Monday, December 30, 2013

Enjoying Television Series with Some History

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
I love history, and I love to watch television shows that deal with history.  It seems that great series come in waves; we have had some great shows from the 70s, British comedies from the 80s, and what seems to be the HBO Golden Age.  PBS Masterpiece Theatre has been a constant presence for great shows with an historical slant for decades.  Perhaps, my bias shows, but many of my favorites are British in origin and aren’t necessarily the most historically accurate. 

Upstairs, Downstairs & Downton Abbey

These are two different British series that are part of PBS Masterpiece Theater but have a great deal in common.  Both showcase British life and class system at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Both series have a soap opera quality but real life events and attitudes of the time are incorporated into the show.  Plus, both are really well acted and written.

The Black Adder

Okay, this isn’t exactly historically accurate and you must be a fan of British humor to really appreciate it.  The Black Adder is a series set over different time periods for each season.  The first season is about setting the record straight about Richard III, the second season is set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the third season is set during the Regency, and the fourth season is set during World War I.  Watch it for the great humor rather than pure history.  However, I dare say you will still learn some history.


This is a great British series that came to America thanks to HBO.  It was the beginning of what would become a long string of wonderful historical dramas to air on pay-cable.  As the name suggests, action takes place during the turbulent transition from Roman republic to autocratic empire.  The series was very well done and introduced a new generation to Julius Caesar and Octavian Augustus.   

Other Must See Series

The Tudors—British drama about King Henry VIII. You get to see a young Henry and all his wives are showcased.

The Borgias—British drama following the Borgia family as they rise to power in the Roman Catholic church.

The White Queen—British series set in the time of the War of the Roses. 

Deadwood--Set in the late 1800s in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. 

DaVinci's Demons--The "untold" story of Leonard Da Vinci in Renaissance Florence.  

Reign—CW series on Mary, Queen of Scots.

So, what are your favorite series that have a history theme?   

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