For far too long (like, literal centuries), Jane Austen's work has been one of just a handful of options available for people looking to read and watch period pieces that don't uphold the stodgy and excessively patriarchal customs of past centuries. Fortunately for fans of both feminism and empire-waist dresses, however, recent years have ushered in a surge of empowering retellings of old-fashioned stories—as seen most recently in Shonda Rhimes' Bridgerton, the second season of which just dropped on Netflix.
The series focuses on the high-society Bridgerton siblings and an anonymous gossip columnist who not only has immense power and influence over Regency society, but also supports herself financially with this work. Bridgerton is modernized by the sly insertion of classical versions of current pop songs in the background, and by its depiction of Georgian society as far more racially diverse than it probably was (though historians believe there's a good chance Queen Charlotte really was Britain's first mixed-race royal).
In short, it's a near-perfect show, and it would be perfectly acceptable if, after racing through the first and second season, you're wondering what to watch next that will recapture even a little bit of the magic of Bridgerton. We've got you: Here are shows in the same vein as Bridgerton that will tide you over until it's time to return to our beloved London ton.
In the same way that Clueless is a wholly modernized remake of Jane Austen's Emma, so too is Gossip Girl basically the mid-aughts version of Bridgerton. There's an ensemble cast of characters causing scandals and falling in love, all encircling a core family-like group of friends, and all documented by an anonymous gossipmonger—good luck playing "spot the difference" between the two.
This sexy, subversive show offers a hilariously outlandish take on the world of 1700s Russia and chronicles the life of Catherine the Great, whose badassery has long been overshadowed by all those rumors about her—ahem—affinity for horses. I mean, come on: a young woman plotting to kill her bumbling husband and overthrow one of the world's strongest governments in order to promote education and equality across the land? Sign me up.
Like Bridgerton, Outlander is based on a long-running series of historical romance novels. It's similarly modernized, with our heroine Claire Randall infusing her 20th-century viewpoint into the mid-18th-century Jacobite risings, to which she mysteriously time travels at the beginning of the first season. If you're still not convinced, just know that Outlander's five seasons' worth of steamy sex scenes give Daphne and Simon's nonstop rendezvous a serious run for their money.
'The Lizzie Bennet Diaries'
Pride and Prejudice has been remade countless times, but no matter how devoted you are to the 2005 Keira Knightley version, you won't be able to resist zooming through all 100 episodes of this incredibly delightful take on the classic tale. It's told through a series of short vlogs from the quirky and headstrong Lizzie Bennet, and stays remarkably true to the original text, even though it's set firmly in the present—complete with appearances from entertainment mogul William Darcy and med student Bing Lee, aka Austen's Mr. Bingley.
'Pride and Prejudice'
If you'd prefer to go the more traditional route with your Pride and Prejudice adaptations, however, the 1995 BBC miniseries is an excellent choice. It delves even deeper into the novel than the 2005 film and, of course, features that unforgettable scene in which Colin Firth dives into a lake fully clothed, promptly initiating a one-man wet T-shirt contest.
Taking place just a few years before Bridgerton and in a decidedly different part of London, Harlots follows a brothel owner's struggles to singlehandedly provide a better life for her daughters. The series places women at the forefront—during a time in which they were all too often shunted to the sidelines—and also takes a very clear-eyed and empowering view of sex work, normalizing and destigmatizing the "oldest profession."
Based on the real diaries of Anne Lister, Gentleman Jack depicts a woman whose life was truly one of a kind in the mid-1800s: Lister was an out lesbian and—gasp!—a landowner who documented her life in millions of words in her diaries, many of which were written in a code based on algebra and Ancient Greek. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to fall into a Wikipedia hole all about Lister and her diaries after you finish bingeing the show.
If you somehow missed the Downton Abbey train back when it premiered to near-instant acclaim in 2010, there's no time like the present to dive into the complex world of the upper-crust Crawley family. The series takes place a century later than Bridgerton, but is just as jam-packed with society scandals, historical references, and a blunt take on the inherent classism of the British aristocracy.
Another period drama from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Belgravia explores the mid-19th century fallout of the reveal of a secret pregnancy 25 years after the fact. Basically, it's like a Sliding Doors version of what might have happened to a certain Bridgerton character if she hadn't found a suitable way to cover up her "medical condition."
It's about time somebody fixed Emily Dickinson's reputation as a melancholy recluse. According to this definitely very accurate adaptation of the prolific poet's life, she was actually something of a party animal, with a penchant for getting high on opium and twerking in her corset to Drake and having regular interactions with Death himself, who looks suspiciously like Wiz Khalifa. Like I said, very historically accurate—and actually very similar to Bridgerton in its ultra-modern soundtrack and feminist take on the 19th century.
Thackeray's 1848 novel has long been admired for its sharp satirical take on the Regency era. This 2018 miniseries adaptation turns the satire and scandal up even higher, with our heroine Becky Sharp doing whatever it takes (seriously, whatever) to claw her way up the social ladder. It's sort of an outsider's take on the world of Bridgerton and, even better, it features Claudia Jessie, aka Eloise Bridgerton, as Becky's close friend Amelia.
'Lost in Austen'
Anyone who's ever wished they could live in the world of Pride and Prejudice will be seething with envy while watching someone else live out their dream in this four-part series, which sees a 21st century Austen fan swapping places with Elizabeth Bennet via a mysterious portal. As Amanda does everything she can to keep things rolling in accordance with Austen's book, Elizabeth is busy having her viewpoint completely changed by the modern world, with her prescribed marriage to Mr. Darcy hanging in the balance.
OK, so this one doesn't actually take place in the Regency era or feature any of the courtly intrigue of Bridgerton, but if you're in the mood for a comedy with hints of period drama, it's still definitely worth a watch. Ghosts, which I am hereby coining a "reverse period piece," takes place in the present, in which a couple moves into a new home only to discover they're being haunted by a group of ghosts from all throughout history. There's a 1990s politician, a witch trial victim, and, yes, multiple ghosts from the early 1800s who offer up plenty of Bridgerton vibes. The show is hilarious and a true delight, and you simply must watch it immediately.
'The Gilded Age'
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes took his upstairs-downstairs intrigue and complex female characters across the pond in this new series based in Gilded Age New York. Among the cast of old money and new money socialites battling for power is Christine Baranski's old money curmudgeon, Carrie Coon's new money wife of a rollercoaster tycoon, Louisa Jacobson as a newcomer who doesn't ascribe to snobbish norms, and Denée Benton representing the elite of Black post-Reconstruction New York. New characters, same social scandals and class commentary.
Jane Austen fans have to check out this series based on the author's final unfinished manuscript, which expands on the diverse cast of characters living in the seaside town of Sandition. This series is also much more risqué than the average Austen work; though it doesn't reach Bridgerton levels, the flirting between Rose Williams' Charlotte Heywood and Theo James' Sidney Parker is fun to watch. Now's the perfect time to catch up and join in on its long-anticipated second season.
If you've wanted more scenes of Queen Charlotte navigating royal life, this gorgeous series follows another British queen from her ascension to the throne to her marriage struggles with her husband Prince Albert. It's also more historically accurate, if you want to see a traditional 19th century courtship between Victoria and Albert.
'The Pursuit of Love'
This miniseries adaptation of Nancy Mitford's novel shows a struggle between absolute romanticism and absolute pragmatism. Set in England between WWI and WWII, the show follows best friends and cousins Linda (Lily James) and Fanny (Emily Beecham) as their different approaches to love and life takes them in separate directions. Come for the coming-of-age story, stay for Fleabag's Hot Priest Andrew Scott playing an eccentric neighbor.
Fans of Nicola Coughlan must check out the period drama that put her on the map before Bridgerton. In this comedy, the actress behind Penelope Featherington plays a Catholic teen growing up and discovering her sexuality during the tumultuous Troubles of 1990s Northern Ireland. The show is also set to premiere its third season soon, so now's a great time to catch up.
'For the People'
This isn't even a period drama, let alone a Regency-era romance, but it will satisfy anyone who's desperately missing a certain duke after finishing Bridgerton season 2. Regé-Jean Page's first Shondaland show is a short-lived legal show about new prosecutors and public defenders navigating federal court, and his character's crush on his co-worker gives the actor a chance to flex his romance muscles (as well as his American accent!)
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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