March 8th is International Women’s Day – a chance to champion women’s rights and celebrate womanhood in general, including those that have gone before.
At the same time, with the rise in popularity of Women’s History, 2020 is turning into a strong year for female-led period dramas. So why not spend International Women’s Day taking the time to learn more about an inspiring woman from history via the medium of period drama?
Here’s my pick of my favourite period dramas about inspiring females…
I have a soft spot for Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. I remember writing an essay about her as part of my history degree. And her biography by Amanda Foreman is a great example of how historical biographies should be done.
Keira Knightley plays the Georgian socialite, style icon and political organizer. She was famous for her charisma, political influence and unusual marital arrangements!
If you read one of my first ever blog posts about my favourite period dramas of all time, you will know I have a particular soft spot for Shakespeare in Love.
The world’s greatest ever playwright, William Shakespeare is young, out of ideas and short of cash. But then he meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays. Luckily for us viewers, his ideal woman refuses to give up her dream of acting on the stage. Its totally fictional but at the same time totally enthralling. And there’s a cameo from Dame Judi Dench as Good Queen Bess.
I think I came across this film quite by accident on Netflix one rainy afternoon, and decided to give it a whirl. I was pleasantly surprised by both how much I enjoyed it and the degree of historical accuracy – I had always known the basics about Mary Shelley, but this film provided me with a through education.
Elle Fanning plays the Gothic novelist and creator of Frankenstein Mary Shelley, but I particularly loved Bel Powley’s turn as Mary’s wild step sister Claire Clairmont.
I had to get a bit of Jane Austen in here somewhere, didn’t I? Lizzie Bennett is the ultimate Austen heroine – sure of what she wants and knowing of her worth. The character is played beautifully by serial period drama actress Keira Knightley in the 2005 adaptation.
I’m sorry but the scene at the end when Mr Darcey (Matthew MacFadyen) emerges in the morning mist to confess his feelings…is just so utterly perfect and fills my stomach with butterflies.
I’m sure I’m going to get some comments about picking the Greta Gerwig adaptation over the 1994 version. However the 2019 version made me cry four times and is the perfect Little Women for the 20th Century.
As always, literary Jo March is the main protagonist of the story but I honestly feel this adaptation is the first one to do justice to all the sister’s stories – as evidenced by Florence Pugh getting multiple award nominations for her turn as Amy March.
Based on a true story, Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic Great-uncle Lord William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield in Georgian England.
Want to follow in Dido Belle’s footsteps? Then visit Kenwood House in North London, where you can also see her portrait.
However many actresses play Elizabeth I, none of them will compare to Cate Blanchett. She captures the highly intelligent and mercurial spirit of the flame-haired queen regnant perfectly.
You really have to watch both films. Elizabeth is all about the early years of her reign and her becoming queen. The sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age focuses on her later years, including the Spanish Armada.
I couldn’t not include this film in this list, could I? Carey Mulligan stars as Maud, a young working mother who is galvanised into radical political activism supporting the right for women to vote. And she is willing to meet violence with violence to achieve this end.
The legend that is Meryl Streep features as the even bigger legend that was suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
A modern classic everyone should watch, Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.
Taraji P.Henson stars as Katherine Johnson, who was basically a human computer who was able make extremely complex calculations for spaceflights. She passed away only a few weeks ago at the grand age of 101, and was a truly inspirational figure.
I read The Colour Purple as part of my English A-level many years ago. It’s one of those books I recommend to everyone, and the film is just as powerful and striking.
Whoopi Goldberg stars as Celie, a black Southern women struggling to find her identity after suffering abuse from her father and others over four decades. Oprah Winfrey also gives a great turn as Sofia, Celie’s stepdaughter-in-law.
Don’t forget you can keep up to date with the latest period drama happenings with my period drama guide. I also pick the period drama highlights of the month in my monthly newsletter – you can sign up via the link in my Instagram account.
Have you seen any of these films? Or perhaps there’s another period drama about a fabulous female figure from history you think I should be watching? Let me know in the comments below.