I want to live in the 20s & 30s. What TV / movies should I watch?
March 20, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I've been completely absorbed in British fiction from the 1920s & 30s lately - mostly of the snappy, witty detective variety: Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie. I've also read and adored the incomparable Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford. Now, the question is, what should I watch that will scratch this same itch for sparkling conversation, sophistication, romance and great clothes? I'm open both to original time period stuff and well done more contemporary versions of the period. If it's streaming on Netflix or Amazon, I can watch it.

I'll go a couple decades up or down, too. For example, I love Edith Pargeter / Ellis Peters, even though she's more 40s - 60s and I completely loved Upstairs/Downstairs and Downton Abbey, although their focus is more the teens. And I'm not anti- American - if there's American fiction or movies out there that I'd like, by all means bring them on. It's just that all the stuff I've read from that period in the US tends to be so much darker and heavier - Hammett et. al. Dark is not what I want here. No, what I need is lightness, wit, the clink of glasses, dancing and maybe a dead body or two but nothing gory. Also, bonus points for more reading: are there other authors I should discover?
posted by mygothlaundry to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
 
You HAVE seen the utterly fabulous Jeeves and Wooster with Fry and Laurie, right? RIGHT?
posted by Madamina at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Bright Young Things, directed by Stephen Fry:

An adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel "Vile Bodies," is a look into the lives of a young novelist, his would-be lover, and a host of young people who beautified London in the 1930s.

posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Thin Man!
posted by bq at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Also Laurie King's Mary Russell series.
posted by bq at 7:50 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


On Netflix, Campion , starring post-Doctor Who Peter Davison.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:51 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pennies From Heaven, the original series. Monumental. Sophisticated. You had no idea that television was capable of such art.

Humourous, though? Enh... Maybe not.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:53 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bringing up Baby, and most anything described as a "screwball comedy".

Yeah, I know they're American, but frankly, they're better than their British counterparts.

The Lady Vanishes.
posted by Leon at 7:54 AM on March 20, 2013


Mapp and Lucia!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:00 AM on March 20, 2013


For "original time period stuff" I quite enjoyed Hitchcock's Blackmail, one of the first "talkies", as well as Sabotage from a few years later. I think I got them both through Netflix.

If you'd like to try something set a few decades earlier a contemporary BBC series Bramwell is good, about a Victorian lady doctor, also on Netflix.
posted by XMLicious at 8:09 AM on March 20, 2013


On the screwball comedy note, the incredibly delightful It Happened One Night.
posted by mskyle at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2013


Have you seen the BBC's Sherlock? It's set in the modern day but has many touches from the original. It's on Netflix.
posted by Cuke at 8:12 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


David Suchet's Poirot series is streaming on Netflix.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:14 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You might like Easy Virtue, based on a Noel Coward play.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:15 AM on March 20, 2013


I know you said you've read Sayers, but the Wimsey mysteries have been adapted for TV too. I've only seen the ones with Edward Petherbridge, but they seem to capture the 30's beautifully.
posted by kalimac at 8:18 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you might enjoy Foyle's War, which is set during World War II. I also liked Island at War, but stalled out on it. Both are on Netflix Streaming.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:19 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


On Netflix, Campion, Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Alleyn, Miss Bradley Mysteries. To read, I know I sound like broken record, but Michael Innes and Edmund Crispin, though writing a little later, capture the English country house wit and charm.
posted by Malla at 8:20 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also to read: Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm! And watch! The movie is delightful. I think a few of her other novels are also available on Kindle. Oh! Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day! Both book and movie.
posted by Malla at 8:24 AM on March 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Warning regarding Innes: he can sometimes get deliberately surreal, and often features ridiculously implausible (though highly entertaining) chase scenes.
posted by Malla at 8:26 AM on March 20, 2013


The BBC made a very good serialisation of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End last year. It has nominally been compared with Downton Abbey, but it's better and less soap opera-y. It's just won a heap of awards voted for by TV critics here in the UK. It was adapted by Tom Stoppard. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall, who are both excellent.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:28 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Lade Eve is one of my favorite screwball comedies. It seems very Wodehousian.

(I will also note that Parade's End is not light, at least he books aren't.)
posted by Area Man at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not available streaming at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled for Kerry Greenwood's Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Subtly different from much of the foregoing for being Australian.
posted by mumkin at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are so many good films from the '30s that are worth seeing.

The Thin Man series.
Anything directed by Preston Sturgess
Anything with Myrna Loy in it.

Also, The Maltese Falcon. Mmmmmm.. That one is SO San Francisco 1934.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:32 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Authors---
Ngaio Marsh
Frances & Richard Lovelace
posted by leahwrenn at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2013


You might like The House of Eliott, an early '90s BBC series about two sisters setting up in the fashion business in '20s London. I caught a few stray episodes last year and enjoyed them.
posted by comealongpole at 8:58 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been reading my way through Barbara Cleverly's two mystery series - one starts in India with a book called The Last Kashmiri Rose and goes through France and back to England over the series. It features a male British WWI vet, now policeman. The other series I've just started. It features a female archaeologist and, at least the first novel (The Tomb of Zeus), is set in Crete.

The Miss Fisher series of mystery novels by Kerry Greenwood is pretty great although the main character gets a little too perfect/modern.

Vile Bodies is also a great book.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:15 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you're taking book suggestions too, I've been reading the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie is a clever detective in London in the early 1930's. They're light, but very good. Beach reads for people who would rather be in a museum than on a beach. I enjoy them for both the characterization as well as the world in which she lives.

Read the first one first, though. I think it's just called Maisie Dobbs. The other books will make more sense if you know her backstory.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:16 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you interested in radio drama at all? You might like Paul Temple and Steve.

Here's a YouTube clip of one episode from The VanDyke Affair as a sample.

He's a mystery writer, she (for yes! Steve is a lady!) was a Fleet Street reporter and THEY FIGHT CRIME. Or, rather, mostly what they do is visit hotel bars, spend several minutes ordering drinks when they should be looking for clues, get the windshield of their car shot out by bandits, buy a pair of gloves or perhaps a smart hat, stop for another pink gin, stumble across a body or three, have dinner with a German and a Welshman (who are probably being voiced by the same actor doing various ridiculous accents), and then finally get down to figuring out what the heck is going on about 5 episodes later.

Most of the serials are 6-8 30 minute episodes long and the last one is pretty much always a cocktail party which all the characters are tricked into attending so the culprits can be unmasked. The stories are ludicrous and the mysteries so convoluted that they're almost nonsensical but they're funny and very charming.

Several voice actors did Paul & Steve but the best were Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury (her voice is HEAVEN), who had that perfect Thin Man-esque chemistry. Luckily most of the surviving serials feature them anyway. The recordings are from the 50s and 60s (along with a few modern remakes) but they have an "Oh look dear, a telegram from Scotland Yard!" tone that could place them at almost any time in the first half of the century.

Oh and BONUS: the theme song, "Coronation Scot," is totally marvelous.
posted by bcwinters at 9:21 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another mystery series is by Rhys Bowen and starts with A Royal Pain. About a broke member of the royal family who is sent around solving crimes for the queen.

The first Maisie Dobbs book is Birds of a Feather, I believe. I liked the series okay but got frustrated by the lack of growth by the main character (and her modern ways (and oh, god, just pick a guy and I don't care who you marry or even if you do, go back to solving crimes)).
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:22 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a little bit older than the dates you specified, but looking at some other suggestions, I thought of Three Men in a Boat. It's very light and very funny. I listened to the audiobook last year and enjoyed it enough to return again recently for a 2nd listen.
posted by cellura p at 9:31 AM on March 20, 2013


I have some double feature film suggestions that might, at times, veer solely toward the eye-candy or TEH DRAMAZ end of that spectrum, but could provide some immersive time-travel fun:

Kristen Scott-Thomas/TheArtistFormerly & CurrentlyKnownAs Prince: Under the Cherry Moon w/ Ruby Keeler/Dick Powell: 42nd Street

Jane March/Tony Leung Ka-Fai: The Lover w/ Marlene Dietrich/Clive Brook: Shanghai Express

Faye Dunaway/Robert Redford: Bonnie and Clyde w/Faye Dunaway/Jack Nicholson: Chinatown (bonus 70s-30s wardrobes!)
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:10 AM on March 20, 2013


Gosford Park!
posted by meijusa at 11:11 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


A slightly more modern mystery writer to look at would be Sarah Caudwell, who wrote four mystery novels in the 80s and 90s. They're epistolary novels that mostly consist of faxes (telexes even? Although honestly I don't even know what a telex is/was) and letters exchanged between a group of barristers as they get caught up in "cozy" mysteries generally involving international tax evasion plots. They're written in a dry, humorous style with the sort of arch situational comedy that owes a lot to Wodehouse; the main character is one Hilary Tamar, whose gender is never revealed; and the book covers were by the inimitable Edward Gorey. The first in the series is Thus Was Adonis Murdered.
posted by bcwinters at 11:19 AM on March 20, 2013


I suspect you would also enjoy the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Also, perhaps, Topper.
posted by bq at 11:28 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My Man Godfrey!
posted by Chenko at 12:46 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mapp and Lucia!
posted by pracowity at 1:16 PM on March 20, 2013


omg sorry -- Dunaway/Warren Beatty Bonnie & Clyde!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:57 PM on March 20, 2013


Mapp and Lucia

The videos live up to the books, and the books are first rate.

For Waugh, see Scoop and A Handful of Dust and Bright Young Things. Not as good as the books.

Sarah Caudwell is wonderful, but fifty years too late.

The Boyfriend. Some Like It Hot.

Pennies From Heaven, the original series. Monumental. Sophisticated. You had no idea that television was capable of such art.

Humourous, though? Enh... Maybe not.


Definitely not. Gun to the temple depressing, in fact.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2013


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day! Both book and movie.

Book before movie. Not that the movie is bad, mind.

Anita Loos, of course, how did we miss her? "Gentleman Prefer Blondes". The book is better than the movie.

Brahms & Simon - "A Bullet in the Ballet" etc

Possibly Kyril Bonfiglioli

More 1980s and 1990s, but very much in the 1920's witty cocktail drinking vein are Joe Keenan's Blue Heaven, Putting On the Ritz, and the relatively disappointing My Lucky Star
posted by IndigoJones at 2:26 PM on March 20, 2013


Sarah Caudwell is wonderful, but fifty years too late.

Oh yes of course, and I thought my mention of faxes would make that clear...I meant more that they might be a match in the style of comedy, because they're books where manners, education level, & social class are at the forefront of character interaction. And although the sexual mores are relatively modernized, the characters otherwise all act as if they stepped out of a 30s screwball.

Foyle's War, which is set during World War II.

I really liked Foyle's War but it's terribly serious.
posted by bcwinters at 3:01 PM on March 20, 2013


Not a mystery, but you might like the snappy con artists of Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941), in which Barbara Stanwyck (and her family of card sharks) make Henry Fonda their mark on a cruise ship. Here's a terrific clip.
posted by bcwinters at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2013


What, no Brideshead Revisited yet?

Framed by events in 1944, but most of the action takes place in the '20s and '30s, and looks to be available for streaming on Amazon.

Edit: there is a recent film, but I cannot vouch for it's quality. Bright Young Things is a lot of fun too.
posted by arha at 3:21 PM on March 20, 2013


Someone mentioned Jerome K. Jerome's very funny "Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog)," and to that I would add "To Say Nothing of the Dog," the Hugo- and Locus-Award-Winning novel by Connie Willis, a followup to her excellent book "Doomsday Book." Both books are set in British Universities (Oxford for Dog, Cambridge for Doomsday) in which the history departments possess a particularly effect research tool-- a somewhat fussy time-machine. In "Dog," a burnt-out historian is sent back to 1890s Coventry for an artifact-finding milk-run to relax himself after a harrowing trip.

The style of many of Willis's books, though obviously containing a sci-fi premise, is actually more of a manners comedy, and if you like Wodehouse, you'll probably like the incrementally less satirical but still amusing Willis. She's clearly got an advanced case of Anglophilia, she keeps the SF elements nice and soft so they don't ruin a good read with a ton of exposition and technicalities, and you'll get behind her characters in no time.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:32 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The style of many of Willis's books, though obviously containing a sci-fi premise, is actually more of a manners comedy, and if you like Wodehouse, you'll probably like the incrementally less satirical but still amusing Willis. She's clearly got an advanced case of Anglophilia, she keeps the SF elements nice and soft so they don't ruin a good read with a ton of exposition and technicalities, and you'll get behind her characters in no time.

Nthing. It's a comedy of manners pastiche very much in this style and keeps the sci-fi elements witty and underplayed. It goes down like champagne.
posted by The Whelk at 5:10 PM on March 20, 2013


Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle
The Hudsucker Proxy
posted by libraryhead at 5:12 PM on March 20, 2013


Lots of good suggestions including the Screwball Comedies. Bringing Up Baby is my all time favorite, and definitely the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, particularly The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat. Re Hitchcock - The 39 Steps and Young and Innocent are both fun. You also might try the mysteries of Josephine Tey. They are set a bit later than your target dates, but still worth checking out. I would also give the fantasy novel Bride of the Rat God a try. It's set in 1920's Hollywood and is a hoot.
posted by gudrun at 7:34 PM on March 20, 2013


Midnight in Paris, if you haven't already seen it....
posted by miss_scarlett at 7:59 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Yes, of course.

Besides, who am I to talk, recommending Joe Keenan?

The other trick to Sarah Caudwell is that the sex of Hillary Tamar is never made clear.

Brideshead - not that light or airy, really. A bit dreary. Likewise Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2013


Thanks, y'all! I really appreciate all the great suggestions and spent yesterday evening very happily watching Campion, so this is wonderful. I have already read all of Sarah Caudwell, Connie Willis and Jerome K. Jerome, so you all definitely have figured out my tastes to a T. Thanks again!
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:14 PM on March 21, 2013


This is not strictly adhering to the terms of your request because it's the wrong time period, but I adore so many of the works mentioned on this page, as well as in your OP, so I just wanted to say that if you've not read any Georgette Heyer, I think you'd love her. She mostly sets her romance novels in the Regency (though I believe her mystery novels, though not as good, are set in the 20s and 30s). Perfectly witty and light, extremely well-written. My own preference to start would be The Grand Sophy.
posted by peacheater at 3:00 PM on March 21, 2013


And now I see that you mention Georgette Heyer in your question itself. Ignore the above, I am an idiot.
posted by peacheater at 3:01 PM on March 21, 2013


The Thin Man movies (The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Song of the Thin Man) are exactly what you're looking for in terms of snappy, witty detectives. Lots of martini-clinking, too. Only the first three were made in the '30s, but you'd have to look awfully hard to see much difference in the 1940s ones.

Also, though it doesn't hit the detective criterion, I highly recommend Paper Moon. It's one of those post-Bonnie&Clyde dustbowl movies, but don't let that put you off; it's not one of the violent and depressing ones.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:25 AM on March 26, 2013


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