If, like myself, you’re a sucker for historical dramas, you’ve been chomping at the bit for the next big hit—especially now that Downton Abbey has made its final bow. (RIP, but at least Lady Edith got her happy ending, am I right?) That means the moment you heard about PBS’s miniseries Victoria–based on the book by Daisy Goodwin and starring Dr. Who’s Jenna Coleman!—you, also like me, have been waiting with bated breath caught in the tight confines of a corset.
Well, call me your majesty, because I have the scoop on Victoria for you! PBS sent me a screener, I devoured it like a box of chocolates, and it is everything you could want in an historical drama and then some. Here are six period dramas you can watch and, of course, my thoughts on Victoria herself, which premieres on PBS January 15.
I confess, I knew next to nothing about Queen Victoria before starting this series. But in the first episode, we learn a lot: Alexandrina Victoria, as she is still named, is still a teen, but has known since she was very young that she would become queen when the king, her aging uncle, dies. When we first meet Victoria, she finds out that day has come, and in Coleman’s hands, her transition from young girl into monarch with the burden of the world on her shoulders is subtle and nuanced. She resents the influence others try to have on her, rejecting her mother and Sir John Conroy, who wish to control her, and forming a perhaps inappropriate, but super fun to watch, attachment to her prime minister instead. One moment Victoria is composed and eloquent, and the next…she gets too drunk at a coronation ball and flirts with her most trusted advisor, Lord M. The tension between them is almost instant, and makes it immediately that Victoria’s personal happiness will often be at war with her monarchical duties. Full of lush ball gowns, gilded palaces, and some great upstairs-downstairs drama, this miniseries is your first 2017 obsession. I can’t wait to see what Victoria will do next.
I JUST discovered this historical drama based on a series of novels about a British soldier named Ross Poldark who comes back to his small seaside town of Cornwall after fighting on the losing side of the Revolutionary War to find many things have changed. His father has died, leaving his mine and inheritance in shambles. And even worse, the woman he loves—the woman who promised to wait for him—is engaged to his cousin. Ross decides to spurn the gentry class that has betrayed him and open one of the barren mines, giving hope to the poor in Cornwall…and along the way, he meets a pauper girl, Demelza, and finds a second chance at love. Poldark is a gasp- and swoonworthy drama about legacy, class, love, and the catastrophe (and joy) that can happen when they all collide. (Also, Ross Poldark is gorgeous. You’re welcome.)
The White Queen
Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, this historical drama begins in the midst of the War of the Roses between the Lancasters and and the Yorks—and features three women caught in the middle of the bloodshed, beauty, and love. Elizabeth Woodville’s husband fought and died for King Henry, but when he is defeated, she marries King Edward as part of a deliberate (and possibly magical) plot to gain power. Margaret Beaufort’s son was supposed to succeed Henry on the throne, but with him gone, she plots in the darkness to take back her power. And Anne Neville, daughter of the King’s most trusted advisor-turned betrayer, becomes first a pawn in her father’s game to take the throne, and then a villain herself. Soapy, sexy, and full of drama!
How could I not put Outlander on this list? When Clare Fraser inadvertently travels back in time from 1945 to the 1770s, leaving her husband behind, she’s soon forced into matrimony (for her own protection) with Highland warrior Jamie Fraser, and is torn between the world and man she’s growing to love and the magic and duty that pulls her back toward her old life. The third season of the TV adaptation arrives in spring, so make sure you binge seasons one and two before Jamie Fraser’s perfect face graces our TV sets again.
This is one of my favorite lesser-known historical dramas, which opens in 1874 and chronicles a family’s downfall when issues of class, love, and most importantly, vengeance, come to a head. Damien Lewis plays Soames Forsyte, who becomes obsessed with Irene Heron, despite her lower class. After a loveless, abusive marriage, betrayals, and decades of separation, he cannot let her go. Forbidden love runs rampant in this series, and you will love every second of hating the villainous Soames.
We’ve all heard of The Tudors, of course, but Wolf Hall, based on the book by Hilary Mantel, tells the story of King Henry’s divorce from Katherine and resulting marriage to Anne Boleyn from a different perspective: that of his adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Thomas is an historical antihero of a different sort—he did not grow up in the gilded halls of Buckingham Palace. He’s the son of a poor man, who rose up in the esteem of the Cardinal…and who, when the Cardinal fell from grace, rose from the ashes to take his place as King Henry VIII’s most trusted adviser. Full of class tension with five-star acting from Damian Lewis as the King and Claire Foy (who now stars as Queen Elizabeth on Netflix’s The Crown!) as Queen Anne. Rich and beautifully created, with drama in spades.
If you’re into British history, you’ll love this adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays starring some of Britain’s best actors, including Tom Hiddleston, Ben Whishaw, and Jeremy Irons (with cameos by Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and Hugh Bonneville, as well as Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch!). The Hollow Crown follows four of England’s most infamous monarchs as they try to keep power out of the hands of their enemies. This series is great if you’re into battle scenes and performances so perfect you won’t mind that romance takes a backseat.