Sometimes you just want to remove yourself from the present and immerse yourself in the past, taking a break from all of your everyday stresses and problems, and period/historical drama television series are a perfect way to do this. Who doesn’t want to live in a castle with lavish dresses and attractive suitors? Or fight in a war that will decide the future of a whole country? No matter the reason why, people simply love period dramas.
Luckily, as the entertainment industry and technology become more advanced, TV shows have the ability to create more realistic depictions of historical events, allowing creators the freedom to explore even more of the past on screen. In the 21st century, some of the best television series have been historical dramas, like Vikings and Spartacus, or largely inspired by the past, like Game of Thrones’s clear Medieval influence. For fans of this TV genre, streaming platforms are the best place to find these series, and Netflix in particular has a lot to offer. Here are plenty of great television shows for people looking for a new historical period drama to binge.
The Queen’s Gambit
It’s probably safe to say that almost everyone knows about The Queen’s Gambit already, but it needs to be highlighted on this list. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit is based on Walter Tevis‘s 1983 novel of the same name, telling the story of a young chess prodigy named Beth Harmon. The show takes place in the 1950s and ‘60s, focusing on Beth’s journey to becoming an elite chess player in an extremely patriarchal society, battling addiction and depression on top of sexism. The show also stars Bill Camp, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Moses Ingram in supporting roles. Said to be one of Netflix’s most-watched original series, The Queen’s Gambit won 11 Emmys in 2021, as well as two Golden Globes, and Taylor-Joy has gotten particularly strong praise for her leading performance.
Outlander actually explores several different time periods throughout the seasons, but the majority of the story takes place in Scotland in the 1700s. Following Caitríona Balfe as former World War II nurse Claire Randall, the show starts in 1945 while she is on a honeymoon trip with her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), until an encounter with standing stones at Craigh na Dun sends Claire back to 1743. There she meets a young Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan, and they soon fall in love, as Claire attempts to navigate a period of history that she knows can be very dangerous. Outlander has been going for five seasons now and it’s an amazing series, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, now’s the time.
Based on Margaret Atwood‘s 1996 novel of the same name, Alias Grace is a fictionalized portrayal of the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery by their household servants Grace Marks and James McDermott, and the TV show specifically focuses on Grace. Starring Sarah Gadon as Grace, Alias Grace plays out on two timelines — one showing an investigation by a psychiatrist named Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) who Grace tells her story to, and flashbacks to Grace’s upbringing and the events leading to the murders. Throughout Alias Grace, you never really know if Grace is telling the truth or manipulating her story to win Jordan’s favor, and the show will have you constantly switching back and forth as to whether you think she’s guilty. A fantastic critique of societal issues throughout the 1800s, Alias Grace is a haunting watch.
One of the few comedies on this list, Derry Girls is a critically-acclaimed, fan-favorite series created by Northern Irish writer Lisa McGee. The series features a group of friends attending a Catholic girls’ secondary school in Derry, Ireland during the conflict known as the Troubles of the 1990s. Despite that going on in the background, Derry Girls is nonstop hilarity, with the talented Saoirse-Monica Jackson leading the cast as Erin Quinn, a smart yet prideful teenage girl who dreams of being super popular. Thankfully, her extreme confidence is always held in check by her friends, which includes her eccentric cousin Orla McCool (Louisa Harland), the troublemaker of the group Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), the meek Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan) who always questions their bad plans, and Michelle’s English cousin James Maguire (Dylan Llewellyn). It’s hard to explain the absurd adventures that the group goes on, but simply put, Derry Girls is a must-watch.
Troy: Fall of a City
As you might’ve been able to guess by the title of the series, Troy: Fall of a City is about the Trojan War in the 13th century BC. Starring Louis Hunter as Paris, the prince of Troy, the story focuses on his love affair with Helen of Sparta, played by Bella Dayne, the wife of King Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong). Troy: Fall of a City recounts the 10-year war that resulted from the couple’s affair, showcasing both the human and divine drama, with the Greek gods playing a major role in the story. With beautiful costuming and production design alongside great acting, the series has all the drama and action that you’d expect from a show about the Trojan War. Unfortunately, there was only one season of Troy: Fall of a City, but that makes it a quick binge.
Coming from South Korea, the television series Kingdom became a global hit for Netflix when it first premiered in 2019. The show is set in a fictional version of the classic Joseon period, likely at the beginning of the 1600s. At the center of the story is Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), whose kingdom turns to chaos after conniving political enemies attempt to keep the king’s death a secret by using a mystical resurrection plant on him, which turns him into a rabid, diseased zombie. As the king bites and spreads the sickness to others within the country, putting everyone at risk, Prince Chang goes on a journey to find the origin of the disease and put a stop to it, soon running into a physician named Seo-bi (Bae Doona), who wants to do the same. So far, Kingdom has two seasons, with many people eagerly awaiting news of the third. A special episode called Kingdom: Ashin of the North came out in 2021, explaining how the zombie plague got started. Kingdom has plenty of action and intense zombie-based scenes, while also depicting layered drama based around the politics of the time period and Prince Chang’s kingdom. Honestly, this is another series that everyone needs to check out, and you might as well catch up before Season 3 finally arrives.
Anne with An E
Based on the classic story Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne With An E is about the beloved character Anne Shirley, played by Amybeth McNulty, a teenage orphan who is adopted by the Cuthbert family of Green Gables farm. Set in the 1890s in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, Anne faces bullying and prejudice both from the Cuthberts and her classmates, slowly finding true friends and acceptance from the community. Anne has always been a beloved character to many, and Anne With an E is a fantastic adaptation. Dalila Bela plays Anne’s closest friend, Diana Barry, while Lucas Jade Zumann plays Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s rival in school who she holds a grudge against because of his teasing. Over time, the two become friends, and possibly more. The Netflix series had three seasons before Netflix cancelled the series in 2019.
Mr. Sunshine is a Korean drama set in the late 1800s in Hanseong, which is modern-day Seoul. Lee Byung-hun stars as Eugene Choi, a Korean man born into slavery who escaped to the US after the United States expedition to Korea in 1871, a historical event that is known in Korea as Shinmiyangyo. Eugene grows up in America and becomes a Marine, but at the start of Mr. Sunshine, he is finally traveling back to Korea for a mission. While there, he meets and falls in love with an aristocrat’s granddaughter named Go Ae-shin, played by Kim Tae-ri who also starred in The Handmaiden. As with any star-crossed lovers, they face multiple challenges in the form of class differences, the presence of Ae-shin’s betrothed, Kim Hui-seong (Byun Yo-han), and the rising tension with the Japanese in the years immediately before the Japanese Annexation of Korea, as the Righteous Army fights to keep Korean independence. Mr. Sunshine perfectly blends the dense history with serious romance, and it’s an all-around great series.
Turn: Washington’s Spies
If you are more into period television shows having to do with American history, Turn: Washington’s Spies is definitely for you. The AMC series is based on the book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. The story focuses on the Culper Ring, which was a network of spies that was active during the Revolutionary War. Set between 1776 to 1781, Turn: Washington’s Spies stars Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull, one of the founding members of the Culper Ring, as he and his friends come together to gather intelligence and help the American side of the war. As the revolution continues on screen, Turn: Washington’s Spies is a thrilling, adventurous drama worth checking out.
A Netflix Original, Cable Girls is a Spanish series set in the late 1920s, focusing on the introduction of the National Telephone Company in Madrid that will hire women as switchboard operators, pay them reasonably, and allow them some freedom not granted by more traditional jobs. The series stars Ana Fernández, Nadia de Santiago, Blanca Suárez, and Maggie Civantos as four women who start working at the company for various reasons, with Cable Girls exploring the challenges of women in Spain at the time due to sexist beliefs of what a woman’s role is in society. Expect a lot of romance, intrigue, and drama throughout the show’s five seasons. Netflix’s first Spanish original series, Cable Girls was a huge success, and the series concluded in July 2020.
As the title suggests, Versailles is all about the city of Versailles, and in particular, the construction of the beautiful Palace of Versailles as commissioned by King XIV of France. Set after 1667, the people of France have begun to turn against the monarchy, so King XIV, played by George Blagden, decides to move the French court — the center of politics and high class in France — to Versailles, where he has a huge and elaborate estate built. As the castle slowly goes up and French funds go down, King Louis XIV starts to lose control of his country, as everyone around him vies for power and influence. While everything falls apart in Versailles, the rich elite always deliver on intricate, fancy fashion and lust-filled manipulations, so there’s always plenty of drama throughout the series. Versailles has three seasons total available to watch now.
A few years after Khal Drogo met his demise on Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa moved on to another intense drama called Frontier. Set in the late 1800s in Canada, Frontier chronicles the North American fur trade and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s attempt to maintain a corrupt, enforced monopoly on the business. Momoa plays a character named Declan Harp, a outlaw who is half-Irish and half-Cree — which is one of Canada’s largest First Nations — who challenges the Hudson’s Bay Company’s control. Harp is unafraid to do what it takes, no matter how violent, to remove the company’s hold on Canada and the country’s biggest business. Frontier is gritty and thrilling, and a perfect watch for someone who dearly misses Drogo and his intense nature.
Starring a cast of brilliant actors that includes Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, and the late Helen McCrory, who sadly died of cancer earlier this year, Peaky Blinders is easily one of Netflix’s best original series. The show is set in Birmingham, England right after World War I, focusing on the illegal activities of the Shelbys, an Irish-Romani gangster family led by Murphy’s Thomas Shelby, who have big plans to expand their influence. Of course, there are a lot of other people vying for control of England, but the Shelbys never back down. Over the course of the series’ five seasons so far, with the sixth and final season coming soon, Peaky Blinders has featured many fantastic actors in supporting roles, including Sam Neill as the corrupt Chief Inspector Chester Campbell, Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons, the leader of a Jewish gang in Camden Town, and Adrien Brody as Italian-American gangster Luca Changretta. A lot of characters and story is inspired by real-life figures and events of the period, and the series has earned critical acclaim.
For people more inclined to watch medical dramas, Charité is a German series about the Berlin Charité hospital in 1888 and beyond, when the work going on there was on the cutting edge of medicine. The show stars Alicia von Rittberg as Ida Lenze, an orphan who receives life-saving care at the hospital, becoming a nursing assistant in order to pay for her treatment. Over time, Ida becomes more interested in the work being done at the hospital, with big dreams of overcoming the sexism of the time to become a doctor herself. Charité also focuses on a handful of doctors at the hospital who are working on major patients like Crown Prince Friedrich, while also attempting to develop a cure for tuberculosis and other difficult conditions and diseases. If you find that you like Charité, there is a sequel series called Charité at War, which takes place in 1943 with a whole new cast of characters.
Although you are probably already familiar with the Netflix Original hit series Bridgerton, the show is a period comedy-drama created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes. The show is set in Regency-era London, during the social season when young women eligible for marriage are presented to society. At the center of Season 1 is Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), who meets Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), a very desirable bachelor who doesn’t plan to get married anytime soon. Daphne and Simon make a deal to pretend to be courting each other, so that Simon will stop feeling the intense pressure to marry, while Daphne makes the other suitors jealous and interested. The first season of Bridgerton was generally praised by critics, especially due to the racially diverse casting, and a second season is on its way.
Another well-known period drama, Downton Abbey takes place in the 1910s and ‘20s focusing on the Crawley family of aristocrats. Starring Maggie Smith as the matriarch, Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, with Hugh Bonneville playing her son Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, and Michelle Dockery as her granddaughter Lady Mary Crawley, Downton Abbey shows the drama and social maneuverings of the upper class, contrasted by the everyday duties and challenges that the full staff of the Downton Abbey estate go through while working for the Crawleys. The show has an extensive cast of talented actors that includes Dan Stevens, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Lily James, and more. Overall, there are six seasons of Downton Abbey, along with one film and a second on the way.
Okay, so this series is definitely not the most historically-correct on the list, but it’s thoroughly entertaining. Reign is a CW series that ran for four seasons from 2013 to 2017. The show stars Adelaide Kane as Mary, Queen of Scots, as she travels to marry her betrothed, Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), thrust into the world of the French court that’s filled with seduction, influence, and constantly shifting alliances. Beginning in the 1550s and beyond, Reign definitely takes creative liberties in adapting history, with one example being Francis’s inclusion for three seasons, as the real prince died at the age of 16. Throughout the seasons, Reign deals with intensifying issues between Catholics and Protestants, Mary’s issues with Queen Elizabeth of England, played by Rachel Skarsten, and her drive to reclaim the throne in Scotland.
A new miniseries in 2021, Halston stars Ewan McGregor as the title character, an American fashion designer who rose to prominence in the mid-1970s due to his innovative designs. The television series is adapted from the book Simply Halston by Steven Gaines, which goes in-depth into the upbringing and rise to fame of Halston, born Roy Halston Frowick, who became known for clean fashion that commonly used cashmere and suede. Halston also features Rebecca Dayan as Elsa Peretti, Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli, Bill Pullman as David J. Mahoney, Gian Franco Rodriguez as Victor Hugo, and more. McGregor’s performance in the series gained much praise, and he won an Emmy for his work.
Selena: The Series
Focusing on another iconic cultural figure, the Netflix Original show Selena: The Series stars Christian Serratos as the famous Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla, who had a meteoric rise to fame in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Coming from a family of musicians, Selena was a singer from a very young age, and she was quickly noticed for her talent. Although she faced racism and sexism in the industry, Selena continued to gain fans, accolades, and influence, with what would’ve likely been an even more monumental career cut short by her tragic death in 1995. Selena: The Series came out on Netflix in two parts, showing her start in the music industry all the way to when she was at the top of her career. As it’s a drama show, the series includes her troubles with romance, management, and fame, mainly focusing on her career, but the show covers her death and the aftermath as well.
The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom is a historical drama about the formation of England from the ninth century and beyond, telling the fictional story of a man named Uhtred, played by Alexander Dreymon, born an Anglo-Saxon who is adopted by the Danes, also known as the Vikings, in his youth. As an adopted member, a lot of the Danes lack trust in Uhtred, making him an outcast in his new home, while the Anglo-Saxons won’t take him back due to his time with the Danes. Uhtred must prove himself a capable warrior and leader, and make a decision on whether he is Anglo-Saxon, Dane, or a unique combination of both. The Last Kingdom has plenty of exciting battles, allies and enemies, and handsome warriors to interest pretty much anyone.