These Sexy Period Pieces Will Make You Wish You Were Born In Another Era

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The trailer for Tulip Fever is too sexy to be shown on television. Since it’s not guaranteed the movie will actually ever come out, we’ll have to settle for seeing the the one sexy frame that caused the trailer to be banned from Fox. Clearly, the people of Fox don’t have respect for one of cinema’s most specific and most wonderful sub-genres: The sexy period piece.
What is it about elaborate costumes, accents, and strict societal stratification that leads to such passionate love stories? Easy: These steamy tales are all about breaking rigid confines, about desire's triumph over society, about corsets ripping off and bodies being freed to explore.
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I don't know about you, but I want my love stories set to lush music, and my characters bombarded with upwellings of earnest emotion. Generally, modern day romance movies feature meet-cutes, marital woes, misunderstandings that are eventually resolved with a kiss. They’re not sweeping, they’re not grand. It’s period pieces that are home to the life-defining love stories, the kind that you remember when you think of the word "love."
That's why we hope Tulip Fever comes out eventually. The world will never have enough stories of illicit love set back in the day.
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Original Sin (2001)

The Period: Late 19th Century Cuba under Spanish rule

Let's get something out of the way early. Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas are good actors, but Original Sin is a bad movie. That said, it is a sexy movie. In the film, Luis Vargas (Antonio Banderas) is delighted to find that his mail-order bride, who's just been shipped from Delaware to Cuba, is far more beautiful than her picture had indicated. Within no time, he and Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie) have consummated their marriage. What follows is many incidents of stripping off clothes, soaked from the Cuban heat and from desire, and, of course, a lot of betrayal.
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La Reine Margot (1994)

The Period: France in 1572

The trouble begins when Margot's (Isabelle Adjani) mother, Catherine de' Medici (Virna Lisi), forces her to marry a Huguenot man in an effort to bring peace to the warring Catholics and Protestants in France. But Margo doesn't love her new husband, Henri de Bourbon (Daniel Auteuil). She loves the dashing soldier La Môle (Vincent Pérez), and she'll have him. When you're royalty, you can't just go and have an affair with a soldier and not expect anyone to notice — especially during a time of such great political turmoil. Let the murder plots ensue.
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The English Patient (1996)

The Period: An Italian monastery and the Libyan desert during WWII

A burn victim is found wandering the desert. He can speak English, but doesn't remember much else. While being treated in a secluded monastery in Italy, parts of Laszlo de Almasy's (Ralph Fiennes) life come back to him, all of which he tells to his French-Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche). Laszlo recalls his cartography mission in Libya not so many years ago, and the married American woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) he meets on his trip. What follows is a love story as memorable as Titanic and Casablanca.
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Wide Sargasso Sea (1993)

The Period: Jamaica and England in the mid 1800s

Charlotte Brontë gave us Jane Eyre's side of the story in her novel, Jane Eyre. You know how it goes: Governess falls in love with her boss, finds out he's keeping a mad wife in the attic, and eventually gets over this skeleton in his closet. This movie, adapted from Jean Rhys novel of the same name, gives voice to Rochester's neglected wife. She begins as Antoinette (Karina Lombard), an heiress in Jamaica, and ends as Bertha, a woman in the attic.

The chemistry between Antoinette and Rochester (Nathaniel Parker) is palpable. The film was originally given an NC-17 rating, before it was switched to an R.
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Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996)

The Period: 16th century India

Two girls grow up side-by-side in a secluded palace in India. One, Princess Tara (Sarita Choudhury), is groomed for a lifetime of royalty. The other, Maya (Indira Varma), will serve Tara for the rest of her life. Their relationship is upended after Tara marries King Raj Singh (Naveen Andrews), and the King falls for Maya instead. The movie's named after the Kama Sutra, so expect lots and lots of one thing.
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The Lover (1992)

The Period: 1929 French Indochina

Sometimes you want to hear characters say lines like, "I'm going to die of love for you," while lush orchestral music plays. Follow that instinct, and watch The Lover, the story of a French teenager (Jane March) who begins a torrid affair with an older Chinese man (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Along with their passion is the knowledge that their passion can't last, lacing every scene of desire with desperation, too.
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Like Water For Chocolate (1992)

The Period: Mexico at the turn of the 20th century

Tita (Lumi Cavazos) and Pedro (Marco Leonardi) are madly in love, but there's a problem. According to Tita's family's tradition, the youngest daughter of the family must remain unwed and take care of her mother for the rest of her life. Instead of marrying Tita, Pedro is forced to marry her eldest sister, Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi). So devastated is Tita that, when cooking, she unlocks a secret power. Her emotions are translated into the food. During the wedding feast, which Tita prepares, everyone sobs. Like Water For Chocolate is part love story, part allegory for the Mexican civil war.
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The Age of Innocence (1993)

The Period: Elite social circles of 1870's Manhattan

Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is good at doing what people expect of him. That's why he's marrying May Welland (Winona Ryder), a suitable match. When May's cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), arrives back in New York after a failed marriage abroad, Newland's entire sense of the world is upended. He looks at her unconventional behaviors, and realizes the world has far more possibilities than his stuffy, conservative society would like him to think. They fall in love, naturally – but is love enough to abandon everything Newland has ever known?
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Stage Beauty (2004)

The Period: 1660s London

Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) has made a career of playing Shakespeare's women. Maria (Clare Danes) wants nothing more than to have a professional acting career as well, but is forbidden from taking the stage due to a Puritanical law. Luckily for Maria, the king's mistress is a big fan of hers. After some maneuvering (aka seduction), King Charles II pronounces it's illegal for men to play women's roles onstage. So — Ned is out of a job, and has an identity crisis. Maria realizes that Ned is far more talented than she is, and he helps her hone her technique. Though whether Ned's more exaggerated techniques, or Maria's naturalistic style, is ultimately better is up to you to choose.
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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

The Period: A small village in postwar Sicily

It's Rome in the '80s, and Salvatore Di Vita (Salvatore Cascio) is a renowned film director. He decides to revisit his tiny Sicilian hometown after hearing the town's film projectionist, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), died. What follows is cinema's most tear-jerking, nostalgia-inducing walk down memory lane. Salvatore recalls his childhood love for cinema, his first love, and coming-of-age in a town recently ravaged by war.
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Shakespeare in Love (1998)

The Period: Elizabethan London

College would be more fun if all English majors had the bee-stung lips and lashed eyes of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) in Shakespeare in Love. In this Academy Award-winning classic, Shakespeare uses his affair with a noblewoman, Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), to kick-start his creative process. Shakespeare in Love might not tell the historically accurate story of how The Twelfth Night was written, but it tells the version you'll remember.
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Belle (2013)

The Period: 1770s England

In this movie inspired by a true story, a British admiral abroad (Matthew Goode) fathers a child with a Black woman. He brings his daughter, Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) home to be raised with his aristocratic mother and father. Dido grows up marginalized, not quite accepted by her peers. Then, she meets a vicar's son (Sam Reid), who aspires to change the perceptions that had so hurt Dido, and countless others, in the past.
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Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

The Period: The royal court of 18th Century France

You've probably seen Cruel Intentions, a movie based on the same source material as Dangerous Liaisons. But Dangerous Liaisons has elaborate French costumes and an all-star cast. Instead of admitting they love each other, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) decide to ruin the lives of many people through games of seduction and manipulation. After her lover leaves her to marry a younger woman (Uma Thurman), the Marquise challenges the Vicomte to seduce her. While on his mission, the Vicomte is distracted by another young woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), for whom he begins to develop actual feelings.
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Casanova (2006)

The Period: 18th Century Venice

Casanova (Heath Ledger) has a reputation around town. He's seduced the entire female population of the city, and while he gets a thrill from his adventures, his heart hasn't moved an inch. That is, until he meets Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), a noblewoman who spends her days writing illegal feminist books under a pseudonym.
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