People often say that we are living in the middle of a golden age in the history of television drama. And some of the greatest of these shows are surely those lush and lavish historical period dramas that take you back in time to relive the dramatic events of our colorful history. So, what better way to learn about the past than to dip into these superbly acted, and ingeniously scripted new historical dramas? Here are 10 of the very best.
Featured on Netflix
Based on the life of the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown first appeared in late 2016 and is set to continue for six seasons of 60 episodes. Filled with powerful performances and extraordinarily lavish cinematography, The Crown has already become a modern classic in the genre.
Featured on History Channel
Vikings showcases the bloody exploits of Ragnar Lothbrok on his way to becoming a king. With four seasons already complete, the Irish-Canadian series is set to continue for another year at least, much to the thrill of its legion of admiring fans.
Featured on BBC and HBO
Rome recalls Ancient Rome’s turbulent 1st century BC change from a Republic to an Empire, with a huge list of strong ambitious characters each playing their part in the greatest political game in the history of the classical world. If you are turned on by stunning visuals and salacious drama, Rome is a fine choice.
Featured on Showtime
Dealing largely with the life of Henry VIII, king of England, founder of the Church of England, and famous serial husband, The Tudors has it all. A collaboration between American, British, Canadian, producers, The Tudors showcases the very best in modern English language historical drama, bringing the fascinating stories of our collective past to life.
Featured on ITV and PBS
Of all the shows on this list, Downton Abbey is probably the most successful, becoming one of the world’s favorite television broadcasts ever since its 2011 release, right up until its 2015 finale. Following the fortunes of an aristocratic Yorkshire family and their staff between 1912 and 1925, the show takes on all the big historical stories of the age, such as the sinking of the Titanic, and the First World War.
Featured on Showtime
The Borgias were one of the most famous families in all of Renaissance history, and if you want to learn all about their political and ecclesiastical story, this lavish TV show is the best place to do so. The show ran from 2011 to 2013, and was canceled largely due to the extraordinary expense required to make it. Jeremy Irons stars with a wonderful performance of Pope Alexander VI.
Featured on Amazon Prime
Outlander starts out with a nurse living in 1945 who’s transported back in time to the rugged and romantic era of the Jacobite risings in 15th century Scotland. Based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, this US-UK production has received rave reviews from critics and fans alike, who adore the breathtaking Scottish scenery, romantic stories, and riveting political machinations.
Featured on The CW
Reign is a highly-fictionalized re-imagining of the troubled life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was a figure who has ignited the interest and admiration of countless people over the centuries, and this teenage, coming-of-age series never fails to live up to the billing. If you are looking for something escapist and fun, rather than deep and intricate, Reign is a fine choice.
Featured on BBC, A&E, Lifetime, History Channel
This six-part adaptation of the world-famous Tolstoy novel came out in 2016, bringing the Russian story to a newer audience. The show received enormously high praise from critics in Britain, with The Telegraph claiming it was 5th greatest show in TV history, saying “It is safe to say that this is the greatest TV costume drama of the past decade and has raised the bar in a genre for which we (the British) are already renowned all over the world.”
Featured on HBO
Set during prohibition-era Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire is a rare historical drama in that it has nothing to do with Great Britain at all! Yet, it’s probably the best of the lot. Starring Steve Buscemi as a corrupt politician, the first episode directed by Martin Scorsese was made at a cost of $18 million. Following five awesome seasons, Boardwalk Empire finally ended in 2014.
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