Downton Abbey, 2010
For those of you who live in a media bubble, this runaway hit delivers all of the expected period intrigue: scheming servants, society scandals, marriage woes, inheritance drama, and a good dose of the impeccably snooty and quick-witted Maggie Smith as the Grantham family matriarch—all perfectly polished by costume drama maestro Julian Fellows.
Season 1 is available on Hulu Plus
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes
This two-part series, based on the 1993 war novel by Sebastian Faulks, tells the story of Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne), an entrenched English soldier who escapes the horrors of WWI through flashbacks to his illicit affair (which is fleshed out in steamy detail) with a French woman, Isabelle Azaire (Clémence Poésy).
Available Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Wives and Daughters, 1999
Based on the 19th century novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, this BAFTA-winning miniseries follows the drama that ensues when a daughter of a country doctor is forced to deal with a new stepmother, beautiful stepsister, and her own secrets.
On Netflix and Amazon Instant Video
The Misfits, 2009
When a strange electrical storm bequeaths five 20-something delinquents on a community service detail with special powers, they are forced to grapple with their newfound abilities (from immortality to invisibility) and their new charges as reluctant superheroes. Season one took home the 2010 BAFTA Television Award for Best Drama Series.
Season 1-3 on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Another Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation, this Golden Globe-nominated five-part series takes viewers to Cranford in the 1840s, as the women who rule the roost navigate the inevitable changes of the Industrial Revolution on their rural town.
Amazon Instant Video, Netflix DVD, and iTunes
The Hour, 2011
This Golden Globe-nominated thriller set in Cold War-era England follows the team behind the investigative news program The Hour, helmed by anchorman Hector Madden (played by The Wire’s Dominic West), as they wrestle with fidelity, truthful reporting, and personal ambition.
Season 1 on Netflix and, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
North and South, 2004
This four-part series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel follows a young country girl as she adjusts to life in the North and tries to navigate her feelings for the son of an arrogantly wealthy family.
On Netflix, Amazon Instant Video
Bleak House, 2005
Based on Charles Dickens’s novel, this BAFTA-winning, Emmy-nominated 15-part series explores the British justice system in appropriately Dickensian fashion. The story centers on a trio of orphans (including one played by Carey Mulligan) at the center of a complicated inheritance case and quickly spirals into a mess of corruption and murder.
On Netflix, iTunes, Amazon instant video
The show follows John Luther, an obsessive, self-destructive detective—played brilliantly by the Emmy Award-winning Idris Elba (of The Wire fame)—as he tracks deranged killers through the streets of London while struggling to keep the job from completely consuming his life. Look out for a fantastic performance by Ruth Wilson as the ingeniously creepy Alice Morgan.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Pride and Prejudice, 1995
This adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy has taken on an almost cult status, catapulting him to fame and garnering a BAFTA.
On Netflix DVD, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video
Photos: Downton Abbey: © BBC; The Hour: © Kudos; Luther: © BBC; The Misfits: Mark Johnson, © Clerkenwell Films