By Alice Fournier
There is nothing quite like procrastination: we all love it, we all hate it, but why not hate it a bit less by making it useful? And better yet, by turning our brains into a semi-on/semi-off mode whilst watching other people’s very complicated lives. History nerds, here comes your period dramas list, brought to you by a professional “active procrastinator”.
- The White Queen (2013)
This is perhaps one of my favourite television series ever. That can also be because I had my “Tudor phase” and was overly excited for anything having to do with Medieval England. Regardless, Rebecca Ferguson brought Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England in troubled times, to life: her beauty, her intelligence, and her determination (with a substantial amount of power lust) made her one of the essential figures of the War of the Roses. England in the 15th century was not exactly a holiday destination, much less London: war divided the overarching House of Plantagenet into two smaller factions; the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Who won? Just watch.
- The White Princess (2017)
Like its prequel, The White Princess is adapted from the novels of Philippa Gregory, and as novels, they should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, the sequel does justice to the prequel in the sense that the same themes are reprised in different ways. Much like I admired Ferguson’s performance, I admired Jodie Comer’s. As they say: like mother, like daughter; a statement that this series faithfully followed. The similarities between the two women are striking, especially as the plot develops, and yet subtle differences gradually show. There’s one mishap that always infuriates me though: Ferguson does not reprise her role as the White Queen, and, although well-played, it did not quite feel the same way with a different actress playing her part.
- The Tudors (2008-2010)
We come to the one that started it all. Little personal story: History used to bore me to death in high school, until I laid eyes on Anne Boleyn (and yes, Natalie Dormer in all her brunette glory definitely helped). With four seasons, each with ten episodes, you can do a proper bit of binge-watching, all the while learning some interesting stuff on Tudor England. I personally loved the entire show, with the first three seasons being my favourites; but then again, I’m partial to Dormer. In terms of costumes, it could have been done better (if you want a reference for 16th-century costumes, you can watch The Other Boleyn Girl, with Natalie Portman), but it does not take away from the (many) plots and the admirable work of the actors.
- Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Yet another favorite, Anne of the Thousand Days has all the beauty of vintage films. Geneviève Bujold in the role of Anne Boleyn, much like Dormer, brings out the wild, temperamental and brave side of the queen. I would also recommend watching it for those of you who enjoy historically accurate costumes, some are truly magnificent!
- Versailles (2015-present)
As a Frenchie, you can’t escape feeling a little bit of pride when you see Versailles. And then you quickly understand all its underlying narratives: corruption, murders, poisons, costs, loose morals … What I liked about this particular show was that it did not hesitate to show us the darker sides of each character, especially Louis XIV.
I have to mention another movie that rivals Versailles: Le Roi Danse (2000). The advantage of a series is that it can afford to go into much more depth than a movie, hence why people tend to prefer them. But movies can say a great deal in a limited time, and Le Roi Danse is definitely one of them.
- Harlots (2017-present)
Harlots is a brutally honest depiction of the lives of 18th-century prostitutes. It starts off in London in 1763, if my memory is good, and from there, Lucy and Charlotte Wells guide you through their day-to-day activities as renowned prostitutes. We are swooped in the intricacies of a conflict between two brothels, where women with nothing more than their wits and talents wage a ruthless war. We were speaking of historical accuracy earlier: this one definitely is, right up to the language. You might not hear old English, but you’ll hear the popular accent of London, served with splendid costumes, and a good deal of humanity; all on a silver plate.
- El Gran Hotel (2011-2013)
Netflix is a little gem when it comes to period dramas, just like El Gran Hotel is a little gem of Spanish talent. If you thought you’ve seen a complicated family before, check again, because this is as complex as it gets, all set in early 20th-century Spain. The Alarcon family is a mix of love, intrigue, murder, and power grabbing like you’ve never seen before. And I need friends to vent my hate on a certain character so please watch and spill the tea.
- Ekaterina (2014-2017)
We are heading away from France, Spain, and England to… Russia! There we meet young Ekaterina, known in History as Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias. I was never as mad as when YouTube took down the series. That’s how good it is. Authoritarian, very clever, beautiful and determined, the Ekaterina depicted in this series truly blew my socks off.
There are obviously many, many more period dramas out there, some more classic than others. This list comprises more recent, lesser known, shows but I also encourage all of you to (re)watch Elizabeth, Dangerous Beauty or The Last of the Mohicans, and every other historical piece that made your childhood seem just a tiny bit more epic.
Alice Fournier, Class of 2020, is an Art History and History Major from Aix-en-Provence, France.
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