17 Lesbian Period Dramas to Watch if You Love Historical Fiction

Lesbian Movies & TV Movie Reviews

There’s something about watching lesbian relationships from the past that make Chia and I appreciate our gay relationship in the present that much more. Imagining the societal, financial, and romantic obstacles these lesbian couples had to face back then adds an element of heartbreak and a layer of nuance to these historical lesbian period dramas that we take for granted in modern films. And as a historical fiction lover, I’m all about creatively imagining how these women were secretly getting together back then. 

So here’s our list of the best historical lesbian movies and period dramas to watch. 

While not all of these movies have happy endings because well... very little about lesbian life back then was happy, they are still well-made and worth watching!

1. Handmaiden

Handmaiden Best Lesbian Period Dramas to Watch

This movie has it all. Not only does it take historical fiction and period dramas to the next level, it’s a  gripping international psych thriller that also has a happy and very satisfying ending.

Handmaiden is inspired by the 2002 novel, Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters, with the setting changed from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule during the period of 1910 to 1945.

It’s about a con man with plans to seduce and marry a Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko and then commit her to an asylum in order to steal her inheritance. He hires a pickpocket named Sook-hee to become Hideko's maid and help encourage Hideko to marry him. As you can guess, things don’t quite go as planned. Filled with plot twists and turns, you’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole time for this one.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes! 🌈

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

2. Carol

Carol Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

While Carol doesn’t go as far back as some of the other period dramas on this list, the cinematography, set, and outfits have a beautiful historical nostalgia to them that take you back to 1950s America.

Based on the 1952 romance novel, The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith and featuring an all-star cast, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol is a romantic drama period film that tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aspiring female photographer and an older woman going through a difficult divorce.

Carol is one of those iconic LGBT films that every lesbian should watch. Plus, it has a happy ending!

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes! 🌈

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

3. Summerland

Summerland Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

Summerland is IMO, an underrated, Oscar-worthy lesbian film that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should. While the plot isn’t entirely centered around the lesbian romance, the lesbian relationship is still very much an integral part of the film and overall story. 

It takes place during WWII in 1945 when Alice Lamb, a reclusive writer who lives in a seaside cottage by herself in Kent, is suddenly entrusted to care for a young boy after the London Blitz. The two get off to a rocky start but eventually develop a strong bond and friendship and the boy helps lead Alice back to a lost love.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes! 🌈

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

4. Colette

Colette Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

Ever since I first fell in love with Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean and Pride and Prejudice, I’ve been praying to the lesbian gods to please have Keira Knightley play a lesbian in a period drama and lo and behold, the lesbian gods have delivered. 

Colette is a biographical drama that takes place in the 19th century based on the life of the French novelist Colette (played by Knightley), who was not afraid to break both intellectual and sexual boundaries back then. Colette’s character is bold, empowering, and sexy. 

This film is one of those higher quality films that’s well-written and features a great cast--something we don’t see often with lesbian movies.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes! 🌈

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

5. The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister 

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

I love how so many of these lesbian period dramas are about badass women who dared to live freely and break ceilings hundreds of years ago. The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister certainly fits this bill. It’s a British biographical historical drama that takes place in 19th-century Yorkshire based on the landowner Anne Lister’s life as an industrialist and her secret lesbian relationships. The film was inspired by Lister's diaries, which were written in code and decoded many years after her death.

P.S. there’s also a TV series based on Anne Lister called Gentleman Jack that you can watch here.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? It's bittersweet, but overall a happy ending.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

When you think of the best lesbian period dramas, one of the first films that come to mind is Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The movie is set in France in the late 18th century and tells the story of an affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait.

It’s understandable why this film is beloved and on the list of many lesbian’s favorite films of all time. While personally, I prefer films with traditional happy endings, this movie is nonetheless very well-made, acted (the two leading ladies have great chemistry), written, directed and the cinematography is top notch. You won’t regret watching it.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Bittersweet, but no one dies.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

7. Vita and Virginia

Vita and Virginia Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

A biographical period drama based on Virginia Woolf’s life that is set in the 1920s. Writers Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf socialize in different London circles, but when they meet, Vita decides Virginia will be her next conquest. They have an affair against the background of each of their open marriages. 

While I was certainly enticed to watch this movie based on the trailer and the actresses did a decent job portraying the characters, I was left wanting more from the storyline, and the ending (while not tragic) was not very satisfying. It’s still a decent film especially if you’re in the mood to watch some historical lesbian romance. 

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? A little sad, but no one dies.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

8. Ammonite

Ammonite Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

I had really high expectations for Ammonite and was super excited to watch it when it came out towards the end of 2020 after having been cooped up in quarantine all year and running low on my fill of lesbian romance movies. While Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are both amazing and talented actresses, the movie felt slow at times with no real dialogue between the characters. 

I mean, I get that this is based on the paleontologist, Mary Anning’s life so they’re supposed to be on the beach collecting fossils all day, but, as a viewer, you don’t really want to watch these two just find fossils on the beach all day if you know what I mean.

There is a very intimate scene at the end of the movie that makes up for the lack of drama throughout the film, but I think the writers could’ve done a better job overall especially when you have two A-list stars.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Open, but optimistic ending.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

9. Fingersmith

Fingersmith Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Movies to Watch

A mini-series based on Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith, that was nominated for Best Drama Serial at the 2006 British Academy TV Awards. It follows the lives of two young women in 1862 Victorian England when a group of thieves concoct an elaborate scam to defraud a young heiress of her inheritance. 

In terms of period dramas, Fingersmith is like one of the OGs that was actually well-made and original for its time. It’s also what inspired one of our favorite lesbian movies of all time, Handmaiden (also on this list).

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes! 🌈

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

10. Wild Nights with Emily

Wild Nights with Emily Best Lesbian Period Dramas

Most period films are dramas with heavy plots, but Wild Nights with Emily stands out as a more lighthearted movie filled with sarcasm and wit. It’s a fun and playful take on Emily Dickinson’s life and her romance with her sister-in-law, Sue. While there are some darker and more depressing moments in the film because after all, it’s taking place in the 1800s, it is a good lesbian movie for a chill, casual night in.

P.S. If you love Emily Dickinson and want to see even more romance between her and Sue, check out the TV series, Dickinson here.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Not really, but it's still relatively lighthearted.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

11. The Girl King

The Girl King Best Lesbian Period Dramas to Watch

There’s something super sexy about a powerful queen who also likes women. I mean, let’s be real--we all wanted Cersei or Daenerys from Game of Thrones to be lesbians, but since we couldn’t get that, we’ll have to settle for Girl King instead.

It’s a biographical historical drama about Christina, the Queen of Sweden who ruled from 1632 until her abdication in 1654 and was in all likelihood a lesbian.

Queen Christina led a very interesting and controversial life during her reign. She was described as “a queen without a realm, a Christian without faith, and a woman without shame”. She refused to marry (classic lesbian sign) and her extravagant spending almost bankrupted the entire country, but she was also one of the most educated women of the 17th century and was fond of books, paintings, music, theater. She had an interest in many intellectual pursuits that attracted scientists around the world to go to Stockholm. She was beyond her time to say the least. 

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Yes, even though they don't end up together.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

12. Tell it to the Bees

Tell it to the Bees Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

Based on the novel of the same name by Fiona Shaw, everything about the film adaptation was well-done until the end…now I understand why people always say the book is better than the movie. If you want the spoiler alert and to read what the author actually thought of the movie adaption, go here, but basically, if they had stuck with the original ending from the book, this movie would easily have become one of the best lesbian movies of all time.

The plot takes place in rural Scotland in the 1950s when two women, Lydia and Jean (the new doctor in town) form a romantic connection after Lydia’s son takes an interest in Jean’s bee colonies.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Not really, but no one dies.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

13. The World to Come

The World to Come Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

The biggest takeaway from this movie is, “Boy, am I glad to not be gay and living in 1850 frontier America.” Everyone’s lives back then were cold, hungry, and bleak. 

The movie could not have done a better job portraying the miserable existence of two women who hated their isolated, domestic lives in the harsh countryside but found a small glimpse of joy and hope in each other.

The acting and cinematography are top notch but it’s definitely not a pick-me-up type of movie.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Definitely not.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

14. A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion Best Lesbian Period Dramas to Watch

A Quiet Passion is the more serious take on Emily Dickinson’s life. It has less gay romance than Wild Nights with Emily, but does an authentic job portraying the reclusive poet’s life. It also features Cynthia Nixon, who is openly gay in real life, as Emily Dickinson.

If you’re looking for a high quality, period drama about Emily Dickinson’s life, then this is a better film than Wild Nights with Emily. On the other hand, if you want to see more lesbian romance and don’t mind a little silliness, then the latter is a better choice.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Kinda, but not in the happy romantic way.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

15. Lizzie

Lizzie Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

Who would’ve guessed that our girl, Kristen Stewart, would be starring in a historical period thriller as a maid who has a lesbian affair with the daughter of the head of the household that's accused of murdering her parents with an axe. It’s so different from her role in Happiest Season, but props to her talented acting skills. 

Lizzie is based on a true story that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. Chia and I first came across this story from Buzzfeed’s Unsolved Mysteries so it’s pretty cool to see this story become a feature film with an all star cast.

Be warned though--it’s not really a happy, loving lesbian movie. In fact, none of the characters in this movie are ever really happy… maybe except in those brief moments when Kristen Stewart’s character, Bridget, hooks up with Chloë Sevigny, character, Lizzie.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Definitely not the happily ever after type of ending.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

16. Elisa & Marcela

Elisa and Marcela Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

While the real life story of Elisa and Marcela (the first same-sex marriage to take place in Spain after the Roman Imperial era in 1901) is groundbreaking, inspiring, and heart wrenching given that Elisa had to impersonate a man to marry Marcela and the two risked everything including imprisonment to be together, the movie doesn’t quite do this story justice.

Nonetheless, this historical drama shot in black and white, depicts a love story that is beautiful and tragic for its time and reminds us all of how far we have come a hundred plus years later.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Tragically, no.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

17. Aimee and Jaguar

Aimee and Jaguar Best Lesbian Period Dramas and Historical Fiction Films to Watch

Aimee and Jaguar is another wartime period drama (because it’s not a complete period drama list without multiple WWII movies) that tells the story of the actual lives of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim in Berlin during WWII.

Felice is a Jewish woman who has assumed a false name and belongs to an underground organization while Lilly is a married mother of four who is unsatisfied with her philandering Nazi officer husband. 

The two meet and begin an intense and dangerous romantic relationship and embrace the “live-for-today-for-tomorrow-we-die” mentality. Beware that this movie is not a feel-good movie given the somber circumstances back then, but if you’re into wartime and Holocaust period dramas, you probably already have that expectation.

This film was also based on Erica Fischer's book chronicling their lives which you can read here.

🤔 Does it have a happy ending? Tragically, no.

▶️ Watch the full movie here.

🎬 Watch the trailer:

 

We hope you enjoyed this list and let us know what your favorite lesbian period dramas of all time are!

P.S. This hilarious SNL skit basically sums up all of these lesbian period dramas:

 

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