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Amy has put together a nerdy little roundup of movies and television shows that might get you into the Victorian spirit over the break. These are just for fun — there’s no homework over the break! — if you are in the mood for a little Victorian-themed viewing between semesters. (Note the ratings — a couple of these are rated R, and while I’d be okay with my own teenager watching them, every family is different! Commonsense Media has great breakdowns of potential red flags for movies, and we encourage you to preview anything that you’re concerned about.)
Dive into the fascinating — and sometimes kind of terrifying (I’m looking at you, Charles Darwin’s candied maggots) — world of Victorian cuisine. What people eat tells us so much about them, and sitting through a fancy Victorian dinner party is the perfect way to get a feel for upper class Victorian life.
A Doll's House (G)
Ibsen’s play about a woman who slowly realizes that her husband does not see her as a person in her own right was first put on in 1879, but it feels shockingly modern in its criticism of social structures and gender roles. This play was hugely controversial, especially its open ending.
Alice in Wonderland (PG)
There are lots of Alice adaptations, but this one grapples with two of the most interesting questions of the era: What can women do? And what should we wear to do it? (I’m just kidding with the second one — but the costumes are gorgeous!) Lewis Carroll packed his Victorian children’s tale with snarky references to politics, philosophy, science, and education.
An Ideal Husband (PG-13)
Oscar’s Wilde’s comedy of manners — about a confirmed bachelor and gentleman about town who gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to help an old friend manage of scandal that threatens his marriage and his reputation — is pure witty hilarity.
The Young Victoria (PG)
Emily Blunt does a lovely job as Victoria at the beginning of the era that would bear her name: She’s a lonely teenager desperate to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and when she marries her German cousin, it’s because she’s fallen in love with him. All that prim and proper Victorian stuff comes later.
North and South (NR)
This adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel focuses on the issues of class and gender in the Victorian world, as well as the growing divide between the industrial city and the agricultural countryside.
Another Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation, this village comedy focuses on the lives of Cranford’s “independent women” — single and widowed middle class ladies who “run” the town.
Topsy Turvy (R)
This movie musical about Gilbert and Sullivan and the making of their comic opera The Mikado is a delight. It’s also a brilliant peek into life in the Victorian era.
Oliver Twist (NR)
Dickens’ novels were Victorian best-sellers, and this tale of a workhouse-raised boy forced into a life of crime is a critique of the Victorian class and political structures that allowed poverty and criminals to flourish.
Crimson Peak (R)
If you want a spooky, atmospheric take on Victorian Gothic, this eerie tale of a young wife who sees ghosts and the haunted (or is it?) house that becomes her new home is deliciously creepy.
This Victorian police procedural chronicles one of the most notorious murder cases in Victorian England.
Great Expectations (TV-14)
I had to scratch this off the reading list for spring because it was already so full, but I highly recommend this adaptation of the Dickens novel, which focuses on a lower class young man who becomes a gentleman with the aid of a mysterious benefactor.
This series (just two seasons in) follows the life of Queen Victoria from the day of her ascension to the throne. It takes a few historical liberties, but it’s largely accurate and highly entertaining.