Great Directors or Period Drama

simon langton

While running film location tours and private escorted tours I am sometimes really privileged to meet some fabulous people who share my love of and enthusiasm for the works of Jane Austen as well as costume dramas which, of course, are often based on classical literature.

However, the prospect of meeting director Simon Langton next weekend is more exciting than I can say.  It’s a real coup for me that the man responsible for the famous 1995 BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth, wet shirt and all that) has agreed to give a talk and presentation to P and P Tours’ 200 Year Anniversary Tour clients. I’m sure they’re all as excited as I am and can’t wait to hear from the great man.

With Mr Langton in mind recently I came across an interesting website which ranked costume dramas based on fan reviews of the productions. I was a little surprised with some of the rankings but, by and large, all the right series and films were there. What caught my attention whilst scanning the list was the disparity in rankings between some of the productions of the same source material, and this led me to consider the role of a director in determining whether a film/TV series is a hit with fans or merely receives a lukewarm reception.

Whilst I’m quite prepared to admit that a great film or series is the product of more than just excellent direction I’ve put together my own list of the best costume drama directors, based on the quality of their work.

Simon Langton – son of actor David Langton, who was a star of Upstairs Downstairs, Simon Langton was almost destined to work in the world of film and TV production. Although his best work by far is the wonderfully superb and critically acclaimed Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice adaptation in 1995, Langton has a fine CV, featuring episodes of Smiley’s People, The Duchess of Duke Street, Jeeves and Wooster and Mother Love, which won a BAFTA for Best Drama. Simon Langton has received a number of other BAFTA and EMMY nominations, amply demonstrating his ability as a director and he gets my nod as no.1 purely for his version of P and P.

Susanna White – like Simon Langton, Susanna White has a fine filmography including contemporary costume dramas Parade’s End, the BBC’s Bleak House (for which she won a BAFTA) as well as modern TV dramas Teachers and Generation Kill. However, her televsion adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, released in 2006, was a masterpiece, eclipsing even the 2011 cinematic version directed by Cary Fukunaga, starring the excellent Michael Fassbender.

Ang Lee – Taiwanese born Lee has an eclectic back catalogue featuring Oscar winning movies The Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as well as Hulk. However, he’s on my list for his excellent adaptation of Sense and Sensibility which garnered seven Oscar nominations, with Emma Thompson winning an award for her screenplay. The film was a hit with fans and critics alike, unsurprisingly perhaps, given the stellar cast including Thompson, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet. We love running our Sense & Sensibility tour to all the locations.

Martin Scorsese – the American multi-award winning director, acclaimed as the second greatest director of all time by Total Film magazine and best known for his powerful movies Taxi Driver, Casino, The Departed, Goodfellas, etc, etc is on the list for his 2002 movie Gangs of New York. Perhaps not a costume drama in the classically accepted sense, the film entertainingly depicts life in 19th-entury New York, with the focus on crime and the lower orders against the backdrop of the American Civil War. It stars two of the modern greats of cinema, Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Shekhar Kapur – the life and times of the Tudor monarchs has been a fertile subject for many television and film projects but Kapur’s Elizabethan double bill, Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age are perhaps two of the finest films depicting that age. Although Cate Blanchett’s performances in the title role are excellent as always, Kapur should be given great credit for his direction of the Australian stars Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.

James Ivory – the directorial arm of the successful Merchant Ivory film company that produced such classics as A Room with a View, Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day and Jane Austen in Manhattan. Ivory’s style gave rise to any costume drama of a certain generation being dubbed as of the Merchant Ivory genre. His films were huge box office successes and were critically acclaimed with both Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day being nominated for eight Oscars.

Brian Percival, Ben Bolt, Brian Kelly – Downton Abbey is one of television’s best loved series in recent years garnering massive popularity in the UK and abroad, particularly in the United States. The trio of Percival, Bolt and Kelly have each directed several episodes of the drama and with a fourth series currently being filmed it’s likely to go from strength to strength.

Brian Percival  – before his contributions to the Downton Abbey juggernaut Brian Percival directed the BBC’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South. As with Downton, North and South predominantly dealt with issues of class and gender and Percival’s deft handling ensured that the series, for which the BBC had low expectations, was a huge success being voted Best Drama in the BBC drama website’s annual poll in 2004. It also catapaulted Richard Armitage to super stardom!

I could go on and on, such is my love of period drama! Apologies to those wonderful directors I’ve omitted and if you want to compile your own Top 10 perhaps have a look at and see what other films and series for which fans have voted.


Of course, it all comes down to personal choice. For me, it’s unlikely that another period drama will eclipse Simon Langton’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and I really can’t wait to meet him and listen to him when he attends our 200 Yearsof  Pride and Prejudice anniversary tour this weekend.


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