Last Updated: July 9th
Many of us loathed history in school, but these shows on Netflix are working to make it more interesting than any textbook ever could. They’re doing it by adding a bit of drama, a lot of flair, tons of corsets and court intrigue, murder, machinations, and political power plays. These series focus on key figures and events of the past — revolutions, wars, royal marriages, and deadly plots — bringing them to life through impeccably acted scenes starring some of the biggest names in the industry. And no, just because each of these shows touches on a moment in history does not automatically mean they’re all British.
Here are the best historical TV shows on Netflix right now.
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
At once intimate and sweeping, The Crown presents an inside view of the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II, played by Claire Foy, and the first few years of her reign. John Lithgow is featured as the indomitable Winston Churchill, struggling with the ignominy of age at the end of his career. Churchill’s support and mentorship of Elizabeth, despite his limitations, creates an important emotional center around which various historical events turn. Elizabeth’s relationship with her husband, Prince Phillip (Matt Smith), is also wonderfully explored; his role as consort is one that he by turns delights in and rebels against. The production spared no expense in painstakingly recreating the physical environments and rigid protocols that constrained and defined the royal family. This series will appeal to anyone who enjoys costume drama, but it is also a fascinating exploration of the post-WWII period and the development of a monarch who managed to maintain and even expand the popularity and stability of the British Monarchy against significant odds.
4 seasons, 38 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
I think we can all agree, Henry VIII was not the model of royalty anyone would aspire to, but as sh*tty as the historical figure was, his life made for a fascinating, sexually-charged, politically entrenched TV show. The Tudors took the British monarchy – a crusty, aloof ideal – and injected a dose of soap-opera juiciness to it all with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing the king in question and a host of supporting cast members like Henry Cavill and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer showing off their own chops. Henry was mercurial, easily-enraged, and led by the brain in his pants most of the time, which meant the series featured plenty of scantily-clad rendezvous and epic battle scenes along with the subtler political machinations that took place behind closed doors. It’s everything you could hope for in a period drama.