Each of the following are highly recommended (in no particular order) for historical detail, visual splendor, and just plain entertainment.
Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, 1995): A delightful production of Jane Austen's first published novel. Comic and touching, its breathtaking scenery and clever acting make this a must see. Alan Rickman is heartbreaking as Colonel Brandon, Hugh Laurie cameos as Mr. Palmer, and Harriet Walter (Harriet Vane in the Lord Peter Wimsey series) as Fanny Dashwood is wonderfully funny.
Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, 1995): The handsome Colin Firth plays a marvelously haughty Mr. Darcy in this mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Excellent.
Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, 1996): Fans of Gwyneth Paltrow will love her as the busybody Emma in this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel of the same name. Lovely English scenery and elegant mansions filled with candlelight make this a visual delight.
Persuasion (Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds, 1995): Mini-series of Jane Austen's final novel, featuring the shy Anne Elliot who has never fallen out of love with her handsome Captain Wentworth who returns to her life after a ten-year absence. The interior scenes of decorative arts and furnishings are breathtaking.
Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, 1998-2003): This series will make you want to climb aboard a sailing ship and fly off to adventure. Wonderful reproduction ships make this series as real as it gets. Hornblower gets himself and his loyal band into and out of scrapes. Hornblower and his commander, Sir Edward Pellew, will have you cheering.
Sharpe series: The dramatization of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series starring Sean Bean is the Napoleonic War at its best. Sharpe rises from obscure enlisted man to lieutenant, to captain, to major, and beyond. The series does not follow the books exactly, but the battles, the intrigue, the humor, and the adventure come through loud and clear.
The Madness of King George (Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirrin, 1994): This rather sad but intriguing depiction of George III's descent into madness gives a glimpse inside England's royal family in the late eighteenth century. George III touches our heart as he desperately battles for his sanity. We see also the political intrigues of the Prince of Wales and his followers as the king's abilities dissolve.
Dangerous Liaisons (Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeifer, 1988): Set in 1788, this play of intrigue and passion takes you to eighteenth-century France at its most decadent. The actors give splendid performances in a tale of twists and turns. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are chillingly selfish. Ironic that in just a few years, most of these characters would have been sentenced to the guillotine or forced to flee France.
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