6 Books To Read Before They’re 2021’s Most Popular Period Dramas

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The book or the movie? The eternal dilemma.

Luckily, in 2021 you don’t need to make the choice. Period dramas are taking inspiration from a great range of both fictional and factual historical books.

As always, you have your standard adaptations – the classics that are constantly being reinvented for the screens. In 2021 expect to see new versions of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days starring David Tennant, the much-delayed big screen version of Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile as well as iterations of long time favourites such as Great Expectations, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Persuasion. But there are some fresh, new adaptations scheduled for release too.

If you want to make sure you’ve read the book before they hit the big screen, then read on…

(Side note – TV and film release scheduling has been a bit erratic during the pandemic to say the least, with many release dates being pushed back or not known until the last minute. At the time of writing this post, I am fairly confident we will see the following on our screens this year. Always check out my period drama guide for the latest up-to-date period drama releases.) 

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Set in the Victorian era, The Essex Serpent tells the tale of Cora Seaborne, a woman relishing her recent freedom from an abusive husband. She moves from London to a small village in Essex and becomes intrigued by the idea that it might be haunted by a mythological sea serpent. It’s fair to say The Essex Serpent was a smash hit, winning the Book of The Year title at The British Book Awards in 2016.

Filming is currently underway on location in Essex to turn this piece of historical fiction into a series for Apple TV. Claire Danes takes the role of Cora while Tom Hiddleston will play Will Ransome, the vicar of the small village where the drama takes place.

Expected on TV – late 2021/early 2022

The IPCRESS File by Len Deighton

The IPCRESS File is a modern classic – it was Len Deighton’s first spy novel introducing the iconic British spy Harry Palmer and set against the backdrop of Cold War Europe.  To date the novel has sold 10 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1962.

Its got everything – Cold War suspense, kidnappings, atomic weapons – no wonder it has already been made into a film back in 1965, starring no less than Michael Caine. And now its going to be a six part series for ITV, starring Tom Hollander and Joe Cole of Peaky Blinders fame.

Expected on TV – late 2021

The Last Duel by Eric Jager

One of the few period drama films we actually have a release date for at present, The Last Duel sees Hollywood big hitters Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and director Ridley Scott unite for a medieval historical drama, all about the last judicial duel fought in France funnily enough.

Its all based on Eric Jager’s book The Last Duel about between Norman knight Jean de Carrouges (played by Damon) and the squire Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver). Carrouges had accused Le Gris of raping his wife Marguerite (played by Jodie Comer). Affleck will be in a supporting role as Charles VI.

Release Date – October 15th 2021

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

A critically acclaimed read, My Name is Leon was the debut novel from Birmingham author Kit de Waal. Set in 1980s Birmingham, the book tells the story of nine-year-old Leon, a mixed-race boy, and his quest to reunite his family after being taken into care and separated from his white brother.

Its a gorgeous and moving read which I hope will translate well onto the television screen. Produced by Sir Lenny Henry, My Name is Leon will star Cole Martin in his first ever TV role.

Expected on TV – late 2021

The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford

Surprisingly, 2021 will be the first time that The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford will be adapted for the small screen on its own merits, and not rolled into a combined production with the sequel Love In A Cold Climate. Which is great news for us.

The book is set in the interwar period and tells the story of aristocratic Linda Radlett and her quest to find true love. Period drama stalwart Lily James will star as Linda, with Emily Beecham playing her cousin – and the story’s narrator – Fanny. Andrew Scott also makes an appearance as eccentric neighbour Lord Merlin.

Release date – May 9th on BBC One

SAS: Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre

Based on Ben Macintyre’s best-selling book of the same name, SAS: Rogue Heroes is be a dramatised account of how the world’s greatest Special Forces unit, the SAS, was formed under extraordinary circumstances in the darkest days of World War Two.

This production is already filming and has a great cast lined up, including Jack O’Connell, Alfie Allen and Dominic West to name a few. Sex Education’s Connor Swindells will front the show, playing David Stirling, the future founder of the SAS.

Expected on TV – late 2021

Already seen a great period drama and now wondering what to read after? Then check out this great post from Jess over at An Historian About Town about what to read after watching The Great, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and more.

Liked this post? Then why not check out some more of my period drama posts here? And don’t forget to check out my period drama guide for the latest up-to-date period drama listings in the UK.


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