Not that I feel like this is anything about which I should feel guilty, but my ultimate guilty pleasure is BBC period dramas. The guilty probably comes in with the number of times I have watched some of them. Over my countless years of experience and numerous viewings of these miniseries or TV movies, I have noticed something. If I am ever having a bad day or I’m feeling low, I’ll just pop one of these in or go to YouTube and just watch a particular scene, skipping over Lydia and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice or all the people dying in North & South. In case this would also brighten your day, I thought I would count down my top ten favorite moments in a BBC period drama. Or my “favourite” moments, as the Brits would say.
Just a few things before we start: 1) I had to restrict myself to the shows that originally aired on TV, so if you are wondering where Becoming Jane is or why I pick certain versions of a scene over the perhaps better version that is on film, now you know. 2) I also didn’t include Downton Abbey as its 4-going-on-5 seasons seemed like an unfair advantage. 3) No comments from the peanut gallery on how I am only representing four authors with this list. I know what I like. I won’t apologize for that. 4) A lot of my choices for scenes are highly spoilery, but I give my full endorsement to all of the options referenced in this list, so just find the whole thing and watch it.
Honorable mention: Lost in Austen (2008) “Lake scene” – While I have to respect this series as an Austen-phile, I never particularly warmed to it. I blame it on the Darcy, who never seemed to embody the role for me. That being said, I loved the meta-ness of this scene. If you haven’t seen the series, all you need to know is that a modern girl gets placed in the middle of Pride & Prejudice. Best line: “Will you do something for me?”
10. Persuasion (2007) “Run-in at the Shop” – This version would almost be perfect if it hadn’t so royally screwed up the ending (KISS HIM ALREADY!) with the exception of that tacked on last scene. Persuasion is my favorite of Austen’s novels and the ending is, of course, my favorite part, so you can imagine that this was quite the blow. What this version has working for it, besides the scrum-diddly-umptuous Rupert Penry-Jones, is that it nails the awkward longing from Anne and Wentworth. This is nowhere better exemplified than this shop scene. Best line: “A man cannot recover from such a passion. With such a woman. He ought not. He does not.” And if it can count for a line, Rupert’s smile. (Skip to 1:10:20)
9. Cranford (2007) “Lace” – Yes, it’s my only choice that does not have explicit romantic connotations. While there is romance in Cranford, I had to include this scene on my list. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the only period drama that gets away with a fart joke. Juvenile though it may be, it’s still dang funny. Best line: “We are in the throes of an exceptional emergency.”
8. Emma (2009) “Proposal” – In my opinion, Johnny Lee Miller is no Paul Rudd. Nor a Jeremy Northam for that matter. However, this has always been my second favorite Austen proposal scene (see number 5 for my favorite). I love that the crazy mix-ups almost spoil the whole thing, but then… he tells her. Way to man up, Knightley! Also, this version of Emma gets bonus points for the inclusion of possibly my favorite Austen line ever. Best line: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” (This clip is actually the scene following. BBC has really come down on letting YouTube have the good stuff).
7. Jane Eyre (2006) “Proposal” – Oh, poor Jane Eyre, to think that if you had been in a Jane Austen novel, this scene would mark the end of your story and we could get to assume that you married Mr. Rochester in that little church without any worries about his loco wife. Alas, this is Bronte and sister does not mess around. What I really like about this scene is that if it was given modern language, Jane would be saying, “Screw you! You don’t know me!” (Note: If you are a fan of close-talking and loud kissing, you might prefer this scene.) Best line: “If God had given me some beauty and wealth, I would make it as hard for you to leave me as it is now for me to leave you.”
6. North & South (2004) “Train Station”
– I once did a scene analysis of this for a Literature and Film class where I had to transcribe the scene and describe each shot. Best. Paper. Ever. Words cannot express how much I love this series, but especially this ending, so instead I will give you a topic of discussion: This scene is made much more effective by Richard Armitage not wearing the cravat. Discuss. Best line:
“You’re coming home with me?” Anytime, day or night. (Again, BBC ruins my fun, but at least you get some of the effect)
5. Sense & Sensibility (2008) “He’s Not Married!” – Ms. Austen certainly had a thing for the romantic entanglements, huh? Let’s get something straight. Nothing tops the moment when Emma Thompson’s Elinor breaks into tears, but there is something to be said for this new version, as well. First of all, I am not the biggest Hugh Grant fan, so I fell much harder for Mr. Dan Stevens’ Edward. Also, this version plays the awkwardness pretty well. Best line: “So now you can marry Elinor.” (Video unavailable)
4. Northanger Abbey (2007) “Kiss” – Northanger Abbey was my first Austen novel and after I had been let down by the atrocious 1986 version, you can imagine how utterly pleased I was by this latest interpretation. Felicity Jones and JJ Feild are perfection and their kiss at the end is so adorkably perfect that I feel I can go out on a limb and say it is my favorite Austen kiss ever. Haters to the left. Best line: “But you can see their house from the window.”
3. Little Dorrit (2008) “John’s Speech”
– Everything about this scene is heartbreaking. The look on Arthur’s face when he realizes what a fool he has been, John’s befuddlement at Arthur’s blindness, John offering his hand at the end, everything. John Chivery certainly gets the award for being the most heartbreaking character in a BBC period drama and you naysayers can talk to me in the comments. Best line:
“All the time I was breaking my heart over her, she was breaking hers over you.”
2. North & South (2004) “Look back at me”
– Some of you may be surprised that I am ranking this scene over the train station scene, but you shouldn’t be. This scene has equally as much passion but it is all crammed into four little words. (Topic #2: Richard Armitage has the sexiest voice in the world. Discuss.) Best line:
Um, duh. (Terrible quality but BBC hasn’t caught it yet. Ha HA!)
1. Pride & Prejudice (1995) “Pemberley” – Okay, I am going to cheat here and deem any and all scenes taking place at Pemberley as the best scene from a period drama. I have seen this scene hundreds (Yes, literally hundreds) of times, yet I still get twitterpated when Darcy comes around that tree or when he gets that little smile on his face when they longingly gazing at each other over the piano. While I have no qualms with the whole wet Darcy thing, I mainly love this scene because he is trying so hard to impress her and she is so confused that it all results in this perfect little awkward situation, which you may have noticed that I am a fan of. Best line: “And your parents are in good health and all your sisters?”
So there you have it. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is there one that you haven’t seen that you now realize you need to watch? Let me know!
And check out the pretty entertaining bonus video!