Weekend Watchlist: Period pieces

"Downton Abbey" title card.

By The Pitt News Staff

Time travel isn’t real, but the best next thing would have to be period pieces — movies and television shows that are set in an earlier period. They allow you to be transported back in time without leaving the 21st century — or your couch. Here are our favorite period pieces available to stream.

The King (Netflix) // Diana Velasquez, Staff Writer

In the last couple of years, Timothee Chalamet of “Call Me By Your Name” has become one of Hollywood’s most-watched stars. He is the third-youngest to ever receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor (for “Call Me By Your Name”) and is on board to appear in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” as well as an upcoming adaptation of the sci-fi novel “Dune.” But his most recent venture released on Netflix only two weeks ago is his most ambitious yet, as he plays one of the most notorious medieval kings of England, Henry V. “The King” — based on Shakesphere’s series of historical plays named the “Henriad” — chronicles the rise of Henry V, known also as Prince Hal, as he goes from the disgraced first-born son of the cruel King Henry IV to the underdog conqueror of France. Though the movie is not historically accurate, Chalamet provides a gripping performance as a man who would rather toss his crown away than bear all the strings that come attached. He’s supported by a stellar cast ranging from Joel Edgerton as a war-weary knight to Robert Pattinson’s rather amusing performance as the French Dauphin, which spawned quite a strong response on Twitter. “The King” is a treat for all who come to see it — carrying truckloads of political intrigue and one spectacularly executed battle scene. It proves to be a stellar adaptation of the story of England’s great medieval king.

Outlander (Netflix) // Ana Eberts, Staff Writer

“Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s series of novels, is one of those shows where you watch one episode and you’re not able to stop. Yes, it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, but when the plot line is delightfully over-dramatic and the visuals so stunning, it’s too hard to resist. The show tells the story of WWII English combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) who is mistakenly sent back in time to mid-18th-century Scotland. There she meets highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). The show is the perfect combination of history and drama — it holds to historical facts closely enough, but is not so stifled that it feels academic. The main draw of the show is the relationship between Claire and Jamie, and it gets steamy. At times, it is reminiscent of those romance novels with long-haired shirtless men on the covers, but what’s wrong with that? Sometimes that’s just what you need — mindless drama, gorgeous costuming and unabashed romance. Only the first two seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, but hopefully the rest will make an appearance soon.

Lincoln (Netflix) // Charlie Taylor, Staff Writer

A moving biopic featuring the great American president, “Lincoln” follows the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his struggle to pass the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a breathtaking performance as the soft-spoken yet passionate Lincoln, embodying the qualities that made him a great leader and a compelling human being. Joining him is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, the rough-and-tumble radical Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. A staunch abolitionist, Stevens finds himself caught between his strong personal convictions and his need to appeal to southern Democrats if he hopes to win their votes on the amendment. Both Lincoln and Stevens find their home lives colliding with their work as the Civil War wages around them and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Riveting, sorrowful and deeply inspiring, “Lincoln” is the perfect watch for long-time history buffs and casual viewers alike — but be warned, it’s nearly impossible to watch the film and not develop a deeper connection with American history.

Downton Abbey (Amazon Prime) // Caroline Bourque, Managing Editor 

Trumpets begin to play as British actors in petticoats float across the screen, but we know for sure we’re going back in time when we see the words “PBS Masterpiece Classics” appear in front of us. Come away, viewer, to the land of people so pale they appear gray in certain light — a skin tone that matches northern England’s perpetually overcast skies. Enter the world of the period piece to end all period pieces — “Downton Abbey.”

The show is set in a fictional Yorkshire estate between 1912 and 1926, centering on the lives of an aristocratic family, the Crawleys, and a legion of butlers, servants and ladies’ maids who take up quarters in the downstairs section of their enormous estate. The show gets a bad reputation for putting viewers to sleep, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, sometimes the drama is relatively tame — will the under-butler or the second valet serve her ladyship the soup tonight? But more often than not, it’s riveting. An early plotline — spoiler alert — finds the eldest daughter recruiting the help of her mother and ladies’ maid to move the body of a Turkish diplomat with whom she’d had an illicit affair.

“Downton Abbey” is essentially a soap opera in which, in typical English fashion, quiet dignity takes the place of elaborate heroics. But as we watch the Crawleys and their staff experience war, illness and — surprise, surprise — simmering class tensions, we bear witness to the charm and heartbreak of a bygone era.

A word to those unaccustomed to the post-Edwardian English dialect — you’ll find a fast friend in the subtitles feature.

Peaky Blinders (Netflix) // Elise Lavalle, Contributing Editor

If you’ve ever found yourself watching a 1920s British period piece and felt the show was greatly lacking in the areas of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, “Peaky Blinders” might be the show for you. The BBC series set in post-WWI Birmingham follows the life of Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) as he navigates trauma, love and running the Shelby family gang — the Peaky Blinders. Tommy — with the help of opium, cocaine, whiskey and a lot of sex — is working to end the family’s illegitimate business dealings, but finds himself digging his grave deeper with each passing season. Murphy’s performance is both repulsive and compelling as he effortlessly shifts between cold-hearted and heartbroken, nearly convincing the audience that money, murder and mayhem might be the only thing keeping him alive.

“Peaky” trades in 1920s tunes for a modern rock-and-roll soundtrack with music from The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Joy Division and The Black Keys — featuring an iconic intro song by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand.” With five seasons, “Peaky Blinders” will not only get you through the weekend, but most of Thanksgiving and winter break as well. Happy watching, and remember — “you don’t f*** with the Peaky Blinders.”

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