 years, Titanic has remained a cultural phenomenon. Many of the scenes have been recreated by fans and lines have been quoted endlessly. Titanic will always be a classic period film. Of course, the debate rages on: wasn’t there enough room for Jack on that door?
Sense and Sensibility
Directed by Ang Lee and written by Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s book of the same name that takes a look at the lives of women who suddenly find themselves having to adjust to a world without the protection of their fathers in a society in which the status of a woman is determined by the men in their lives.