At the Eighty Sixth Floor Widescreen and Adaption it’s no secret that we’re massive fans of period dramas and the music that go with them. When we commissioned Thematic Pianos to record some of our favourite themes of period dramas we couldn’t believe how difficult it was to make the initial list. We were biased in favour of series with fantastic scores but we’d love to know your thoughts on this list and what we may have missed (or should be watching!)
North and South – BBC 2004
The 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s book was a massive high point for the BBC. Showcasing the struggle of the industrial revolution and focusing on the issues of class that affected many of the cast North and South is still fondly regarded today not least for propelling the excellent Richard Armitage to stardom. The music by Martin Phipps was a triumph with the same motif being revisited throughout the series highlighting and establishing character traits and tropes throughout.
North and South Title Theme (From North and South BBC 2004 adaptation)
Aired in 2010 on ITV, Downton Abbey follows the Crawley family and their lives during the post-Edwardian era. They deal with famous historical events including the First World War and sinking of the Titanic. The series has won a number of television awards and received critical acclaim from critics. So much so that it was declared most critically acclaimed English-language television series by Guinness World Records in 2011. The string and piano focused soundtrack, by John Lunn is a great accompaniment to such a renowned drama.
Downton Abbey Title Theme (From Downton Abbey)
Persuasion (From Persuasion BBC 2007 adaptation)
The 2007 BBC film adaption returns us once again to the world of Jane Austen’s heroine Anne Elliot and her tormented history with naval officer Frederick Wentworth. While the TV movie was very well received by the audience it did not have the cultural impact that the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice did. Whether this was due to the adaption or the basic story is unclear. The theme was once again created by Martin Phipps whose work on North and South is featured above.
Persuasion (From Persuasion BBC 2007 adaptation)
Pride and Prejudice BBC 1995
BBC’s 1995 award-winning drama adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is arguably one of the most popular period dramas to date, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Not only was the series critically acclaimed but it was Firth’s popular performance of Mr Darcy that brought him to fame. Experienced composer, Carl Davis’ contemporary classical score perfectly embodies the period and themes of the story.
Pride and Prejudice Theme (From Pride and Prejudice BBC 1995 adaptation)
Sense and Sensibility BBC 2008 Adaptation
Somewhat controversially the 2008 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was accused of ‘sexing up’ Jane Austen. Writer Andrew Davies admitted that he had worked to get out from under the shadow of the Ang Lee 1995 adaption. Regardless of the controversy a fine cast including future stars Dominic Cooper and David Morrisey create a great adaptation of this classic tale. Martin Phipps (period drama composer superstar) once again created a fantastic theme with a lightness of touch that can be enjoyed regardless of the series!
Sense and Sensibility (From Sense and Sensibility BBC 2008 adaptation)
Emma 1996 Film
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, the 1996 adaptation of the novel of the same name received generally positive reviews. It is a fresh take on the original book with a great cast and a wonderful soundtrack to boot. The score was written by British composer Rachel Portman who wrote with a “purely classical” focus. Perfect for the film’s period romanticism.
Emma Opening Titles (From Emma 1996 film)
Sense and Sensibility 1995
Ang Lee and Emma Thompson proved to be a perfect match in this 1995 adaption of the Jane Austen classic. Tweaking elements of the original novel whilst still maintaining the spirit of the piece the film was a critical and commercial triumph winning seven academy awards including best picture and best actress for Emma Thompson. Patrick Doyle provides and exceptional score for this movie which earned and Oscar for best original scores as well as a Bafta and Golden Globe!
Weep No More, Sad Fountains (From Sense and Sensibility 1995 film)
Persuasion 1995 film
Based on Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, the 1995 film starring Amanda Root and Ciraran Hinds was aired on BBC Two, later released in American cinemas. Released during a time in which Austen adaptations were popular, the film received a lot of attention and positive reviews particularly on the costume design and Root’s performance as Anne. The BAFTA award winning soundtrack was composed by Jeremy Sams.
Italian Aria From Persuasion 1995 film
Pride and Prejudice 2005 film
The 2005 adaption of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley was another commercial and critical success. Joe Wright was widely hailed as bringing a younger (albeit) more commercial style to the adaption of Jane Austen’s masterpiece. Italian composer Dario Marianelli was Wright’s own choice for composer. Marianelli composed a score that was somewhat modern but emphasised realistic romaticism to the piece.
Dawn (From Pride and Prejudice 2005 film)
Emma BBC 2009 Adaptation
The four-part BBC adaptation of Emma by Jane Austen ran weekly on BBC One in October 2009. It was written by Sandy Welch, an already established costume-drama writer (Jane Eyre and North and South). Samuel Sim’s original score carries recognisable themes throughout, matching the charming energy of the series and was nominated for a Royal Television Society award.
Emma (From Emma BBC 2009 adaptation)
Lark Rise to Candleford BBC Adaptation
Lark Rise to Candleford became a break out hit for the BBC in the mid noughties attracting hoardes of fans to this tale of a small Oxfordshire hamlet. Julian Nott’s simple but beautiful theme for the series creates exactly the right ambience for just enjoying these tales of middle England!
Lark Rise to Candleford Title Theme (From Lark Rise to Candleford BBC Adaptation)
Northanger Abbey 2007 ITV Adaptation
Felicity Jones stars in the 2007 film adaptation of Northanger Abbey which was adapted for ITV’s Jane Austen season. The reaction to the film was mainly positive, receiving 5.6 million views in the UK and critics praising the acting performances. Along with the Pemberley Players’ authentic music, Charlie Mole composed the score to the film.
Northanger Abbey (From Northanger Abbey 2007 ITV adaptation)
Cranford BBC 2007 Adaptation
Adapted from three seperate Mary Gaskell books the 2007 miniseries was an instant smash in the UK gaining more viewers than the reality show ‘I’m a celebrity’. The show won several baftas and Golden Globes. However Carl Davis’ work as composer never got the recognition it should for creating a masterful theme that invigorated and already strong show.
Cranford Title Theme (Cranford BBC 2007 adaptation)
Mansfield Park 2007 ITV Adaptation
The British television film Mansfield Park based on the Jane Austen novel was aired in 2007 for ITV’s Jane Austen Season. The cast includes Billie Piper as Fanny Price, Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Hayley Hatwell as Mary Crawford. Written by BAFTA and BFI Award-winning composer John E. Keane, the score reflects the springtime feel of the setting along with cheerful dance and waltz pieces.
Mansfield Park (From Mansfield Park 2007 ITV adaptation)