Corsets are laced tight and braids are twisted taut in Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage. The historical period drama starring Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria sees idolized, pristine beauty come up against rebellious femininity. The bold biopic follows Elisabeth turning 40 and discovering a new lease on life, rejecting conformity by embarking on her own unapproved path.
Injecting unconventionality into the costume drama genre, Corsage (in theaters December 23) is a portrait of a woman on the brink of unraveling. In turn, the film reveals the period piece is still fertile ground for modern filmmakers. The stoic genre, so often deemed prudish and demure, has been dusted off with feminine perspectives that infuse historical womanhood with a contemporary streak. With their refreshing irreverence, these period dramas achieve a similar end—and would make a great double bill alongside Corsage.
Inspired by the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Amma Asante’s British period drama charts the thorny journey of an illegitimate mixed-race young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) being raised by her wealthy uncle. She finds herself in the doorway of a world of privilege but is shut out due to the color of her skin. Smartly examining issues of race, class, and gender, Belle illuminates topics so often buried amid period cinema’s historical reflections.
Watch Belle on Amazon Prime.
Elisa & Marcela
In Isabel Coixet’s biographical drama, Spain’s first same-sex marriage is illuminated with heartwrenching clarity. Following the romance of Elisa Sánchez Loriga (Natalia De Molina) and Marcela Gracia Ibeas (Greta Fernández), the black-and-white film delves into the cost of sacrifice for love. Elisa disguises herself as a man so they appear as a heterosexual couple, can marry, and then escape. The harsh reality underscoring Elisa & Marcela tips into today's real world decisively.
Watch Elisa & Marcela on Netflix.
This Jane Austen adaptation is playful with its source material, harboring a brilliantly unique comedic tone rarely found in the period genre. With her own fortune, the titular Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) sees no need to marry; she takes it upon herself to, instead, become a match-maker. Witty and satirical, Emma sees elegance paired with the mischievous antics of a rogue cupid. The classic regency tale is bolstered by fiery personalities, the subversion of sexual politics, and humiliating men.
Watch Emma on Amazon Prime.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Based on D. H. Lawrence’s controversial 1929 novel, which was banned for lewdness, Lady Chatterley’s Lover commits to steaminess with fervent passion. The romantic affair between Lady “Connie” Chatterley (Emma Corrin) and gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O'Connell) simmers with a titillating focus on female pleasure. Sex scenes linger as heady, sensual eroticism unfolds. Warning: This is not one to watch with your parents.
Watch Lady Chatterley’s Lover on Netflix.
There’s no shortage of familial dramas in the period genre, but none strike the emotional chord like the latest iteration of Louisa May Alcott’s novel: Greta Gerwig’s tactile portrait of sisterhood love, Little Women. With the exceptional Saoirse Ronan as spirited Jo March, Gerwig shapes a stunning narrative of young womanhood that feels entirely original. There’s so much to love—from Florence Pugh making Amy loveable to incredibly costume design, and, of course, Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie performing a hilltop declaration of adoration.
Watch Little Women on Netflix.
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is an erotic pastiche of sexually charged drama. The film follows the ritualistic dominance and submission daily role-play of Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Their mistress-and-maid sadomasochistic fantasy begins to grow stale for the latter, who yearns for a romance more conventional. Erotica entangled with delicacy, The Duke of Burgundy is an invigorating take on how sexual desire is framed in the period drama.
Watch The Duke of Burgundy on Amazon Prime.
The tumultuous relationship of cousins Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and Abigail (Emma Stone) is at the heart of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. The outlandish drama witnesses the pair compete to become the most-liked of the eccentric Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Wildly entertaining, the 18th-century period black comedy sees this ensemble of actors go head to head in a fight for unbridled attention. Underscored by Lanthimos’s signature offbeat air, The Favourite is an audacious and unconventional romp.
Watch The Favourite on Amazon Prime.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an incandescent lesbian romance, arresting and tender. The usual domestic period scenes of portrait painting and preparing food are infused with a newfound queer subtext. Additionally, a subplot of pregnancy intertwines politics and love seamlessly in this mesmerizing film.
Watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Hulu.