There’s nothing we love more than a good period drama, and two of our absolute favourites are back on TV this week
By Chris Miller, Writer
There are two types of people. There are people who openly love period dramas and everything about them, from the beautiful costumes and the wonderful locations, to the potent emotions simmering beneath the surface of pretty much every character. And then there are people who secretly love all that stuff.
All those people – ie all people – will be delighted this week because two of the best period dramas of recent years, Sanditon and The Great, are back! It’s been a long old wait, especially for Sanditon, whose first series aired all the way back in 2019. So before you don your bonnet and settle down to indulge in second helpings of both of these fab shows, let’s catch up on where we left them…
What happened in Sanditon’s first series?
This adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel was created by Andrew Davies, who adapted Austen’s Pride And Prejudice for the BBC to huge success in the 1990s, and has been responsible for many ace period dramas since. It begins with Charlotte Parker (Rose Williams, Medici) meeting the wealthy Parker family. Tom Parker (Kris Marshall, Death In Paradise) is attempting to turn the quaint town of Sanditon into a booming seaside resort, allowing him to rake in even more money.
Charlotte is delighted to find herself in such a lively place and makes herself at home in the town – but she’s distracted by the arrival of Tom’s handsome brother Sidney (Theo James, Divergent). The two immediately clash, so there’s no chance of romance blooming between them… right?! That never happens in Austen novels! Even so, Sidney’s former love Eliza (Ruth Kearney, The Following) is around to throw a spanner in those particular works.
What can we expect from the new series?
Georgiana (Crystal Clarke), Charlotte (Rose Williams) and Alison (Rosie Graham) give the side-eye to over-keen military types
We’re well beyond the events of the original book now, so the possibilities are endless. Having received bad news from Sidney and left Sanditon, Charlotte returns to the town months later to find it much changed by a military regiment that has arrived in the area. She takes a job as a governess at the home of the reclusive Alexander Colbourne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Industry), and while the soldiers are making googly eyes at all the local young ladies, devotes herself to work – but Lady Denham (Anne Reid, Years And Years) is suspicious of her motives for returning…
What about The Great?
How did Catherine become The Great? By realising that if she didn’t provide her husband – the Tsar of Russia – with an heir, and he died before her, she would inherit an empire. If you were her, what would you do with that information? This riotous series is a comic-satirical slant on period drama, starring Elle Fanning (Maleficent) as the ambitious Catherine and Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road) as her ghastly spouse Peter III.
“The Empress wants Maltesers! Hand over the Maltesers!”
The first season gave us murder plots, seductions, international diplomacy, infidelity, torture, paranoia, philosophy and ultimately a coup – all pulled off with a kind of dizzying, unhinged energy by creator Tony McNamara (who also co-wrote The Favourite starring Olivia Colman in her Oscar-winning role as Queen Anne) and the terrific cast, including Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who) and Gwilym Lee (Bohemian Rhapsody).
What’s next from the show?
As the new episodes begin, there’s a stand-off between Peter’s troops and those loyal to Catherine – who is pregnant with his child. When Catherine gains the upper hand, Peter agrees to submit to his wife, who suspects the weakened tsar may know the whereabouts of her missing lover Leo (Sebastian de Souza, Normal People). So no let-up on the intrigue, then…
Expect more outrageous goings-on from the 18th-century Russian court as well as guest appearances from the likes of Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh), Jason Isaacs (The Death Of Stalin) and Gillian Anderson (Sex Education).
What other period drama treats can I gorge on?
Jeff, third from right, didn’t get the memo about the caps
Once you’ve finished bingeing these two hugely entertaining shows, there are plenty more options for the discerning period drama fan (which we know you are!). If for some reason you haven’t yet caught up with Bridgerton (Apps & Games > Netflix), it’s time to remedy that. The adaptation of Julia Quinn’s novels about the machinations of poshos in Regency London went from raunchy to romantic between seasons 1 and 2, but whatever your preference, it delivers great drama and lots of fun.
There aren’t many bonnets in Gentleman Jack (Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer), which tells the story of an unconventional woman (Suranne Jones, Vigil) in 19th-century Yorkshire, based on the diaries she left chronicling her life and relationships. Go even further back in British history with The Devil’s Whore (Apps & Games > All 4), set during the Civil War and starring Andrea Riseborough (National Treasure) and John Simm (Grace), or the lavish adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel Wolf Hall (Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer), with Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies) as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Henry VIII.
For slightly more modern dramas that still have a strong sense of their period setting, there are six seasons of Birmingham-set crime series Peaky Blinders (Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer) to enjoy, or try Shane Meadows’ gritty, gripping This Is England ’86, ’88 and ’90 (Apps & Games > All 4).
When is series 2 of ITV’s Sanditon on TV?
The series is on Fridays at 9pm on ITV/HD (CH 103/113), starting on Friday 22 July, and will also be available in Apps & Games > ITV Hub. The first series is available in Apps & Games > ITV Hub now.
When is season 2 of Channel 4’s The Great on TV?
The series is on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4 HD (CH 104/141), starting on Wednesday 27 July, and will also be available in Apps & Games > All 4.
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