Judging by the various articles appearing online, and the sounds that I can hear echoing from "across the pond" (the rustling of lace handkerchiefs wiping away tears and the rumblings of countless trembling bottom lips) , the beloved show Downton Abbey has come to an end.
Indeed PBS aired the final episode last Sunday, and I suspect that you might be feeling somewhat empty (as we all do when something that we have loved and followed terminates); but do not despair!
If you yearn to delve once more into British times-gone-by, then there are plenty of other tasty bits of entertainment to choose from!
So straighten those cravats, tighten your corsets, and read on to discover which ten handpicked shows can help ease the passing of this prestigious phenomenon.
1. Upstairs Downstairs (1971-1975)
Starring: Gordon Jackson, David Langton, Rachel Gurney, Angela Baddeley & Jean Marsh.
Set in a London townhouse in the early twentieth century (1900's), the series follows the lives of the wealthy Bellamy family who live, erm, upstairs and the household staff who live, well, downstairs. Though quite old now, it still a recognisable and key part of television history; critics pointed out that Downton has many similarities to it, though there are still enough distinctive qualities to keep the more analytical viewer entertained.
2. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Starring: Jennifer Ehle & Colin Firth.
Perhaps the most famous and influential series on this list, so much so that the minds behind the 2005 movie (starring Keira Knightley) had to frequently refer to it so that they could both learn from its success and change the movie to avoid direct comparisons. It follows Elizabeth Bennett (Ehle) and her four sisters as they negotiate marriage, class, the rules of society and propriety in the English Regency period (early 1800’s). Fabulously acted and with sumptuous production values, a particular scene with a wet Mr Darcy (Firth) causes spontaneous swooning to this day.
3. Bleak House (2005)
Starring: Denis Lawson, Carey Mulligan, Gillian Anderson & Charles Dance.
As a master within Victorian literature, Charles Dickens was bound to feature here in some shape or form, and this stellar adaptation is a fitting example of his contributions to British culture. It's similar to Pride and Prejudice through its examination of contemporary society, though it is far more critical and darker in tone; set in the 1820’s/30’s, Bleak House follows a wide range of characters and subplots which are all connected in various ways to a bloated legal case. From echoing estates to grimy graveyards, it has plenty of endearing (and insidious) characters, with intrigue to spare.
4. Garrow’s Law (2009-2011)
Starring: Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong, Lyndsey Marshal & Rupert Graves.
Mainly based around trials and court cases at the Old Bailey in Georgian London (early 1700’s to mid 1800’s) this show is far from being boring and bureaucratic. Following the career of real and famous barrister William Garrow (Buchan), enemies lurk and conspire against him as he attempts to protect people from becoming victims of lawful social injustice; the screenplay is amazingly poetic, Buchan owns the role, and the stories (which are based on actual case notes) are highly engaging and outrageous, so much so that your blood will boil at how unfair life was...and in some respects still is.
5. An Inspector Calls (2015)
Starring: David Thewlis, Sophie Rundle, Miranda Richardson & Ken Stott.
Ok, so technically this is a one-off special rather than a series, but it’s of such a good standard that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of mentioning it. Closer to Downton Abbey in terms of its setting, it revolves upon a celebratory dinner at the home of the wealthy Birling family, which is interrupted by the mysterious Inspector Goole (Thewlis). It’s perhaps the most political and socially conscious on this list, and some may find its message a bit preachy, but An Inspector Calls gives plenty of food for thought, and Thewlis triumphs in an understated performance.
6. Doctor Thorne (2016)
Starring: Tom Hollander, Stefanie Martini, Ian McShane and Alison Brie.
For Downton lovers this is perhaps the most fitting because it’s adapted by the man behind your beloved series (Julian Fellowes). From the pages of Anthony Trollope's mid 1800’s story, the show follows the titular character (Hollander) and his niece (Martini) as (like in Downton) they confront the difficulties of relationships between the British social classes. It’s only just started airing here in the UK, so American viewers may struggle to find a site to stream it from, but its colourful realisation and the calibre of its cast are very promising.
And for the more adventurous...
7. Life on Mars (2006-2007)
Starring: John Simm & Phillip Glenister.
Like with Endeavour below, I’ve been a bit cheeky by adding this, but it’s such a good show that I’m sure I’ll be forgiven; a police officer from the early 2000’s (Simm) mysteriously wakes up in 1973 after a serious accident. Blending elements of fantasy and crime drama, with bucket loads of emotion and great one-liners, it delighted those who were alive in the 70’s by accurately depicting the time period. And that's not to mention the enigma which enthralled millions of viewers. The story continued in Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010), but Life on Mars gets my vote for being one of the few pieces of modern entertainment to depict my hometown (Manchester, in case you were wondering) and for giving us the now iconic character Gene Hunt (Glensiter).
8. Endeavour (2012-Present)
Starring: Shaun Evans & Roger Allam.
A prequel to the popular police-procedural Inspector Morse, this follows the aforementioned detective, at the beginning of his career in 1960’s Oxford. Decidedly less of a costume drama, it still has its range of outdated fashions, outdated interior designs and enough pristine classic cars to trigger nostalgia. An atmospheric and intricate show that is affectionate towards its source material, it is one of the finest shows of its kind currently on the TV. Click here to read more about the series.
9. Ripper Street (2012-Present)
Starring : Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, Adam Rothenberg & MyAnna Buring.
The most outlandish on this list! Think of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009 & 2011) movies (starring Robert Downey Jr) with less action, more detective work and a heavier dose of gore (seriously, it’s not for the squeamish). Ripper Street buckles swash and intrigues with its historical mysteries in an uprising of violence following the career of Jack the Ripper. Its first series takes a while to find its footing, but it soon becomes a whirlwind of theatrics, violence and debauchery that somehow didn’t attract viewers, leading to its cancellation by the BBC and its subsequent revival by Amazon, from which it has climbed to greater narrative stakes and acclaim.
10. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2015)
Starring: Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan & Marc Warren.
This show is what you get if you smashed Harry Potter and the works of Charles Dickens together; an alternate reality sees Britain’s war with Napoleonic France aided by the two titular magicians (Carvel and Marsan), though their supernatural efforts begin a disastrous and unforeseen series of consequences. Transferred from Susana Clarke’s massive book, tea-loving gentlemen in frock coats and powdered wigs conjure CGI sand-horses and flocks of ravens in this darkly enchanting and innovative adaptation.