Love being swept away by a fantastic TV show set in the past? These days, some of the greatest shows on the small screen take place in history (even if it's a fictional history). Lucky for us, there are plenty of options to dive into. In celebration of the wild success of Netflix's "Bridgerton" — more on that next — Wonderwall.com has assembled a list of shows that make us wish we could travel back in time… Kicking things off is the PBS "Masterpiece" series "All Creatures Great and Small," which debuted in America in January 2021. The seven-episode show stars TV newcomer Nicholas Ralph as veterinarian James Herriot and is, like the original British series of the same name that aired in the 1970s, based on real-life veterinary surgeon James Alfred Wight's books written under his James Herriot pen name. It beautifully chronicles James's adventures as an animal doctor on the farms and in the homes of England's Yorkshire residents in the 1930s. Good news for fans: Season 2 is already in the works. Now keep reading for more of our favorite period dramas you won't want to miss…
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"Bridgerton" — the series executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and Chris Van Dusen that debuted on Christmas Day 2020 — is based on author Julia Quinn's popular book series. The lush show follows the exploits of the wealthy, large and aristocratic Bridgerton family as they navigate love, gossip and scandal on the marriage market in Regency-era London. Within a month of its release, it had become the streaming service's biggest show ever: Netflix revealed that it had been watched by 82 million people — 41% of its global audience of 200 million — in its first 28 days online. Season 2 — which will follow eldest brother Anthony's attempts to find his viscountess — is in the works…
The PBS Masterpiece series "Miss Scarlet & the Duke" debuted in early 2021. Kate Phillips — you know her from other killer period shows like "Peaky Blinders" and 'The Crown" — stars as Eliza Scarlet, the brilliant, plucky daughter of a renowned London private detective who, with the reluctant and occasional help of family friend and Scotland Yard detective William Wellington (aka the Duke, played by Stuart Martin), and despite being a woman in Victorian London, takes over the family sleuthing business after her father turns up dead.
Next up? One of our favorite crime families from across the pond! Cillian Murphy stars on "Peaky Blinders" as Tommy Shelby, a calculating gang boss-turned-politician in Birmingham, England, in the early 20th century who's determined to expand his family's criminal enterprises. Fans are eagerly awaiting season 6.
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Considered one of the sexiest dramas to date, "Mad Men" starring Jon Hamm as ad executive Don Draper was a martini-drenched look at the world of advertising in New York during the 1960s. The Emmy-winning show ended in 2015 and now all seven delicious seasons are available on Netflix.
The latest offering from "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes is "Belgravia." The drama, which debuted in the States on EPIX in 2020, is based on his 2016 novel of the same name. The six-episode series focuses on the scandal-plagued Trenchards, a family newly ascended to the aristocracy, as they navigate 19th century London high society in the wealthy neighborhood of Belgravia.
"Outlander" — the STARZ series based on Diana Gabaldon's bestselling book series — kicks off as English military nurse-turned-surgeon Claire Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) mysteriously disappears from her life and husband in post-World War II 1946 upon touching ancient standing stones, only to reappear in Scotland in 1743. While there, Claire is forced to marry warrior Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan) for protection, but ends up falling in love with him as they go on to endure unspeakable tragedies along with inspiring triumphs. So far, this action-packed romantic fantasy-historical drama, which is now set in pre-Revolutionary War America following a few more time-traveling adventures, has left us with our knickers in a serious twist. Season 5 debuted in 2020 and season 6 is on the horizon.
"Beecham House" is a gorgeous six-part drama from Gurinder Chadha (who wrote and directed "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Bride and Prejudice") that debuted on PBS's "Masterpiece" in June 2020. Set in the late 1700s, the lush series follows a principled and secretive British former soldier (the dashing Tom Bateman, who's known to some for his acting in "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Vanity Fair" and to others as actress Daisy Ridley's real-life fiancé) desperate to keep his family safe after moving into a stunning mansion in Delhi, India. The drama — which has been favorably compared to "Downton Abbey" (and coincidentally co-stars Lesley Nicol, who played cook Mrs. Patmore on the older PBS show) — follows his life as it intersects with all the gossip and intrigue swirling amongst the servants caring for his home and at the nearby palace.
In 2019, HBO released the third and final season of "The Deuce." Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as baby-faced prostitute and single mom Candy, the series, which also stars James Franco as twins Vincent and Frankie Martino, dives deep into the world of sex trafficking and pornography in New York during the 1970s and '80s.
Set in the 1700s, "Frontier" tells the story of Declan Harp (played by Jason Momoa), an outlaw with big plans to break into the Canadian fur trade business, even if that means crossing the company that has exclusive control. Netflix renewed the show for a second season before the first one even dropped and then wrapped up the show with a third season in late 2018.
Celebrated author Jane Austen died in 1817 before she could finish her final novel, which was set in a seaside town in England. "Pride and Prejudice" and "Les Miserables" screenwriter Andrew Davies took what she had and ran with it in the 2020 PBS series "Sanditon." The beautifully costumed and acted love story follows Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), the daughter of a rural landowner who finds herself drawn into the drama and excitement surrounding the aristocratic inhabitants of an on-the-rise beach holiday town. Admired by many — including new friend Miss Lambe, a mysterious West Indian heiress, and ambitious construction foreman James Stringer ("Victoria" and "Beecham House" heartthrob Leo Suter) — Charlotte soon finds herself fighting with and falling for wealthy and hard-to-crack Sidney Parker ("Divergent" series star Theo James).
The historical drama "Poldark" begins just after the American Revolutionary War and follows British Army captain Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner) as he returns home to his land and mines in Cornwall, England, to find his fiancée engaged to another man. As he builds a new life, he also finds a new love and, unfortunately, new battles to fight and fresh heartbreak to endure. The fifth and final season aired on PBS in 2019.
Claire Foy starred as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on the Netflix original series "The Crown" when the award-winning historical drama kicked off set in 1947. The series chronicles the fascinating journey of the longest reigning current monarch in history through her marriage to Prince Philip, her early years on the throne and the choices (and sacrifices) she makes to become one of the most legendary queens the world has ever known. Season 3 — which showcases a new cast including Olivia Colman as the queen and "Outlander" star Tobias Menzies as Philip in their middle-age years — hit Netflix in late 2019.
One of the hottest shows on Hulu is "Harlots." Starring Samantha Morton as brothel madam Margaret Wells and Danny Sapani as her lover and business partner William North (both pictured), the show kicked off with the antics of rival brothel owners Margaret and Lydia Quigley (played by Lesley Manville) in 18th century England as they battled for customers and turf. Along the way, there's murder, deceit and (of course) a whole lot of sex. Actors including "Downton Abbey" alum Jessica Brown Findlay, Liv Tyler and Alfie Allen have also starred on the series, which aired season 3 in 2019.
Set in the early 1900s, "Downton Abbey" told the story of England's aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who worked on their sprawling estate. Starring Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Joanne Froggatt, Laura Carmichael (pictured) and more, the show became the most popular series ever to air on PBS, and with good reason — the overflowing elegance was tempered with tawdry romance, betrayals, blackmail and even murder. The show was rebooted for the big screen in September 2019 with a "Downton Abbey" film — it opened at No. 1! — that chronicled the king and queen's visit to the family's estate.
Pedro Pascal (left) and Boyd Holbrook (right) starred on the Netflix original series "Narcos" as two drug enforcement agents sent to Colombia to take down notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. The first three seasons of the biographical crime drama are available on Netflix, as is the first season of "Narcos: Mexico" — a companion series that charts the rise of the Guadalajara drug cartel in the 1980s and stars Diego Luna, among others. A second season of "Narcos: Mexico" was released in early 2020.
The coolest thing about NBC's "Timeless" was that it was sort of a period piece, but also a modern drama. The premise? A rogue bad guy has stolen one of two secret government time traveling machines and is intent on destroying every major moment in American history. To stop him, a ragtag team played by actors including Matt Lanter (left), Malcolm Barrett (center) and Abigail Spencer (right) must follow the madman and try to catch him before he permanently changes the past. The series was canceled after its first season but fans rallied together and got the show picked back up by the network for a second run. However, it was then over for good after a two-part finale aired in late 2018.
Alexander Dreymon stars as Uhtred of Bebbanburg on the BBC America and Netflix historical drama "The Last Kingdom." Uhtred was born into Saxon nobility but raised by the Danish invaders who conquered his homeland. Although brave and just, Uhtred struggles with his allegiances and with his desire to reclaim the kingdom that was once his. A fourth and final season will premiere in 2020.
The 2016 miniseries reboot of "Roots" was a powerful look at the legacy of slavery from the moment of capture through the generations of family members that followed. Michael Kirby starred as Kunta Kinte on this History channel semi-biographical journey that was as uplifting as it was heart-wrenching.
"11.22.63" is the small-screen adaption of the Stephen King sci-fi historical thriller about one man's journey back in time to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The 2016 Hulu show starred James Franco as Jake Epping, a modern-day high school English teacher who is suddenly charged with the task of changing history by walking through a secret time portal into the past.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers starred as King Henry VIII on the Showtime original series "The Tudors," which aired from 2007 to 2010. The show highlighted the wars and many women (including Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn) in the life of this notorious British monarch. Based on real-life events, the historical drama featured more scandal than a modern-day soap opera. (Just ask Henry Cavill, who played the king's duke bestie, Charles Brandon.)
Sometimes the hype is well-deserved and that's absolutely the case with the Netflix original series "Stranger Things," which stars a fresh-faced cast of child actors including (from left) Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard and Caleb McLaughlin. The premise of this dramatic thriller is complicated, but it involves a terrifying land called The Upside Down, the 1980s, children who've disappeared and a telekinetic little girl named Eleven (played by the brilliant Millie Bobby Brown). Word of warning — don't watch this show alone. Or with the lights out. The show's third season aired in July 2019 and a fourth season is on the horizon.
Norse mythology comes to life on the History channel's 2013 drama "Vikings," which starred Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok — one of the greatest Viking warriors of the ninth century. A 20-episode sixth (and final) season debuted in late 2019.
Based on the real-life political figure Enoch L. Johnson, "Boardwalk Empire" was a lush, award-winning HBO original series about how "Nucky" (played by Steve Buscemi, right) came to rule over Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the 1920s and 1930s by covertly working with other gangsters. The Prohibition-era series ran from 2010 to 2014.
In 2017, the fourth and final season of "Turn: Washington's Spies" aired on AMC. It starred Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull (aka Samuel Culper), the leader of a band of spies called the Culper Ring. This historical war drama, which was based on real-life events, started in 1776 and followed Abe and his friends as they worked together to spy for General George Washington, helping his fight for American independence.
One of the wickedest shows set in late-17th century Massachusetts was "Salem" starring Lucy Lawless (left) as the magical Countess Marburg and Janet Montgomery (right) as Mary Sibley, a woman of means and political power who also happens to be the head witch in her coven. Interestingly, the show, which premiered on WGN, was loosely based on real historical figures from the infamous Salem witch trials, although the writers took liberties with the characters (and endowed many with supernatural powers). It was canceled in 2017 but all three seasons are available on Netflix.
"The Get Down," which debuted in 2016, barely made it past its first season on Netflix, but we think the series, which starred Jaden Smith as Marcus "Dizzee" Kipling, deserves a nod. Set in the Bronx in the 1970s during the birth of hip hop, the show (which was Oscar nominee Baz Luhrmann's first TV show — and reportedly Netflix's most expensive-to-produce project ever thanks to a $120 budget for 12 episodes) didn't just feature powerful performances but some amazing music too. Netflix wrapped things up with a five-episode second part in 2017.
Another drama loosely based on actual historical figures is the CW series "Reign," which told the story of young King Francis II of France (Toby Regbo, right) and his young bride, Queen Mary Stuart (Adelaide Kane, center) in the mid-16th century. Filled with all the intrigue, drama and deceit of a royal court, the show managed to hold its own for four strong seasons before being canceled in 2017.
Though "Game of Thrones" is not technically a period piece — it's a fantasy series set on a different world — so many elements so closely resemble the late medieval period that we're willing to let that technicality slide. The epic HBO show that starred Kit Harington (left) as brave warrior Jon Snow, Isaac Hempstead-Wright (center) as young Bran Stark and Richard Madden (right) as Robb Stark back on season 1 followed the lives of the would-be rulers of the Seven Kingdoms, including the adversaries who will stop at nothing to destroy them. Add to the mix a couple fire-breathing dragons and a growing army of walking dead and you'll see why fans couldn't get enough of this award-winning series. Sadly, the final season of "GoT" ended in 2019 to mixed reviews.
Leave it to Netflix to remind us that "Marco Polo" isn't just a fun game to play in the pool in the summer, but the name of a real explorer. The show ran for two seasons starting in 2014 and focused on the time Marco (played by Lorenzo Richelmy) spent in Mongolia in the court of the great warrior Kublai Khan in the late 13th century.