Dark Academia Film/TV Romance

Recommendations for the romantics.

Nothing puts me in an autumn mood like re-watching all my Dark Academia favourites, especially the romantic ones that have me emotional and sobbing by the end. I love empathising with the dramatic plot twists and harrowing love pains the characters live through. I swear, after a dark romance movie, I go about the rest of the day in a dramatic haze as if I just lived through it all myself. It’sactually quite nice to be touched so deeply by a story, and I fully commit to that.

Some people believe Dark Academia to be an extremely narrow subculture that is strictly about overworking yourself in an academic institution while trying to be part of some elite group. I personally see Dark Academia as a much broader subculture that centres around a passion for academic knowledge and classics, spiced with a healthy amount of darkness and melancholy. If you want to think of Dark Academia in more restrictive terms, consider this; even if you study in an ivy league uni and be part of some clique, it won’t last forever. You will eventually graduate and go on to other things. Does that automatically mean you are no longer living the Dark Academia lifestyle? No, meaning it’s up to you and the lifestyle you create for yourself. You absolutely can live a Dark Academia existence even if you are no longer in school, even if you never went to school!

With that in mind and without further adieu, here is my list of Dark Academia films and series recommendations, romance edition.

“When the day shall come that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’ -Ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” -Outlander

If you haven’t seen Outlander (2014-present), you are in for a treat! Six glorious seasons and more coming Outlander tells the story of a young English woman who accidentally returns in time and finds herself in Scotland in 1743. Surrounded by brute highland warriors, she tries to navigate a new existence as a modern woman with advanced knowledge of medicine (and many other subjects) at a time when people still fully believed in things like bloodletting.

This brilliant series is in the romance section because of the epic love story that develops between her and one of the highland warriors. The heroine’s brave and unsubmissive character triumphs among savage warriors while she observes the future (her past because she is a time traveller). The men in this series are very much of the time, yet they manage to come off funny, chivalrous and at times even vulnerable. If you are a fan of period pieces, history and great plotlines, then I’m almost certain you will love this one. Outlander is a must-watch drama/adventure/romance, and I will challenge anyone who says otherwise.

Dark Academia themes:

  • Georgian-era Great Britain
  • Academic knowledge of medicine and history
  • Mystery

“Listen to me. If you ever raise a hand to me again, James Fraiser, I will cut out your heart and eat it for breakfast, do you understand me?” -Outlander

Mary Shelley (2017) is another romantic period drama but is actually based on a real person. Mary Shelley was the author of several works, most notably the classic book Frankenstein. Mary was also married to one of the major English Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The movie is a story of a passionate romance that is disapproved by her parents and one girl’s growth into her own person despite hardship. The entire movie is filmed in fog, nighttime or rain, accompanied by fireplaces and red wine. The film is bursting with the agony of youth, yet the main character does develop an unexpected maturity that can only be obtained by deep self-reflection. I find it fascinating to follow the main character’s development from an airy, passionate teenage girl consumed by love into a solemn, heartbroken woman. Oh, how the object of idolization turns to sour disgust, as it often does with fast love.

Expect this dark teen dream to inspire with its poetic vibes and satisfying ending. I know I feel like writing poetry every time I watch this movie. Plus, the casting is good, with Elle Fanning in the lead, whom I adore.

Dark Academia themes:

  • Victorian-era Great Britain
  • Classical poetry and literature
  • Overall dramatic gloominess and self-development

“It’s the story of us. Here lies the lineage of an ancient tribe known as the Bright Born. Their power, boundless as the night. Their love began with absence and desire, two hearts becoming one. When fear overcame them.” -A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches (2018-present) is a fantasy series about a curious woman, a historian by trade, who discovers a magical manuscript from a local university library. A witch herself, she tries to unravel the mysteries of the manuscript, thus attracting the attention of witches, vampires and demons. This series is based on a book series I have read, and I can confidently say that the series is better than the books (although the first book in the trilogy was very good).

The series screams Dark Academia from tweed clothing to filming locations like Oxford and London. The main character is a book-obsessed academic who practically lives in the library. Insert a tall, handsome vampire, and you have the perfect Dark Academia romance. That said, A Discovery of Witches is not a teen drama but follows characters mostly in their 30s (although vampires are, of course, ageless).

The series is reasonably fast-paced and interesting so if you get excited after watching it and want to move on to the books, allow me to offer you a word of caution: Do not read the books unless you are into a slow-pace, endless details and historical facts (in a major way).

Dark Academia themes:

  • Aesthetic in clothes and locations
  • Secret societies and mystery
  • Academic study

“This spring, I came home heart sore and soul withered. Then I met a gentle stranger whose society revives me. With her, I feel like I could live again in a higher, purer way.” -Jane Eyre

Talking about passionate romantic over-the-top heartbreaking movies, I proudly present Jane Eyre (2011). Many movie versions have been made of the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but honestly, I haven’t been able to finish many of them due to mediocre acting or lack of chemistry between lead actors. This 2011 version with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is everything you could ever ask from a Dark Academia period romance and more.

The movie follows the tragic story of an introverted young governess who captivates the heart of her horribly rude employer, who is hiding a devastating secret. The is so much more to this movie, but I will restrain myself from saying too much in case you haven’t seen it yet (or read the book). Just keep tissues nearby because this one will make you cry like a baby.

The movie is mainly filmed in Derbyshire, UK. For those who have no clue where that is just think of national parks with rolling hills, hedges and historic woodlands. Add agonizing unfulfilling love to these majestic sceneries along with harsh northern winters and candlelight, all the things a dark period film is made of. Because of the disappointment I experienced with many of the other movie versions, I think it’s worth mentioning that the chemistry between the actors in this version is convincing. The overall acting is not only great but touching.

Dark Academia themes:

  • Based on a classic British novel
  • Regency-era Great Britain
  • Overall gloominess and self-development

“I’m not speaking to you through mortal flesh. It is my spirit that addresses your spirit, as it passes through the grave and stood at God’s feet equal. As we are.” -Jane Eyre

Set in Victorian England, the mini-series Fingersmith (2005) tells the story of two women, a thief and an heiress, whose lives intertwine because of a sketchy man.

This movie has beautiful sex scenes between the two women filmed through the female gaze. None of that male-corrupted porn imitation here. Honest tenderness mixed with that wild female nature results in soul-shivering agonising need. The love depicted in this movie is not straightforward or pure but becomes twisted by lies and deception on everyone’s part. That said, the movie successfully conveys genuine feelings and leaves us thinking, what if.

The main male character is necessary to the story but oh so offputting. He brings an element of toxic male dominance and oppressiveness to the story that is constantly looming in the background, ensuring the love story between the two women has no space to bloom. So tragic.

In short, Fingersmith is a dark tale of passion and betrayal with some truly amazing acting as a cherry on top. I highly recommend this movie even if you are not usually into lesbian-themed movies.

Dark Academia themes:

  • Victorian-era Great Britain
  • Gloomy with secrets and deceit
  • Sapphic

If I’d have said I love you, she’d have said it back. And then everything would have been different. I might have saved her. I might have found a way to keep her from her fate.” -Fingersmith

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