List

Classic Period Movies

By Skokie Staff Adult Services

With the announcement of the second Downton Abbey movie coming this holiday season, as well as the continued popularity of the Bridgerton Netflix series, here are some classic historical costume flicks that might keep you entertained while waiting.

  • Gaslight

    1944

    A favorite Hitchcock movies that Hitchcock didn't direct. George Cukor helmed this classic love story turned horroresque tale of betrayal, greed, and insanity. Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar (of 3!) for her role as the tortured wife who is slowly slipping into madness at the hands of her calculating husband. The way Cukor slowly builds the suspense is nothing short of...Hitchcock.

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  • Lady Sings the Blues

    2005

    Diana Ross is a superstar in her own right. But, in this film, she embodies another superstar...Billie Holiday. Ross was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal as the troubled Blues singer. This is often on lists of best biopic movies, mostly because of Ross's fantastic, emotional performance.

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  • The Heiress

    2007

    Based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James, this classic gem is often seen as one of the pivotal films of mid-20th century cinema, mostly because of the stunning performance by Olivia de Havilland in her Oscar-winning role. William Wyler's risky direction of a tough, fierce female catapults this film to a new level of excellence. Risky for the mid-1800s, which is the setting for this story, but equally risky for the 1940s, when Wyler broke barriers by creating a platform for a strong female.

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  • Roots

    2011

    One of the most powerful and acclaimed mini-series in the history of television, Roots continues to be the pinnacle of filmmaking for the small screen. Based on the novel by Alex Haley, which was based on Haley's own family origins, there are very few historical dramas as beloved and honored as this was and still is today. Roots won multiple Emmys, including for Best Limited Series, and won the Golden Globe for Best Television Drama.

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  • My Fair Lady

    2009

    When director George Cukor decided to tackle the adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe Broadway sensation, he had an uphill battle ahead of him. Firstly, there was controversy in not casting Broadway star (but unknown Hollywood commodity) Julie Andrews, who originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on the stage, but rather Audrey Hepburn, a guaranteed movie star, who didn't have strong singing chops. Then, he had to shoot the entire movie on soundstages, mimicking London, rather than shooting on location. Even with those challenges, the final product is an effervescent movie filled with heart, joy, and a little bit of luck!

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  • Jezebel

    2006

    Most people only think Gone with the Wind when thinking of Civil War-era movies. And though there is a reason for that, this film is often thought to be as good as the sweeping Scarlett O'Hara masterpiece. Bette Davis won her second (and final) Best Actress Oscar for her role as Julie Marsden, a Southern Belle just as headstrong as Scarlett, but without the "fiddledeedee."

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  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

    2002

    A Gothic tale with a light side and a ghost who is far from frightening. Set in England at the turn of the 20th century, the film follows a recent widow who decides to relocate to the coast, where she discovers much more than just freedom from the big city when she rents a haunted cottage! Lots of charm and very entertaining to watch, with excellent performances by Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.

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  • Kind Hearts and Coronets

    2002

    A true tour-de-force for Alec Guinness, who plays eight (EIGHT!) members of the D'Ascoyne family. Unlike later in his career, Guinness' early works for Ealing Studios in London consisted of farcical comedies, several of which remain beloved classics to this day. This British romp is often considered one of the best pieces of comic cinema ever!

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  • Lured

    2017

    This early film from director Douglas Sirk stars Lucille Ball in one of her few serious roles. Years before I Love Lucy, Ball acted in a variety of genres, including film noir, which is the category this film falls into. You will enjoy seeing Ball against type...and doing a brilliantly convincing job outside of her comic genius. Also starring George Sanders, Charles Coburn, and Boris Karloff.

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  • Song of Freedom

    2019

    Actor Paul Robeson only acted in 11 films in his short career, and this is the one that people often forget. Why? It doesn't have the music of Show Boat or the panache of The Emperor Jones or the passion of Body and Soul. It is an interesting historical tale featuring one of the great actors of our time, who stopped acting in favor of political activism in the 1940s (also, good roles for a Black actor were not exactly plentiful then). This movie covers 1700 through the 1930s and is a sweeping epic about a British dockworker-turned-singer who finds out he might be the king of an African nation.

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  • Stormy Weather

    2005

    Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson plays a dancer in the early 1900s in this film loosely based on his life. Joining him is the fabulous Lena Horne, who plays a singer who joins Robinson on his journey through show business. Cab Calloway plays himself in what was one of the very few musicals of this era featuring Black performers. That's not to say this film is without controversy. Though it is a showpiece for African Americans, the film does feature plenty of stereotypes of Black characters, including some minstrel elements. Still, it's definitely worth watching for the fabulous singing, dancing, and music, not to mention the effervescent Lena Horne.

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  • Under Capricorn

    2003

    Sadly, this is not one of the Master of Suspense's best films and is often overlooked...well, actually, completely overlooked. Watch this one for the cast, not the content. Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten star in this film set in Australia during the mid-1800s. It is a thriller by Hitchcock, and even though it is a flawed film, that alone makes it a movie worthy of a place on any list.

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  • Wuthering Heights

    2008

    Oh, Heathcliff, Heathcliff! After watching this classic adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel, you will imagine yourself filled with the rhapsody of passion, scamping across the Yorkshire Moors after your one and only beloved. But, be warned, all of that scamping comes at a high cost.

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