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The 15 Most Romantic Period Movies

"The Age of Innocence," "Brokeback Mountain" and more.

The English Patient” (1996)

Winner of a whopping nine Oscars, including wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient,” based on the beloved book by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, is an epic period romance the type of which Hollywood doesn’t seem in the business of making anymore. The film begins at the close of WWII, with Binoche as a French Canadian nurse tending to severely burned plane crash victim (Ralph Fiennes). Through flashbacks, his mysterious past is revealed, including a passionate and ultimately doomed love affair with a colleague’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). “The English Patient” has it all: Hot sex scenes; thrilling wartime action; sweeping desert vistas; Fiennes at his most swooning. What’s not to love?

Gone With the Wind” (1939)

With its iconic pairing of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, a sweeping orchestral score and magnificent cinematography that captures the operatic scope of the 19th Century American South, Victor Fleming’s magnum opus is easily cinema’s greatest period epic of passion and romance. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, “Gone With the Wind” is the story of Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh), a southern belle determined to keep her family’s plantation afloat at any cost. Much of the film deals with Scarlett’s romantic pursuits since a wealthy suitor could provide the economic stability for the O’Hara estate, but sparks fly when the beauty meets her sparring, arrogant and undeniable match in in the dashing Rhett Butler. Watching Leigh and Gable navigate the turbulent arc of their epic love story is a major reason the film is often considered one of cinema’s greatest achievements. In the hands of these talented legends, the romance becomes a battle royale of quips (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”) and hidden desires that brings high drama to a rather typical romantic foils storyline.

“Jane Eyre” (2011)

If you like your 19th century romance darker than Jane Austen, try the 2011 film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s gothic romance novel, “Jane Eyre.” Directed by a pre-“True Detective” Cary Fukunaga and adapted for the screen by Moira Buffini, the film follows a young governess (the eponymous Jane) who embarks on a romance with her new employer, Mr. Rochester, before discovering his dark and potentially relationship-ending secret. What sets Fukunaga’s vision of the oft-adapted story apart is the balancing act he performs between romance and horror. He’s assisted greatly by costume designer Michael O’Connor, who won the film its only Academy Award, and cinematographer Adriano Goldman. The film toes the line between genres perfectly, giving equal focus to the romance between Mia Wasikowska’s Jane and Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester and the more gothic elements of the story, such as Rochester’s mentally ill first wife. Judi Dench and Jamie Bell co star in the film, which can best be summed up by Jane’s line to Rochester. “Everything seems unreal,” she says. “You, sir, the most phantom-like of all.”

“La Reine Margot” (1994)

In Patrice Chéreau’s film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ 1845 novel “La Reine Margot,” Queen Catherine de’ Medici offers her daughter Margot to marry Henri de Bourbon, the Protestant King of Navarre. The arrangement is seen as a peace offering between the sparring the Huguenot Protestants and the Catholics in 16th century France. Played with a royal intensity by Isabelle Adjani, Margot reluctantly gives up her own passions and desires and goes through with the plans. Although there are affairs galore throughout the film, the most captivating is the one between Margot and a Protestant soldier named La Môle (Vincent Perez) The dangerous religious divide between the two creates a complex dynamic on which their affair is constructed, and it’s ultimately Margot and La Môle’s dedication to each other that makes “La Reine Margot” a grand testament to the power of romance. Alas, it wouldn’t be a French love story without some provocative sex scenes, and the film definitely provides some salacious romps, most notably one in which Margot takes command while wearing a masquerade mask.

The New World” (2005)

The film that began Terrence Malick’s fertile collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, “The New World” is a period romance as only Malick could make it. Lyrical, dreamlike and jaw-droopingly beautiful to look at, “The New World” tells the Pocahontas story that so many know and love. But with Malick at the helm, it plays like a story that’s never been told. Q’uorianka Kilcher gives a mesmerizing performance as Pocahontas, who in in the early 1600s falls madly in love with English settler Captain Smith (Colin Farrell). Boasting a lush score courtesy of James Horner (“Titanic”), deeply felt performances and a sweeping forbidden romance at its core, “The New World” is a period romance for true movie lovers.

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