The Ten Best: Period dramas on DVD

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The Independent Culture

1 Brideshead Revisited (1981), £39.99

This mini-series version of Evelyn Waugh's novel was first broadcast in 1981. Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) and Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) meet at Oxford. Ryder finds himself drawn to the eccentric, effeminate Flyte and becomes increasingly close to the Flyte family while at their country house.

2 Great Expectations (1946), £19.99

David Lean's adaptation is superbly pitched in a Victorian England Dickens might have sketched himself. A chance kindness on the foreboding fens leads the young Pip to a life of luxury and education in bustling London, but he learns strength of character the hard way through his encounters with money, privilege and the beautiful Estella.

3 Samurai (1954), £19.99

Kurosawa's three-and-a-half-hour epic has been the inspiration for countless other films. A band of masterless samurai agrees to protect a village from bandits and teach the villagers how to fight back. The climax is a vast battle when 40 bandits attack the village. The film needs a long evening but is rewarding and beautifully crafted.

4 The Remains of the Day (1993), £12.99

Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson star in this powerful interpretation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker prize-winner. Hopkin's butler cedes his independence to the unflinching loyalty he shows his employers, and is forced to reflect on his model of duty - to the Nazi sympathiser he stood by and the father and woman he gave up.

5 Dangerous Liaisons (1988), £19.99

Sex, cunning and deceit set in opulent, pre-revolutionary France. Glenn Close and John Malkovich (right) are the marquise and vicomte who, bored by the status quo, plot to destroy the reputations of young innocents. But each comes unstuck in trying to outbid the other's artful wickedness.

6 The Crucible (1996), £12.99

Starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis, this is a chilling tale of suspicion, repression and paranoia based on the Salem Witch trials of 1692. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953 and created a parable of McCarthy's post-war anti-Communist witch hunts. Unsettling and compelling in equal measure.

7 The Age of Innocence (1993), £12.99

Hypocrisy, subterfuge and illicit love were rampant in that "classless" society over the pond in the late 1800s, and Martin Scorsese lends a clinical accuracy to Edith Wharton's tale of high society. The arrival of the spirited Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer, left) shatters the rigid, ritualistic veneer of the city's families.

8 The Wings of the Dove (1997), £15.99

Helena Bonham-Carter plays Kate, a passionate beauty caught between a manipulative aunt and her true love in this Henry James adaptation. Everyone's penniless except the dying Millie who becomes Kate's best friend and the pawn in this tragic drama about the depths to which people will slump to secure a happy future.

9 Fingersmith (2005), £17.99

Based on Sarah Waters's Booker prize-nominated third novel, this BBC adaptation is a riot of twists, turns and 19th-century lesbianism. Fingersmith - Victorian slang for a pickpocket - tells the story of two young women, Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly, who end up being the victims, as well as perpetrators, of a number of cons and schemes.

10 Portrait of a Lady (1997) £9.99

Nicole Kidman plays Isabel Archer, an American heiress who travels to late 19th-century Europe to find herself. After turning down a marriage proposal from an American suitor she ends up marrying Gilbert Osmond, an art collector keen to add Isabel to his collection. Claustrophobic and affecting.

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