The 10 Best Historical Costume Drama Movies Of All Time, According To Metacritic


Historical costume drama is a subgenre of the historical period drama genre which, since the inception of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, slowly becoming a cultural phenomenon on the small screen. Until squid game arrived and broke viewership records, the most-watched Netflix original TV series had been the first season of Bridgerton and its sultry mix of intrigue and regal melodrama suddenly made corsets and bodices staples of TV vogue.

However, both of these serialized sensations have their inspirations firmly rooted in film, and the historical costume drama has had its fair share of critically adored big-screen success over the decades.


ten The Princess of Montpensier (2010) – 78

Gaspard Ulliel in The Princess of Montpensier

All the great historical costume dramas have a dash of heady romance in their elegant tales and the violent, amorous extremes of the elite during the 17th century religious uprisings in provincial France is the subject of Bertrand Tavernier. The Princess of Montpensier.

Related: 10 Best Period Drama Movies Of The 2010s, According To IMDb

Critics, for the most part, appreciated Tavernier’s extremely detailed film, which does not hesitate to tackle the difficult themes of the arranged marriage and the events leading up to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572.

9 Bodice (2022) – 81

Vicky Krieps in Bodice (2022)

Director Marie Kreutzer’s biopic about the wayward and flawed Empress Elisabeth of Austria debuted to high critical acclaim at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Bodice, is a historical costume drama in the mold of Sofia Coppola Marie Antoinette.

Bodice features Vicky Krieps of ghost yarn fame and, much like Coppola’s seminal period drama, attempts to modernize the themes inherent in historical costume dramas for modern times and modern audiences. According to Metacritic, it was successful.

8 The Marchioness of O (1976) – 86

Two women stand near a door in La Marquise d'O

French auteur Eric Rohmer has made a name for himself making lavishly composed cinematic oddities and is one of the most important artistic voices of the French new wave. Rohmer’s Tragic Costume Drama The Marquise d’O is an elegant and tearful masterpiece that has been adored by critics since its release.

The film follows the harrowing story of its titular widowed protagonist who faces exile while bearing a child. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 and even won the coveted Grand Prix Spécial at its closing ceremony.

seven The Madness of King George (1994) – 89

Nigel Hawthorne as King George in King George's Madness

The play written by Alan Bennett The Madness of King George was adapted for the big screen in 1994 by fellow theater pioneer Nicholas Hytner and is widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest British films ever made.

The Madness of King George is a haunting period study in mental illness and, beyond its regal plating, dares to confront how attitudes towards those who have suffered from serious illnesses throughout history have changed. The film packs an emotional punch like no other and is still an influential edifice of British cinema to this day.

6 Barry Lyndon (1975) – 89

Lord Bullingdon shoots Barry in Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick’s catalog of films is full of classics and historical costume dramas Barry Lyndon is undoubtedly one of his most successful works. Spanning several decades, Barry Lyndon traces the rise and fall of its eponymous lead character and is a cinematic marvel to behold.

Related: Every Stanley Kubrick Movie, Ranked By Rewatchability

Critics have long argued Barry Lyndon. Despite its epic length, the film is remarkably concise and is notable for Kubrick’s use of natural light in several glorious scenes of period detail.

5 Gosford Park (2001) – 90

by Robert Altmann Gosford Park highlighted the post-war anxieties among the established elite in 1930s England in a razor-sharp, eminently reviewable dark comedy that inspired numerous small-screen period costume dramas, including Downton Abbeyalso written by Gosford Park screenwriter Julian Fellowes.

Altman’s film was a critical success upon its release and many critics swooned over its lavishly reimagined period setting and raved about the performances of its star-studded cast, including stalwarts such as Charles Dance and Derek Jacobi.

4 The Favorite (2018) – 91

The Favorite - Abigail sitting in a chair by the fireplace

Yorgos Lanthimos’ esoteric mark of achievement was stylistically well suited to period decor and The favourite married all the stately refinement of an 18th century palatial drama with acerbic Machiavellian edge that has been universally adored by critics since its release.

Related: 10 Best Movies About Female Villains As The Favorite

The favourite included powerful performances across the board and catapulted Lanthimos into the upper echelons of critical film discourse. For historical costume drama that feels more like a horror movie at times, look no further than The favourite.

3 Mr. Turner (2014) – 94

Still from Mr. Turner (2014)

British cinema darling Mike Leigh brought his semi-improvised approach to filmmaking in a period setting to painter JMW Turner’s landmark 2014 biopic. Like much of Leigh’s work, Mr. Turner was revered by critics, who championed the central performance of Timothy Spall, who played the film’s titular artist.

Mr. Turner was a flawless portrait of a flawed artist whose predatory inclinations were as much reason to criticize and question the painter as there is reason to celebrate his groundbreaking work.

2 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – 95

portrait of a lady on fire, women touching foreheads

by Celine Sciamma Portrait of a lady on fire is an almost flawless film that exudes a romantic touch from every pore of its being. Sciamma has taken all the elegant layers of period design and combined them with an LGBTQ+-inspired story that is as timeless as it is powerful.

Critics found little fault with the film and praised its two central performances by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. Portrait of a lady on fire is a historical costume drama that is virtually unparalleled in scope and invention.

1 The Leopard (1963) – 100

The Leopard (1963)

The epic historical costume drama from Italian director Luchino Visconti The leopard won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1963 and since then has been unrivaled in universal critical adoration. The film is a fading masterpiece of romantic pomp and ceremony.

It’s rare for a film to earn such a perfect score on review aggregator sites such as Metacritic, but Visconti’s film is a masterful outlier and will forever be cherished as one of the greatest films ever made.

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