The period romance is back, ladies and gents! With the recent release of Michael Mayer’s much anticipated period film The Seagull and Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley, there’s a lot for fans of the genre to celebrate, but there’s also a lot to question.
Films set in the past often present women as damsels in distress, stuck in male-dominated worlds that would never fly today except in pretty Hollywood remakes of Jane Austen novels.
That said, there are a handful of period films that rise above the stereotypes of the genre and we’re here to celebrate these films with this romantical listicle.
Give us a film that honors adventure and travel over some sleazy asshole who has sex with his students any day. We love this movie because it interrogates what feminism actually means – does it mean a right to choose or does it mean breaking the mold? Mona Lisa Smile is a film that gives you all the joys of any good romantic film, but will ultimately leave you whooping when the heroine (Julia Roberts) ends up on her own, with adventure as her only companion.
Although Jane Austen is great, she is a product of 18th and 19th century England, which (lets face it) wasn’t exactly known as a time for gender equality. That said, Whit Stillman’s brilliant Love & Friendship is the wittiest, most biting, most Austen-esque film to be made based on the writer’s work. The film’s heroine – Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) – is as fierce as she is cunning and would even make Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice) balk at her audacity.
Far From the Madding Crowd is really less of a romance film and more of a coming-of-age one, as we watch Bathsheba Everdene (played the lovely Carey Mulligan) choose herself and her needs above all else.
It’s through love that our protagonist – Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – ultimately seems to change, rather than the change coming from herself and her own desires. That said, it makes the list because it incorporates some diversity into a genre that is so whitewashed it hurts. Here’s a period film that features a badass woman of color is its lead, portrayed with excellence by actress Amma Asante.
Yes, we know – Outlander is a TV show. But if you truly want to dive into a period romance that upholds strong feminist values, you’ve gotta give it a watch. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is the ultimate feminist heroine, primarily because she isn’t from the 1700s. Perhaps it’s only through time travel that Hollywood can give us a truly progressive heroine in a period setting. Either way, we’re living for Outlander and we hope you are too!