There are times when you want to watch something that broadens your understanding of society as it is and as it was. At those times certain genres don’t appeal to you, you want some depth and insight, something beyond entertainment – education. While most of the historical series aren’t always a 100% accurate in terms of facts and figures, many do a great job at shedding the light on past events and times that belong to the relics of ages past. Here are some of the best historical TV series of all time.
10 Best Historical TV Series Of All Time
1. The Crown
Very few series do a better job of depicting the life and reign of the current Monarch of the British Empire Queen Elizabeth II than The Crown. Produced by Left Bank Pictures and Sony Pictures Television for Netflix, The Crown was written by Peter Morgan as a sequel to his first movie The Queen.
Starring Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Vanessa Kirby amongst others, The Crown chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II starting in 1947 when her father King George VI (played by Jared Harris) was in power but soon enough Elizabeth ascends the throne and confront the old and wily Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) whose health is failing. The first season also highlights Prince Philip’s feelings of marginalization and the unconventional romantic life of Elizabeth’s sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby). It also sheds light on the life of her uncle Prince Edward (Alex Jennings) who abdicated the throne to pave the way in part to her ascension.
Over the course of three seasons, The Crown is a gripping tale of British Monarch in all its splendor. It won the nomination for Best Television Series in a Drama at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards, Best Drama Series at the American Film Institute Awards amongst a host of other awards.
This is one colossal film! Any list of the Best Historical TV Series will be incomplete without Vikings. Written and created by Michael Hirst, the series chronicles the life Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, King of Denmark and Sweden, during the Viking Age.
Although not devoid of some historical discrepancies, the core of the story remains true – he was a Scandinavian King, and his raids made him the scourge of England and France.
Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) starts off as a simple farmer but over time, evolves into a rallying force for his people in their exploratory raids of distant lands. Other themes such as sex, betrayal, conquest are all depicted in good measure.
3. The White Queen
This story is based around the War of Roses that pitted two factions of the Royal House of Plantagenet: The House of Lancaster and the House of York against each other. The White Queen illustrates the intrigues that play out as three women Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, and Margaret Beaufort try to plot their way to fame.
The White Queen is heavy on romance, Court intrigue, murder, and seduction. The film is set in 1463 when King Edward IV (Max Irons) marries a commoner Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) and the ensuing battle for succession.
Though the movie came in for criticism for a few historical inaccuracies, the reception has largely been favorable with the film getting three nominations at the 71st Golden Globe Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards.
4. Da Vinci’s Demons
This borders between historical drama and historical fantasy, though riddled with a lot of historical distortions to the real Leonardo Da Vinci, the series offers an enthralling ride! Arguably one of the most gifted and interesting figures of the Renaissance era, Da Vinci’s Demons explores his life and inventions.
Starring Tom Riley as Leonardo da Vinci, this plot attempts to portray the enigmatic artist and inventor as a Casanova, swordsman, artist, and inventor. At some point in the story, Da Vinci puts his incredible intellect to create flying machines, build weapons of war for Florence and literally chases a mythologized ancient book.
Produced by Marco Ramirez and Matthew Bouch, Da Vinci’s Demons received favorable reviews, bagging three nominations at the 65th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
5. The Tudors
For starters, it is important to note that a lot of what you will see on The Tudors is not accurate historical facts, but what is not in question however is the suspense, intrigue and sheer entertainment value. Set in the 16th-century England and laced with war, sex, religion, and betrayal, the movie focuses on the life and reign of King Henry VIII.
The cast includes Jonathan Rys-Meyers who does a wonderful job of playing a young King Henry VIII, Sam Neill as the crafty Cardinal Thomas Woolsey, Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More, and Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn.
Written by Michael Hirst and Produced by James Flynn and Gary Howsam, The Tudors was received positively and has been a favorite at the worlds biggest awards. It was nominated for Best Drama Series at the Golden Globe in 2007 and was nominated in seven categories at the Irish Film and Television Awards in 2010.
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Any film that attempts to tell the story of one of Europe’s premier families during the Renaissance era is sure to gain the attention of viewers. Medici recorded between 4-8 million viewers on original airings on release.
The first season, Medici: Masters of Florence begins with the death of Giovanni de’Medici- Patriarch of the Medici family. Prior to his death, Giovanni was one of the most powerful men in Florence. He had built the Bank Of Medici into a powerful force and was expanding his tentacles all through the other cities in Itay.
Upon his death, his son Cosimo steps out of his father’s shadow and pushes to assert his authority over the Florentine Republic. The Bank of Medici had already secured a deal to become the Papal bank and with it comes enormous economic and political power. Though the series isn’t complete yet, it doesn’t take much to see why this will wind up as one of the Best Historical TV Series Of All Time.
7. Marco Polo
While there is a lot of historical movies centered around the British Empire, The United States in its formative stages, there is a shortage of content on the Mongol Empire. So for that reason alone, Marco Polo will always make for a compelling watch.
The series is centered around the life of the merchant and explorer Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richemly), his relationship with the then ruler of the Mongol Empire and founder of the Yuan dynasty Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong). It also chronicles his love life with Princess Kokachin (Zhu Zhu) and the battles with the Chinese.
Unfortunately, Marco Polo was canceled after two seasons by Netflix. Shot on a budget of $200 million, it is one of the most expensive TV shows of all time.
8. The Sixties
If you want to get a handle on one of the most tumultuous periods in modern times then you’d enjoy this historical documentary miniseries. Produced by Tom Hanks, The Sixties premiered on CNN on May 29, 2014.
The plot is built around the characters of three kids from the Herlihys family – a Chicago working-class family. The movie takes the viewer on a journey into the different lives of the children, Katie (Julia Stiles) is the beautiful hippie who gets pregnant and heads off to San Francisco. Her brother Brian (Jerry O’Connell) a footballer in High school, graduates and heads off to the raging war in Vietnam. Michael (Josh Hamilton) joins the civil rights movement right after campaigning for Bobby Kennedy. Then there is the African American Emmet (Leonard Roberts) from the deep South whose father Willie Taylor, a pastor, and civil rights organizer, was shot. The killing of his father spurs him into moving to the city and joining the Black Panthers.
The film weaves the lives of all these characters into the events of the decade in a fascinating and compelling fashion.
9. Little Gloria Happy At Last
When the descendant of one of the richest Americans of all time loses her father at infancy and a custody battle ensues, all that drama is bound to make for a great movie. Little Gloria Happy At Last tells the story of the young Gloria Vanderbilt and the events surrounding her upbringing, the custody battle that ensued between her mother Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (Lucy Gutteridge) and the Vanderbilt family.
The movie was released in 1982 to favorable reception, carting away six Emmy Awards nominations.
10. Turn: Washington’s Spies
Coming in at number ten, Turn: Washington’s Spies, is by no means the least on this list of Best Historical TV Series. Espionage has become an integral part of every country’s security and defense architecture, but not many have heard about Culper Ring – The first spy group in the United States. Turn: Washington’s Spies is based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.
Produced by Larry Rapaport, Mitchell Amstrad, LaToya Morgan, and Alexander Rose, the film is built around Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and his friends Robert Townsend, Samuel Culper who spy on the British Army and report to the leader of the revolutionary Army Gen. George Washington during the War.
The film though fraught with some historical inaccuracies won the Media & Entertainment Award in 2014.