Valentine's Day: My Favourite Declarations of Love in a Period Drama Series
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
Hello my friends, and welcome to this very romantic post. It’s time to get out your candles, some chocolates and maybe some tissues as today we are getting in the Valentine’s Day spirit and admiring some of the most romantic declarations of love in period drama series (as judged by me) (a complete novice in the art of all things romantic).
Perhaps this will give you some inspiration for things to watch on this Friday the 14th (that is, if you’re not lucky enough to be seeing the new EMMA. movie). Even if you’re spending this Valentine’s alone, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a special day if you’d like to. So feel free to join me, a veteran single pringle, and weep into our handkerchiefs at these absolutely adorable declarations.
For this one I am just sticking to four from TV series (there would be way too many if I was doing films too!). It also goes without saying, there are spoilers here!! But I’ve made the titles nice and big so you skip over any you don’t want to see!
Mr Knightley and Emma: The Chance of Succeeding
What I think makes this declaration so special is how we see another side to the characters we’ve gotten to know so well over the previous episodes. In this version, we’ve gotten used to Romola Garai’s Emma, who is confident, sociable, and able to handle most situations with grace (the Box Hill picnic excluded). Mr Knightley, as played by Johnny Lee Miller, is very sensible, and always knows just what to say, whether he is comforting Mr Woodhouse’s nerves, or advising Emma. He always has it together. Well, until this moment anyway.
The scene is set in a beautiful quintessentially English garden. After a failed attempt to avoid him, Emma and Knightley are walking together. And now we see this other side to the characters. Emma is nervous and uncertain, and even stops Knightley from speaking for fear of what he’ll say. If I’ve read the scene right, she thinks Mr Knightley is about to tell her he loves Harriet Smith, because Harriet has led Emma to believe so, and that is what sparks Emma’s revelation that she is actually in love with Mr Knightley.
Knightley meanwhile is in a right mess as he wants to tell Emma that he loves her, but he won’t do it against her wishes. Like Emma says “For once said, it cannot be unsaid!”. Their lifelong friendship will be completely changed. Emma soon changes her mind and tells him to say what he needs to say, because as his friend, she will hear him out. And that, my friends, is when we get the most endearing declaration, that exemplifies the new uncertainty within Mr Knightley and the nervousness we’ve never seen in him before.
“So tell me, have I no chance of succeeding?”
“My dearest Emma, for that is what you have always been, and you always will be. My most beloved Emma. I cannot make speeches. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more”.
The scene ends happily with the pair sharing a kiss and, after a small hiccup, they’re happily married by the end.
North and South (2004)
John Thornton and Margaret Hale: The Train Station
I almost feel like this scene needs no explanation. Everyone I’ve spoken to that’s seen this series knows about The Train Station Scene. It is period drama legend and should be up there with The Rainy Proposal of 2005’s P&P.
Obviously Mr Thornton, played with such force by Richard Armitage, has already confessed his love for Margret Hale back in episode two. He was persuaded by his mother that her act of defending him against the protesters must be repaid with a proposal as the right thing to do. Margaret, however, makes it exceptionally clear that she doesn’t like him and absolutely won’t marry him.
Throughout the next episodes there are so many ups and downs for both characters, Mr Thornton’s business falls under meanwhile Margaret is orphaned and without a home, before inheriting a fortune (and Marlborough Mills) from her late godfather. So when the pair meet again at the train station, their circumstances have swapped right around, Margaret is the flourishing business owner and Mr Thornton is without prospects. And, symbolically, they’re both headed in opposite directions: Thornton up to the North, Margaret back to the South.
What follows is supposedly a “business proposition”, but I’ve never seen any other deal with such chemistry. Margaret begins to explain that she could make an investment in the factory and how this isn’t charity, but a sensible business move. But as she speaks, we see Mr Thornton gazing with The Most Romantic eyes you’ve ever seen and then he makes his move.
This declaration is quiet and subtle and as simple as one hand reaching out to hold another. That one simple action speaks volumes and unveils all the romantic tensions that’s built over the last four episodes and has often been told through their hands. Early on we see their hands brush as Margaret passes a cup of tea, and then they share a handshake as Margaret begins to understand the Northern ways. Now John takes Margaret’s hand and she kisses it. They know. We know.
There is then, of course, the most gentle kiss, which I know is a fan favourite. The couple are only brought back to reality by the imminent departure of Margaret’s train, and she walks off, appearing to board and leave. Poor John is left to return to his own carriage, when he sees Margaret’s reflection behind him. She was in fact just retrieving her case so that she could accompany him back to Milton.
Vanity Fair (2018)
Captain Dobbin and Amelia Sedley: The Piano
By the time we reached the final episode of this much underrated adaptation of Vanity Fair, we had seen Captain Dobbin suppress his feelings for 13 years. It was love at first sight when it came to Miss Amelia Sedley. The only problem: she was his closest friend's fiance.
Throughout the series, Dobbin watched on as Amelia married George Osborne, and was rather ill-used by him as he shamelessly flirted with Becky Sharp. When George died, Amelia was left widowed with an unborn son and in much reduced circumstances. Throughout the years, Dobbin tried to help, speaking to George’s father to persuade him to support Amelia and his young grandson. He then left for India, after seeing that Amelia was still mourning George, and he didn’t want to push her.
Some years later Dobbin returned, after hearing that Amelia was to marry again. When he visited her, he found that she had declined the offer, and he took his chance, the one he had waited 13 years for.
He confessed that he was the one that gave her the piano she cherished (not, as Amelia believed, her husband). What followed was one of my absolute favourite declarations with all the good period drama features: rainfall and suppressed feelings [see Pride and Prejudice 2005).
This scene is done brilliantly by Claudia Jessie (Amelia) and Johnny Flynn (Dobbin) with just the right amount of frustration from Amelia while Dobbin’s confession that comes like a sigh, like a weight lifted off his shoulders:
“Ameila, please. How could it not be me?” (…)
“I have loved you since the very first moment that I saw you” (…)
“That day in Vauxhall 13 years ago. Since then no hour in the day has passed that I have not thought of you”
Unfortunately for Dobbin, Ameila doesn’t take it well. At first she’s naturally quite angry he deceived her and didn’t say anything sooner as her life could have been so different. But, by the end of the episode, she realises that Dobbin has been a great friend to her and her son, and perhaps, that she has loved him longer than she knew. BUT Dobbin is preparing to leave again, after accepting his fate. A quick letter soon sees him sailing back in (genuinely, he comes back on a little boat) to finally be with the woman he loves.
If anyone is the ‘hero’ of Vanity Fair, I think it’s meant to be Dobbin, and we viewers had been rooting for him for a good few weeks by the time of the finale. So it felt right to see this precious bean finally get the happy ending that he deserved.
(I'm so sorry I can't find a gif from this scene! Because it really is divine)
Downton Abbey (2011 Christmas)
Matthew Crawley and Mary: The Proposal
Now this one is no surprise, I’m sure. As soon as I started watching Downton Abbey, Matthew and Mary were my favourite couple, and by the time of the series two Christmas special, I was at the end of my tether with their ‘will they won’t they’ story. I needed them to be together, and if Hallmark movies have taught me anything, there is no better time to confess your love than Christmas.
At the risk of sounding terribly cliche, this pair had been on quite the journey. There had initially been hostility from Mary, but they soon realised they were better suited than they imagined. Matthew even proposed back in the first season, but Mary was hesitant to accept him, as his position as heir wasn’t certain. By the end of series one War had broken out and all hope seemed lost. Things looked even worse when Matthew returned in series two with a fiance, Lavinia Swire. Mary was bullied into a match with the newspaper mogul Sir Richard Carlisle, in exchange for keeping her secret. Matthew was also away fighting in France and it was while he was in danger and later recovering from a serious injury, that Mary realised how much she cared for him. The pair had to keep their feelings quiet, only allowing themselves one dance before Lavinia’s appearance made them feel guilty.
By the time we get to Christmas, Lavinia had unfortunately died from Spanish Flu, and in his grief, Matthew told Mary “We're cursed, you and I". Meanwhile Mary had had enough of Sir Richard (so, it seems, had Matthew, who promptly punched him in the face during this ep) and resolved to break her engagement off, even if it meant her secret was exposed. Seeing the tension between Mary and Sir Richard, Matthew urges her not to marry him and promised her that she would always have a home at Downton as long as he was alive. She then confessed everything to Matthew and her plan to leave for America in the New Year to escape the scandal.
On New Year's Eve Mary stepped outside from the celebrations inside the house to enjoy the peaceful snowfall, and Matthew soon joined her. She expressed her worry that he would now think worse of her, but he assured her that was not the case at all and she didn't need forgiveness for anything.
In a cinematically beautiful scene, the snow continues to fall as Matthew asked Mary to stay. Not just to stay in England, but to stay with him. Mary urged him to think it through:
“We’ve been on the edge of this so many times, Matthew. Please don’t take me there again, unless you’re sure”
He must be certain. And he is.
“You’ve lived your life and I’ve lived mine. And now it’s time we lived them together”
Mary then relaxed and teased Matthew, telling him he must kneel and ask her properly. In the background the beautiful musical theme, the one especially for this couple, starts to build as Matthew gets down on one knee:
“Lady Mary Crawley, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
He is happily accepted, and they finally kiss. The camera pans out to show the wholesome scene: the house, the snow, and a couple embracing as Matthew lifts and spins Mary around. As the credits roll, you feel such a wave of happiness as everything has finally come together for them.
So there we go, I hope you've enjoyed this little voyage into some of my favourite declarations of love. There are so many others I could mention, so maybe this will become a series?
May you all have a lovely Valentine's Day, whatever your relationship status <3
Happy history ramblings,