Best BBC period dramas — all the must-watch shows on iPlayer

Best BBC period dramas Call the Midwife
One of the best BBC period dramas is Call the Midwife. (Image credit: BBC)

If you're looking for a new series to get stuck into, the best BBC period dramas are now all streaming on iPlayer. From Dickens adaptations to Call the Midwife and The Luminaries, there is something there for everyone to enjoy. 

Here is our round-up of the best BBC period dramas available, how many series there are, and how long each episode lasts.  

Also, don't miss our best BBC dramas, best CBBC shows for kids, best BBC podcasts, and best BBC documentaries guides as well! 

What are the best BBC period dramas available to stream on BBC iPlayer right now?

Call the Midwife 

Call the Midwife Season 10

Helen George plays Trixie Franklin in the much-loved BBC drama, Call the Midwife.  (Image credit: BBC)

Since it arrived on our screens back in 2012, Call the Midwife has become something of a national treasure, and not only are there 10 series to enjoy on iPlayer, but it has also become a tradition that we are treated to a Christmas special each year, too. The first series was set in 1957 and the drama follows the day-to-day lives of a group midwives working in poverty-stricken Poplar in the East End of London. 

Call the Midwife has also seen some huge names on the cast over the years such as Helen George, Miranda Hart, Jessica Raine, Jenny Agutter, Charlotte Ritchie, Jennifer Kirby, Leonie Elliott and Pam Ferris to name but a few. 

Season 10 has just aired on BBC1, and we've also got Season 11 to look forward to at the end of the year. Here is everything you need to know about the new series.  

Number of seasons: 9

Number of episodes: 79

Average episode length:  59 minutes 

The Pursuit of Love 

Lily James and Emily Beecham in The Pursuit of Love.

Lily James and Emily Beecham are not to be missed in The Pursuit of Love. (Image credit: (C) Theodora Films Limited & Moonage Pictures Limited - Photographer: Robert Viglasky)

The Pursuit of Love is another must-see BBC1 period drama. The star-studded series, set in the 1920s and 1930s, follows the lives of spirited Linda Radlett (Downton Abbey's Lily James) and her more reserved cousin and best friend Fanny Logan (Emily Beecham) as they come of age and dream of meeting their perfect man. 

Nancy Mitford’s much-loved novel The Pursuit of Love has been a firm favourite since it was first published in 1945 and while it has been given a new twist by the BBC, the story of Linda and her dreams to escape the family home in a bid to find true love still remains. Definitely one not to be missed. 

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 3

Average episode length: 59 minutes 

An Inspector Calls 

This feature-length drama sees the mysterious Inspector Goole walking in during a family's party to tell them a young woman died by suicide that night. But the question remains, what has it got to do with them, and why is he bringing this news to their door? One by one they will discover the answers and soon earth-shattering secrets are revealed. 

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 1

Average episode length: 86 minutes 

The Luminaries 

The Luminaries main characters.

The Luminaries is set in the midst of New Zealand's 1860's gold rush.  (Image credit: BBC)

The Luminaries tells an epic story of love, murder, and revenge, as men and women travel across the world to make their fortunes. Set on the Wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the 1860s gold rush, The Luminaries is a 19th-century tale of adventure and mystery. 

The story follows a defiant Anna Wetherell, who has sailed from Britain to New Zealand to begin a new life. There, she meets the radiant Emery Staines, an encounter that triggers a strange kind of magic that neither can explain. 

Former Bond star Eva Green leads the cast, playing calculating brothel madam Lydia Wells. Eve Hewson stars as Anna and EastEnders star Himesh Patel plays Emery.

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 2

Average episode length: 56 minutes 

Our World War 

This tense drama reveals the first-hand experiences of British soldiers who served in World War One, showing viewers exactly how being on the battlefield affected them. Each episode sees the war through the eyes of a different soldier, each story taking place during a different time and in a different place in the conflict. The drama stars Nicki Vickery, Rob Townsend, and Gerard Kearns. 

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 3

Average episode length: 57 minutes 

A Suitable Boy 

Prepare for a heady cocktail of passion, politics, and stunning scenery as we’re transported back to 1950s India. A Suitable Boy is based on Vikram Seth’s acclaimed coming-of-age 1993 novel charting the fortunes of four interwoven Indian families as the country explores its newfound independence from Britain.

The first episode introduces the parallel stories of free-spirited literature student Lata Mehra and enchanting courtesan Saeeda Bai. Lata’s widowed mum Rupa is determined to arrange the perfect marriage for her 19-year-old daughter, but Lata has other ideas and soon has three potential suitors vying for her attention… 

Number of seasons: 1

Number of episodes: 6

Average episode length: 59 minutes 

How to watch the best BBC period dramas online anywhere in the world

There is a handy way to watch your favourite TV shows from wherever you are in the world, and it is called VPN.

This lets you get around the usual digital barriers by changing your IP address, meaning you can watch your favourite TV shows even if you’re away from home.

But which VPN will suit your needs best?

Our favourite is ExpressVPN, which lets you change your IP address on whichever device you want to watch your new favourite TV show on.

From laptops to a Smart TV, Amazon Fire Stick and games consoles to a mobile phone, you can change the address to make your device think it is in a different location.

ExpressVPN is one of the best out there. Not only because it is straightforward and easy to use, but it also has great security and, best of all, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

This is the number one rated VPN in the world right now and as well as trying it out for free for a month, you can sign up for an annual plan and get 3 months absolutely free.

Claire Crick
Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.