5 best historical romance movies on Netflix to stream right now

Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson in The Other Boleyn Girl
(Image credit: Alamy)

Contemporary rom-coms are fun, don’t get us wrong, but there’s something that hits differently about a historical romance. The period setting adds style and grace to the proceedings, making even more lightweight storylines feel as though they’ve been imbued with the poise of a Jane Austen novel. 

Although Netflix’s forays into historical romance have been more focused on series rather than films (consider, for example, the global phenomenon of “Bridgerton”), they have more than a few offerings that’ll suit the tastes of anyone in the mood for an old-timey romance, complete with furtive glances and courtly dances. Here are our picks for the best historical romances on Netflix right now.

'Out of Africa'

Netflix doesn’t have a huge selection of pre-1990 films on the streaming service, which is why it’s always refreshing to see a classic pop up. And when it comes to cinematic pedigree, “Out of Africa” has one of the best: Directed by Sidney Lumet, "Out of Africa" stars Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as its central couple. Streep plays Karen, a Danish baroness who runs a plantation in 1900s Kenya — when she’s not off cavorting with a strapping big game hunter (Redford), that is. (Imagine the internal moral conflict of meeting a man who, on the one hand, kills elephants and lions for a living, but on the other hand, looks like Robert Redford.) 

Although its colonial-era romance may strike a different (less flattering) chord with modern audiences than it did when it was initially released, there’s no question of its cinematic quality — it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture.

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'The Young Victoria'

To many audiences, the image of Queen Victoria is of a wizened, supremely unamused old woman dressed in perpetual mourning. But much to the surprise of viewers everywhere, she wasn’t always the grandmother of Europe — she was once, as the film’s title attests, “The Young Victoria.” Starring Emily Blunt as the English queen, the movie focuses on the early years of her reign and, more importantly, her courtship with one of her German cousins, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). 

There are many in her life who attempt to take advantage of her age and inexperience to manipulate her for their own political ends, including her mother. But she finds an unexpected ally in Albert — he may have been thrown at her by their shared uncle, the King of the Belgians, but in spite of everything they develop a charming and genuinely romantic relationship with one another.

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'The Other Boleyn Girl'

When you know the whole story of Henry VIII, from the divorces to the suspicious number of wives who died at his whim, he doesn’t exactly come across as a romantic figure. But that’s not necessarily the case in "The Other Boleyn Girl," which captures him early in his reign when the two Boleyn girls catch his eye. 

Mary, the elder (played by Scarlett Johansson), becomes his mistress first, but it’s the impetuous, feisty Anne (Natalie Portman) who enraptures him so completely that he’s willing to break with Rome so that he can divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent). The sisters are caught in the middle of a political intrigue (to be fair, one that is largely of their ambitious family’s making), with devastating consequences for both.

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'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'

Yes, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” has one of the more unwieldy titles in recent memory. But it also contains a delightfully understated English romance, courtesy of Lily James and Michiel Huisman. Juliet Ashton (James) is a writer who, in the aftermath of World War II, strikes up a correspondence with a man from the island of Guernsey. He tells her of the literary society that he and his friends have created and, her interest piqued, Juliet decides to travel to Guernsey to write about their group. 

What she finds is much more than a simple book club, however: Their experiences are the tales of spiritual and sometimes literal survival in the face of Nazi occupation. The more time she spends with them, the more she becomes attached to their shared history and sense of camaraderie — and of course, Dawsey Adams (Huisman), who is apparently so dreamy she has no problem leaving him for Glen Powell’s character.

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'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

Based on the extremely scandalous novel by D.H. Lawrence — which got readers’ hearts a-pumping back when it was released in 1928 — Netflix’s adaptation of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is less shocking but still plenty steamy. Starring Emma Corrin on the heels of their star-making turn as young Princess Diana on “The Crown,” it tells the story of a wealthy noblewoman who begins having an affair with a gamekeeper (Jack O’Connell) after her relationship with her husband (Matthew Duckett) hits the rocks. 

Their passionate tryst turns into genuine love, but in continuing their relationship, they put both of their reputations at risk. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is one of the 20th century’s greatest romances, and although this adaptation doesn’t quite live up to the genius of the novel, it’s nonetheless sensual and endearing in equal measure.

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Audrey Fox is a features editor and film/television critic at Looper, with bylines at RogerEbert.com, The Nerdist, /Film, and IGN, amongst others. She has been blessed by our tomato overlords with their coveted seal of approval. Audrey received her BA in film from Clark University and her MA in International Relations from Harvard University. When she’s not watching movies, she loves historical non-fiction, theater, traveling, and playing the violin (poorly).