Movies for high tea: Top ten period dramas

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Are you a prudish nostalgic looking to sip some tea, nibble on crumpets and harken back to the good old days when servants were servants, aristocrats were aristocrats and monarchs bred with each other over and over and over again, holding onto their estates through thinly veiled incest? Do you long for the time when the British Empire owned the world and high tea would be served on the blood-stained battlefield? Do aristocratic romances and colonialism turn you on? If so, boil some water; don your corsets, wigs and riding boots; serve up your favorite black tea, milk and biscuits (you know, British for cookies), lie back on the couch and make make your way through our top ten period dramas, in honor of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screening of Persuasion on Sunday, March 30.

See also: And the loser is: The seven worst movies of 2013

Gosford Park

Robert Altman's chatty, ensemble style of filmmaking, replete with wildly long shots, suits Gosford Park, an upstairs-downstairs Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. Set in an English country manor during an aristocratic family's hunting party, servants and the ruling class alike scheme over a wealthy landowner's inheritance. Downton Abbey fans will recognize just how much their favorite show borrowed from Gosford Park, including actress Maggie Smith, who portrays a devilishly witty dowager countess in both productions.

The English Patient

Ralph Fiennes stars as a hospitalized soldier suffering from burn wounds and amnesia in Anthony Minghella's Academy Award-winning drama, The English Patient. This film has all the themes of a successful historical tearjerker: memory, jealousy, mistaken identity, broken hearts and an inferno of desire and agony.

Continue on for more high tea, period dramas.

The Piano

Jane Campion's The Piano is the tragic story of a young woman, forced into marriage, who refuses to speak. She rebels against her abusive husband and finds herself involved in an ill-fated romance with a devastating climax. Michael Nyman's score brings emotional force to the characters' often speechless and always gut-wrenching drama.


Sally Potter's gender-bending adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando features Tilda Swinton playing a seemingly immortal character living through four distinct time periods and a variety of gendered identities. This feast of costumes, conflicts and fluid sexuality spans several centuries and is sure to delight history buffs with a tolerance for the surreal.

The King's Speech

Colin Firth plays Bertie (eventually, King George the VI) as he tries to rid himself of a lifelong stutter in order to take the throne of England in the age of radio and international war. Bertie is "The Little Engine That Could" of kings, and his story is a moving account of declining monarchies colliding with the ascent of mass media.

Shakespeare in Love

How did the Bard of Avon write such timeless stories? If we believe the narrative of Shakespeare in Love, the ups and downs of his life inspired his plays. With sheets of paper flying through the air, love curing writers block and the political backdrop of Elizabethan England, Shakespeare in Love is the romance of choice for people who want to believe that great art comes from an inspirational life and not old-fashioned work.

Continue on for more high tea, period dramas.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is a nearly perfect upstairs-downstairs soap opera set in Edwardian England. Despite a few mustache-twirling villains who cheapen the series' narrative depth, most of the characters are multidimensional and the plot is often surprising. Lives are wrecked; favorite characters die; the drama is relentless.

The Madness of King George

Per the title, Nigel Hawthorne plays King George III, as he succumbs to madness. When the Prince of Wales threatens to take power, the king struggles to regain his sanity through a barrage of disturbing medical treatments. Will he king be cured in time?


Quills tells the story of the Marquis de Sade, the nasty, brilliant, aging aristocratic bugger locked up in a mental institution after the French Revolution. On his doctor's orders, Sade uses the pen to bring his devilish desires onto the page and the stage, until the powers-that-be catch wind of his literary indiscretions and try to stop him.


The BBC's 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion has been celebrated by Austen enthusiasts the world over. It is a story of love lost, love regained and love tangled up in class conflict and remorse.

Afternoon tea will be served with a screening of Persuasion at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 30, at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton. Tickets are $20 and include the movie, food and drink.

Find me on Twitter: @kyle_a_harris

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