History is the best place to turn to if you want to hear some awesome stories. Tales of courage, of devastation, of wars and love- there is nothing that hasn’t already happened before. While there are many figures who have been so outstanding that the whole world knows their name, there is a greater number of the unsung heroes who are lost in the pages, overshadowed by the achievements of others. Then there is also the case of the people and the things that we have heard of but don’t know much about. This is where TV shows become important.
Whether the story is being told for an umpteenth time, or whether it is the first time that you are being introduced to a certain character, these shows entertain and inform you at the same time. Netflix has a great collection of period shows. Here’s the list of really good historical shows on Netflix right now.
17. Marco Polo (2014- 2016)
Marco Polo is the explorer whom you would have met with in your History books at school. One of the most well-known explorers, he is known for his accounts, especially of Asian countries. This show focuses on the young Polo and his journey across Asia to reach the court of Kublai Khan. His time in the Chinese court and the influence of the culture on him, which was further reflected in his written works, is intricately portrayed in the series.
16. Reign (2013-2017)
Mary, Queen of Scots has been a very compelling character when it comes to her portrayal in films and TV shows. From a very young age, she had been involved in court politics and the power struggle that revolves around the crown. Her character was most recently portrayed by Saoirse Ronan in last year’s ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’. The film focused on the most important time in her life, her rivalry with Queen Elizabeth I, expertly played by Margot Robbie. However, this was just a very small part of her story, and before her fight with the Queen of England, she had already learned a lot from her short experience as the Queen of France. If you find yourself interested in her whole story, ‘Reign’ is the show you must watch.
15. Morocco: Love in Times of War (2017)
Set in 1921 Morocco during the Rif War, this show follows the story of a group of nurses who are sent to establish a hospital in the war-torn area. The nurses are first-hand introduced to the brutality of the war and the things people have to do for survival. They endure every hell they are put through in their quest to save people, and they also discover that love can triumph even in the worst of places.
14. Juana Inés (2016)
This Mexican show follows the story of Juana Inés’ life. She was an intellectual, a philosopher, a poet and a nun, among other things. Being a woman, she had to face opposition and resentment from the Catholic Church for her curiosity to test and know everything. The series focuses on her shadowy past, her quest of intellectual inquiry, the hostility of the society towards her because of her focus on the issues like misogyny and religion, up to the time of her death which occurred while tending to the people taken over by the plague.
13. Black Sails (2014-2017)
Robert Louis Stevenson has created some of the most iconic characters through his stories. His novel, Treasure Island, is one of those works that created its own world- one of the pirates and the treasure hunters. It might seem a very familiar thing now, considering how the theme of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ begins to play in your head as soon as you hear the word “pirate”! However, it was Treasure Island that created the characters which have become a hallmark of being a plundering seafarer. ‘Black Sails’ acts a prequel to that story, and is set twenty years before the events of the novel, following the adventures of the feared Captain Flint.
12. Saints and Strangers (2015)
Thanksgiving is one of the most prominent American holidays. It is also celebrated in Canada and other Caribbean islands, though on different dates for everyone. ‘Saints and Strangers’ is a miniseries by National Geographic Channel which recounts the story of how this tradition came to be. It starts with the voyage that the Protestants took on the Mayflower and landed in Massachusetts in 1621 when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated with the natives. If you are one of those who has heard of this holiday but doesn’t know much about, this show will inform you everything.
11. Merlin (2008-2012)
The legend of King Arthur has been the source of many successful, and some rather disappointing, stories. A lot of other characters appear in this legend, like the Knights of the Round Table, and Merlin, the trusted advisor of the King who helped him take back his rightful position. ‘Merlin’ promises a new perspective of the story, adding new twists and turns to it. Its protagonist is, as you can easily guess, Merlin- a young warlock who comes to Camelot to be the royal physician’s ward. However, the current king, Uther, had banished the magicians from his kingdom a very long time ago. Merlin develops a friendship with the prince, Arthur, and they set about on a journey that will eventually become a legend.
10. The Tudors (2007-2010)
In the 16th century, England was the seat of the House of Tudor. This show focuses on the reign of the second monarch of the dynasty, Henry VIII. He was an eccentric character. While some of his actions would lead someone to believe that he was slightly whimsical, his achievements in the reformation prove him to be a strategic leader. Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the intriguing personality, ‘The Tudors’ begins with King Henry trying to assess the political and religious unrest in the kingdom, while being tormented by the lack of a male heir which leads him on a path that eventually leads to the separation of the English Church from the authority of the Pope.
9. Medici: Masters of Florence (2016- present)
In the 15th century, Florence was governed under the growing influence of the Medici family. The House of Medici was one of the most influential families in Florence, and the Bank of Medici was one of the wealthiest banks in the whole of Europe. Initially, the Medici kept themselves under the label of citizens of Florence, even though they were practically ruling it. It was during the time of Cosimo the Elder, played by Richard Madden, that they truly began their rise to being monarchs. Being a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, if you are still suffering from the trauma of Ned Stark’s beheading and the Red Wedding, then this show might provide you with some comfort!
8. Versailles (2015-2018)
Set in the second half of the sixteenth century, ‘Versailles’ finds its premise in the court of King Louis XIV. France had freshly survived a series of civil wars, known as the Fronde, and the country was still dealing with its repercussions. The nobility had begun to openly demonstrate their resentment with the crown, which made the King feel threatened. In order to gain back the control, he once had over the court and its nobles, King Louis decides to move the court from Paris to Versailles. This displacement places the nobles, and the monarchy, into a new environment where everyone tries to be the winner of the power struggle.
7. Norsemen (2016- present)
The Vikings have been popularised as one of the fiercest tribes ever. Their portrayal in various television series and movies has proved them to be the kind of people you wouldn’t want as your enemies. Their legends and stories have inspired many works, and they are often referenced in various historical dramas. While all these developments have made them quite an exciting topic, it has also fixed their characters as one-dimensional. ‘Norsemen’ dares to change this situation. It is a comedy-drama that focuses on the day-to-day lives of a group of Vikings living in Norheim, and their hilarious attempts to deal with situations ranging from a mundane activity in their life to war with other tribes.
6. Cathedral of the Sea (2018)
Based on the novel of the same name by Ildefonso Falcones, this story is set in Barcelona in the 14th century. It follows the tale of a young boy named Arnau Estanyol who is brought to Barcelona by his adoptive father. The city is going through one of its grandest times. The cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar is under construction, and along with it flows the wave of the Inquisition. Arnau becomes a stoneworker, becoming a part of the construction of the Cathedral. As time passes by, he gets to know his way around the power and politics of the city and himself rises up the ladder. However, intimacy with power also pushes him closer to the dangers that come with it.
5. The Musketeers (2014-2016)
Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ is one of his best-known works. Almost everyone is familiar with its name, and the novel has been previously adapted a good number of times. Set in the 1630s Paris, the BBC series brings the adventurous tales of the Musketeers to life on the screen. For those who don’t know, it follows the story of d’Artagnan, a farm boy whose sole dream in life is to join the elite Musketeers of the Guard. However, as soon as he arrives in Paris, he has a few setbacks that ruin his plans. In this turn of events, he gets to meet the three best musketeers in the whole country- Athos, Aramis and Porthos.
4. The Last Kingdom (2015- present)
Based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, this series is set in the 9th century, during the time of the clash between the Anglo-Saxons and Viking Danes. Its protagonist is Uhtred who was only a young boy when the Vikings attacked them, killed his father, and took him as a prisoner. He was raised by Earl Ragnar, among the Vikings. When he grows up, some other tribe attacks the wedding ceremony of Ragnar’s daughter and he is killed. Uhtred, now a grown man decides to take arms against these attackers to avenge Ragnar’s death, while further contemplating to take back the kingdom from which he had been removed for so long.
3. Outlander (2014- present)
Based on a series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon, this show follows the story of a woman who is transported back in time. In 1946, Claire Randall, who had served as a nurse in the Second World War, is on her second honeymoon with her husband Frank in Inverness, Scotland. One night, they witness a group of women dancing around in what seems like a ritual at Craigh na Dun. The next day Claire visits the place and when she touches the stone, she is transported back to the 18th century, the time of the Scottish rebellion.
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2. Vikings (2013- present)
The Vikings and their gods have been a part of many myths and legends. For a long time, their stories were passed over the generations from word of mouth, and perhaps this is what added to their mystery and intrigue. Ragnar Lothbrok’s name is found in some Norse poetry and literature and he has been described as the great hero of his times. This show follows his adventures, his story of how a common farmer became the king of the Vikings.
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1. The Crown (2016- present)
One of the must-watch contemporary shows, ‘The Crown’ focuses on the reign of the current Queen of England. The Royal family has always been at the focus of media and paparazzi, people being interested in their personal lives as much as they are interested in that of their favourite celebrities’. Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning British Monarch having ascended the throne in 1952, after the death of her father, King George VI. She has been on the throne for about 67 years now, and in all these years, a lot of things have happened to her family and to the world. The two seasons of the show have been magnificently received by the critics and the audience, alike. And its upcoming season, with names like Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter related to it, makes it one of the most anticipated shows of the year.
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