6 Best Period Pieces To Watch For Juneteenth

'The Long Song' starring Tamara Lawrance; 'Bridgerton starring Golda Rosheuvel; and 'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' starring Karla-Simone Spence are three of our picks to watch this Juneteenth

'The Long Song' starring Tamara Lawrance; 'Bridgerton starring Golda Rosheuvel; and 'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' starring Karla-Simone Spence are three of our picks to watch this Juneteenth


Watching a shift in societal mores is usually something that happens at a glacial pace. One looks back after 25 years and discovers that the world has changed from one's childhood, slowly, inexorably, mostly when one was doing other things. But the 2010s were not like that. The rise of social media, specifically Twitter, suddenly and loudly flattened the landscape so that voices and opinions that were previously easily ignored those of women and people of color — suddenly had a megaphone. While those voices have struggled to effect change in politics and other places, in the entertainment sphere, a revolution has come, especially in the world of period drama.

The shift in the last decade is striking, when one looks at the most popular shows when Telly Visions started: Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Endeavour, the original casts of Grantchester and Call the Midwife, casts that haven't a single person of color in them. Nowadays, that's simply unthinkable. Even the mostly white Marie Antoinette added in Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, in order to have a Black character. 

However, some period dramas are more willing to explore Black characters and Black history fully than others. With Juneteenth falling midweek, let's run down the period piece drama shows so far doing their best to include Black stories as part of their drama.

'The Confessions of Frannie Langton'

The Confessions of Frannie Langton has it all: romance, murder mystery, historical drama, and a clear-eyed, nuanced portrayal of Black history during one of the most awkward periods of English rule: when the slave trade was outlawed, but enslaving people was not. It follows Frannie Langton (Karla-Simone Spence), a servant in 1826 London accused of killing her mistress Marguerite (Sophie Cookson) — who was also her lover — and Marguerite’s husband.

The show weaves between two different timelines, following the development of Frannie’s affair with Marguerite and the investigation of the murders. Frannie, with no memory of the night of the crime, is arrested and left to piece together what happened. The four-part miniseries is based on the novel of the same name novel by Sara Collins, who adapted her own work for the screen. 

As rare as it is to find period shows about Black women, it is rarer still to find one that centers on a queer Black woman like Frannie. Prepare to be swept up in the show’s romance and mystery while also absorbing the show’s commentary on race and gender.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is streaming on BritBox.

'Bridgerton'/'Queen Charlotte'

The show that made interracial period romances no big deal, Bridgerton, which just released Season 3, continues to delight. Shonda Rhimes' imagined world of ethnic solidarity, her addition of Queen Charlotte as a character, and the use of her love story with King George as a bridge to cultural unity were wholesale invented additions to author Julia Quinn's original Bridgerton novels, which were, as most mainstream romances of the era, utterly lacking in characters of color. 

While some — including myself — were unsure the show needed such excuses, let alone stated in such a stilted manner, adding an aging Charlotte and ailing George to the series has been a running highlight. The Bridgerton siblings and their relationships with the Duke of Hastings, Kate Sharma, Penelope Featherington, and Lord Kilmartin are delightful. No, these are not historically accurate. (Do not ask how Colin is frolicking around France in the middle of Waterloo.) But Bridgerton is lovely, and the prequel romance, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, is practically better than Bridgerton itself. 

All three seasons of Bridgerton and the prequel series, Queen Charlotte, are all streaming on Netflix. Bridgerton Season 4 is in pre-production.

'The Long Song'

The Long Song is a three-part series, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by the late Andrea Levy, set during the dying days of slavery on the British-ruled Caribbean island of Jamaica in 1838, a period of social turbulence. Starring Tamara Lawerence (Time) as young slave July, Hayley Atwell (Howards End) as her odious mistress Caroline Mortimer, and Jack Lowden (Slow Horses) as overseer Robert Goodwin, the story revolves around the ugly love triangle that develops between them as they find themselves trapped on a sugar plantation in Amity.

All three episodes of The Long Song are available on PBS Passport.

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The Long Song

A series based on Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel about the end of slavery in Jamaica.
The Long Song: show-poster2x3

'The Underground Railroad'

Unlike the first three shows on this list, The Underground Railroad is not a British series but an American one. However, the 2021 limited series more than earns a place on this list, and not just because of its predominantly British cast.

Created and directed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead, this towering adaptation of Whitehead's fictionalized story of escaping slavery in the southern United States during the antebellum 1800s where the "Underground Railroad" is reimagined as a physical, magical railroad complete with engineers, conductors, tracks, and tunnels. 

South African actor Thuso Mbedu stars as Cora Randall alongside U.K. actors Sheila Atim, Aaron Pierre, Chukwudi Iwuji, and Peter Mullan. The ten-part series took home Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and a Peabody Award.

The Underground Railroad is streaming on Prime Video.

'The Gilded Age'

I put The Gilded Age here with some reservations. Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey, would almost certainly not have added a Black storyline had he made The Gilded Age back when it was originally announced in 2012. However, the project languished in development hell for a decade at NBC until it finally moved to HBO, and by then, it was 2020, and Fellowes saw the way the wind was blowing. So he brought aboard Salli Richardson-Whitfield and added Peggy Scott, a plucky would-be Black journalist to represent the Black middle class that dominated the Brooklyn area of what is now Park Slope in the 1890s.

As a Brit, Fellowes is not really equipped to write about the Black American experience, a fact that has become more obvious as the series has gone along. (Peggy's trip south to the horrors of the post-Reconstruction Alabama was deeply incongruous playing alongside Carrie Coon's Opera Box Drama in NYC.) However, it is literally the only show doing anything even close to this. Moreover, it is the only series on TV that has ever had the nerve to show its white middle-class heroine's entire (AHEM!) when she visits Her Black Friend and is shocked (SHOCKED!) to discover she does not need shoes as a housewarming gift. Despite it's issues, it is worth it.

The Gilded Age Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Max. Season 3 is currently filming and is expected to arrive at the end of 2024 or early 2025.


Based on Jane Austen's final, unfinished novel, and the only one to feature a significant Black character, Sanditon, which was adapted and embellished by Andrew Davies (the man behind the 1995 Pride and Prejudice and a host of other Austen films), was a sensation when it debuted in 2019/2020, but not necessarily in a good way. For one thing, Davies made the rookie mistake of assuming he would get a second season and, therefore, did not give his heroine a happy ending, a very awkward sitch when the show got canceled. 

However, the fandom went rabid, and Masterpiece picked up the pieces and brought the series back for two more seasons to conclude it, sans Davies. The result isn't always as even as we would like, and the storyline of Austen's Jamician heiress, Georgiana Lambe (Crystal Clarke), doesn't get handled with the gracefulness it deserves because of the way things played out. But as a contemporaneous piece that reminds viewers Black characters did exist back then, and authors like Austen did write about them, it's an invaluable clap back against all those bad takes that insist the past was magically lily white.

All three seasons of Sanditon are streaming on PBS Passport.

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The fan-favorite drama inspired by Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel.
Sanditon: show-poster2x3


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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