Historical dramas, like any other television show, can either be extremely successful or wildly disappointing. Some provide a deep insight into the real lives of important historical figures or events.
Some flourish in taking said historical figures or events and turning them into a complete work of fiction. But for those who love historical dramas, for whatever the reason, tend to find great enjoyment from experiencing firsthand what happened so many years, if not centuries ago.
From the notorious reign of King Henry VIII to the drama between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, these are 5 must-watch historical dramas that can appeal to nearly anyone.
1. The Tudors (Showtime)
Beginning our list is one of the most popular historical dramas that started it all, The Tudors. Almost everyone knows or has at least heard of King Henry VIII of England.
He was the man who single handedly changed the course of English history by separating from the Catholic Church, all for his want to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. There is no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that Jonathan Rhys Meyers was born to play King Henry VIII.
Every action, whether it be him screaming at the top of his lungs or providing a rather steamy gaze towards a particular female, was beyond what I could define as perfection. He’s not alone in this department.
The four-season run show had an extremely memorable cast which included, Henry Cavill, Natalie Dormer, Peter O’Toole, James Frain and Sam Neill. Keep in mind that the show does contain minor violence and sexual content.
Personally, I had stopped watching due to all the sexual content that seemed to overshadow the grandeur of the show. However, if you can make it past all that, you’ll find that there was more to Henry than just his sexual appetite.
Plots, war, friendships, and perhaps the best part, a true deep dive into Herny VIII and his plethora of wives, make it a must-watch for anyone who loves history and wants to know more about one of the most controversial rulers in history.
2. The Empress (Netflix)
I had written about The Empress previously for Show Snob, so I will try to avoid heavy repetition. The Netflix series, which is German (don’t worry there are several dubbed versions), tells the story of how Emperor Franz and his wife Empress Elisabeth met and fell in love.
Ironically it was spontaneous, practical love at first sight scenario. The two barely spent any time together before Franz knew he wanted to marry Elisabeth, choosing her over her sister (whom everyone wanted him to marry).
Franz is the uptight, focused yet easily manipulated (especially by his cruel mother) ruler, whereas Elisabeth is as free and strong-willed as they come. The two fall head over heels in love, however, the stresses of royal life, the manipulative members of high society (Franz’s monstrous mother as we already mentioned), and the constant struggles of being both ruler and spouse, are threatening to split the young couple apart.
Out of all the historical dramas mentioned on this list, it is The Empress that will most likely infuriate viewers the most. Why doesn’t Franz kick his mother out of the palace at this point?
Why doesn’t anyone listen to Elisabeth, who is honestly, the most intelligent person in the palace? Why can’t Franz and Elizabeth simply work together and shut out the rest of the world?
When you get past all those stresses, which may stress you out as a result, you’ll find that Philip Froissant (Franz) and Devrim Lingnau (Elisabeth) make an unforgettable acting duo. Season 2 has been renewed; however, we’re awaiting further details about the next season.
If the show continues to follow the story of the real couple as intended, Franz and Elisabeth might not get a happy ending. Which reminds me, you will most likely cry a lot, as many may find a lot of the drama to be all too relatable.
Evil mother-in-law anyone?
3. Victoria (Amazon)
From one historical drama about a power couple to another, Victoria follows the lives of the extremely popular and influential Queen Victoria of England (Jenna Coleman) her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). They too, like Franz and Elisabeth, have a very strong and passionate love, often threatened by their lives as royals.
However, where Franz and Elisabeth fail to communicate, outside the bedroom, Victoria and Albert literally feel that they must address each other and their concerns. Yes, it leads to arguments but at the end of the day, they wind up resolving their issues.
Victoria prides itself throughout all three seasons to tell the story of how she rose to power, while learning and quickly abolishing her relationship with toxic relatives. It is Victoria’s very strict upbringing that makes her feel powerless until she takes the throne.
However, her constant fear of being powerless is often misdirected at Prince Albert, who simply wants to be a supportive husband. While Queen Victoria had controversies of her own during her reign, the show also touched upon often forgotten, but still important women’s issues, such as postpartum depression.
Unfortunately, just as Victoria’s reign was really heating up, the show came to an abrupt end and thus far season 4 is nowhere in sight. However, viewers will have three seasons to enjoy, which includes both the good and bad times of the royal couple and England itself.
4. The Borgias (Showtime)
As with The Empress, I too touched upon The Borgias already. But no matter how long it has been since the three-season series aired on Showtime, my love and passion for it never waned.
The series follows the real-life Borgia Spanish family who changed the course of Italian history. Father Rodrigo becomes Pope Alexander VI and with that power does what any noble or rich family did at the time, secure futures for his children, mainly sons Cesare and Juan and daughter Lucrezia.
While the family has been unfortunately known for their less than stellar reputations, which include rumors of incest, the show is able to balance that with some of the best drama you’ll ever see in a historical drama. The cast is stocked from the likes of Jeremy Irons, Joanne Whalley, Colm Feore, Sebastian de Souza, Holliday Grainger and Francois Arnaud.
Every actor works extremely well off of each other, creating unforgettable scenes, no matter how tragic or victorious. Like The Tudors, The Borgias will have scenes of violence and sexual content, however, I found the sexual content to be far less prevalent compared to The Tudors.
Most sexual content is relevant to the plot and doesn’t feel like a time waster. Keep in mind like every historical drama on this list, there will be a fair share of historical accuracies and inaccuracies.
However, that just means you’ll be that much more interested in learning more about the notorious family once the end credits role.
5. Boardwalk Empire (Hulu)
Last but not least is HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Unlike the other historical dramas on this list, this show is rather modern, taking place in the 1920s just when Prohibition begins.
The setting is Atlantic City, New Jersey, where its quite the time to be alive. The heavy influence of gangsters could be felt and seen around every corner, meaning creating allies is more important than ever.
This is especially true for main character Nucky Thompson played superbly by the legendary Steve Buscemi. He truly does not get enough credit for his role.
Alongside Nucky is his right-hand man Jimmy (Michael Pitt), his love interest Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) and allies such as Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and brother Eli (Shea Whigham). But where Nucky has friends, he also has foes, from the likes of agent for the Bureau of Prohibition Nelson (Michael Shannon) and gangster Gyp (Bobby Cannavale).
As far as characters are concerned, well let’s say, you may find their sudden or random demise familiar with that of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. But that is the kind of impact the show has on its viewers.
You’ll adore some characters, root for others (in my case Richard), and despise the ones you detest. Boardwalk Empire ran for five seasons however, I did find that the last two seasons weren’t as strong as the first three.
I do not know if new writers were brought in or if they simply gave up altogether. But if you watch you will notice how vastly different, even frustratingly different, the final two seasons are compared to the first three.
Keep in mind that this is a very violent show and doesn’t shy away from sexual content. Overall if you love the 1920s and everything that goes along with that time, you’ll truly enjoy Boardwalk Empire.
Which is your favorite historical drama TV show? Share your answers in the comments below!