TV & Movies

8 Period Dramas With Diverse Casting For When You've Watched Bridgerton

All of which are ready to stream now.

'Bridgerton' on Netflix
Netflix

At least 64 million households are said to have marathon-ed Netflix's hit period drama Bridgerton following its release in December (I definitely helped make up the numbers). Dubbed the Gossip Girl of the Regency era, Shonda Rhimes' sexy period drama has been praised for its re-imagination of the genre. Taking place in 19th century London, Bridgerton notably stars actors of colour as English nobles, which is unusual for historical dramas.

Starring Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton and Regé Jean Page as The Duke, Bridgerton's casting decisions have received mixed responses. The series, which sees a Black Duke as the most eligible man in English society and a Queen with an afro as high as the heavens, has been deemed historically inaccurate, which ruffled feathers among the usual suspects. Elsewhere, there were also arguments that Bridgerton actually did a disservice to its non-white cast members by failing to place any dark-skinned Black women in leading roles and by not delving deep enough into what a post-racial Regency England would really look like, among other issues.

Despite this, Bridgerton's diverse casting – while far from perfect – was undeniably refreshing, and for viewers who enjoyed this aspect of the show, there are other period dramas with "colourblind" casts you can stream right now. Like Bridgerton, the eight series I highlight below are not without their faults when it comes to representation, but they signal a step in the right direction.

Harlots

If sexy period dramas are your thing then you need to know about Harlots. As the name would suggest, the series is about brothels set in 18th-century London. The main character Margaret Wells has several Black women working for her and has a biracial son with her partner, played by Danny Sapani. "We wanted to just tell it how it was," said Harlots co-creator Moira Buffini to Bustle (2017). "That's been lovely for us, to really ensure that its properly diverse in terms of its ethnicity, casting-wise."

Available to watch on Amazon Prime

Mary Queen Of Scots

Starring Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, Mary Queen Of Scots is a star-studded historical biopic featuring many actors of colour. Crazy Rich Asians’ star Gemma Chan played Bess of Hardwick, one of Elizabeth I's closest advisors, and Adrian Derrick-Palmer plays George Dalgleish, a member of Elizabeth's court. As many pointed out upon the film’s release in 2018, all of these characters were white in real life. Director Josie Rouke said the film was “hugely supportive” of her decision to not direct an all-white period drama. And, while the casting did receive some criticism, Chan responded to trolls saying, "If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick."

Available to rent on Amazon Prime

Hamilton

Hit Broadway musical Hamilton tells the story of America’s lesser-known founding father Alexander Hamilton with a jazz, R&B, and hip-hop soundtrack. As it's bio explains, Hamilton is the story of America then, told by America now (and it's pretty epic). The play's cast is made up of young Black, Asian, Latinx and mixed race actors portraying the old white founding fathers and their cohorts. Speaking to the Guardian in 2017, director Thomas Kail said he “never imagined casting the show in any other way – never for one second.”

Available to watch on Disney +

The Spanish Princess

The Spanish Princess tells the story of Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Spanish royalty who travelled to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor before becoming Henry VIII’s first wife (and we all know how that ended). Like Bridgerton, it also sees actors of colour in main roles — and it’s a love story too. Stephanie Levi-John plays Lina, an Iberian Moor who served for 26 years as Catherine of Aragon’s lady of the bedchamber. While historical facts are limited, the character is based on a real person, ‘Catalina’, and in the drama Lina marries soldier Oviedo (played by Aaron Cobham) who is also of Moor origin.

Available to watch on Starz Play

Sanditon

Sanditon, the unfinished novel by legendary Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen, was adapted to a TV series in 2019. It stars Crystal Clarke who plays Georgiana Lambe, a Black West Indian heiress in the adaptation. In the unfinished manuscript Austen described her as the "mulatto Miss Lamb" — so the casting choice was pretty true to the original. For Clarke, she believed this was the start of more roles for diverse actors in period dramas. "What's great is Georgiana hasn’t just been slotted in there just for the sake of diversity," Clarke, she said to USA Today. "She was included in the original novel. I do hope to see more [people of color] but it’s also just really nice that it’s something that comes organically ... [Black people] were actually a thing back then."

Available to watch on BritBox

Belle

Belle is the incredible true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, considered Britain’s first Black aristocrat. Played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dido Belle was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy captain, John Lindsay, and an African woman named Maria Belle. Belle lived in high society but wasn't always treated as such. The film was directed by Amma Asante, who describes the costume drama as "in the spirit of Jane Austen” which details "a genteel world that existed while the parallel world of slavery was going on."

Belle is available to rent on Amazon Prime

The Personal History Of David Copperfield

Dev Patel in a period drama? I’m here for it. In 2019, the actor starred in The Personal History Of David Copperfield based on the Victorian book by Charles Dickens. Safe to say, critics questioned director Armando Iannucci's decision to cast the British-Indian actor in the role. But speaking to the Guardian in 2019, Armando Iannucci, offered his response: “It just felt like, why are we not doing this? It’s when I thought of Dev as David…” He added: “I wanted to celebrate what Britain actually is, and it’s much more of a carefree, enjoyable, humorous kind of zesty, energetic place.”

Available to watch on Amazon Prime

Mr Malcom's List

Freida Pinto, Constance Wu, Sope Dirisu starred in Regency era rom-com drama Mr Malcolm’s List, adapted from the book of the same name. It tells the tale of eligible bachelor Mr Malcolm (Dirisu), who is searching for a perfect wife with pretty unattainable standards (typical). Set in 19th century London, the film is often described as a “modern” adaptation for its diverse cast. Due to pandemic, the film isn't out yet but enjoy the trailer and all the dashing men in top hats.