Escapist raunch for the mainly straight (female) eye, Bridgerton with Regé-Jean Page’s (THE man crush of the moment) perma-smoulder, copious cunnilingus sightings and of course, breathless coupling (dubious consent in episode six, aside), has definitely been the most talked-about show, well, since the Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Housewives.
But apart from the steamy scenes, the colour blind casting paired with extravagant candy coloured costuming and far-from-historically-accurate storytelling sets this period drama in a world of its own (an almost post-racial ideal that is still as patriarchal as it gets though). It’s main purpose—hitting the sweet spot between froth and fun, with a bit of smash-the-patriarchy thrown in. Packed with bar brawls, salacious scandal and balls lined with charming rakes and beautiful debutantes, Bridgerton offered the much required easy escape from pandemic fatigue. The first Shondaland show for Netflix doesn’t carry the iconic TV producer’s usual path-breaking punch, but it definitely offers up a much under appreciated sub-genre, ‘the guilty pleasure costume drama’ (not to be confused with ‘the guilty pleasure period drama’).
The ‘guilty pleasure costume drama’ is not for the purists; expect a spectrum of anachronisms, history is used here more as a convenient excuse to play extravagant dress up, only to be stripped off at some point to reveal the glistening musculature of thirst traps. But the storylines are a formulaic frenzy of forbidden love, betrayal and conflict only to end in happy and some not so happy endings. So in the spirit of our recent binge-fest, here’s a list of all the other guilty pleasure costume dramas currently streaming, so we can bring in the new year, with the right bit of escapist entertainment.Poldark (2015)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that people watch Poldark for the “scything scene”. Where our heartbroken hero, Captain Ross Vennor Poldark, scythes wheat all sweaty and shirtless, after a passionate night of love making with his scullery maid who goes on to become his wife. Set between 1781 and 1801 it tracks the war heroes return to Cornwall after the American War Of Independence. He’s in debt, his childhood sweetheart has been promised to another man and the drama ensues in all its swashbuckling glory. What makes this one of the all time favourites? Two Words. Aidan Turner.
Streaming on Sony LivVersailles (2015)
This one takes you back to 17th century France and King Louis XIV, the sun king and absolute monarch who moved the king’s court into his father’s hunting lodge and oversaw the making of the grand palace of Versailles. Of course the show is a complete visual spectacle packed with pageantry and more interested in all the scandalous secrets of the wayward nobles (some fictional, some closer to history), alongside explosive sex scenes, generous amounts of violence, treasonous plots and the king’s many many women.
Streaming on Netflix IndiaThe Tudors (2007)
From Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, we are a captive audience when it comes to the Tudors and this English royal house. Especially anything reformation and Henry VIII, between the many wives and beheadings, the drama writes itself. The show, of course glosses up the saga into a glamorous soapy watch packed with enough intrigue, sex and violence and with a rakish King Henry on the prowl.
Streaming on Sony LivOutlander (2014)
Time travel meets historical drama, a bit of a cheat but that just makes the onscreen adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s novel series, as fantastical as the rest of our costume dramas. The premise: a married World War II English combat nurse travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and meets and marries a drop dead gorgeous kilt-toting highland warrior. With outlandish plot twists and exploding chemistry, this has all the elements for a marathon binge.
Streaming on Netflix IndiaHarlots (2017)
Female gaze in place, this hedonistic 3-season long pacey Georgian drama of battling brothels is expertly plotted with schemes, betrayals and back-stabbers galore. Enter the sex trade world (from back in the day, when one in five women in London were prostitutes) of sex workers, kept women and concubines trying to survive and make a living amid constant danger and power struggles. The show stars Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville and Liv Tyler, complete with tower high wigs and an almost rococo-meets-goth glaze.
Streaming on Sony LivPenny Dreadful (2014)
This genre-fluid gothic romance starring all your favourite gothic characters from Frankenstein’s creature and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey to Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, alongside werewolves (one played by Josh Hartnett of the ultimate guilty pleasure Pearl Harbor fame) and witches. With Eva Green as the kickass heroine battling demons, romance soon ensues in this thrilling 3-season long visual feast.
Streaming on Amazon Prime VideoTroy Fall Of A City (2018)
Less Homer’s Iliad, and more threesomes on a beach, perfectly choreographed battle scenes and elaborate costuming with black actors playing Greek gods and of course, the torrid love affair of Helen and Paris right at the centre of it all. Watch this as a story in its own right and it has all the elements of a potboiler—vengeful warriors, desperate lovers and brutal violence.
Streaming on Netflix IndiaGentleman Jack (2019)
The dramatised adaptation of the secret diaries of landowner and entrepreneur Anne Lister, popularly called ‘the first modern lesbian’ played by Suranne Jones, has been rightly branded the ‘Victorian Fleabag’. The eight-part drama moves at breakneck speed capturing the making of a mid-19th century renaissance woman in Halifax, England with romantic entanglements and political upheavals in tow, making it a perfectly bingeable treat.
Streaming on Disney + HotstarAlso read:
6 Bollywood period films to watch just for their costumes, on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video
7 period drama films to watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar now