Historical dramas to watch to pretend you don’t live in this cursed timeline

Lydia McKelvie | Staff Writer

I know that after my passionate endorsement of “The Witcher” you may not want to take any of my TV recommendations seriously anymore, but trust me on this one. I have put in some major time watching historical dramas, and I know what I’m talking about when it comes to these shows. I’m going to give you some historical drama recommendations that, if they don’t make you forget about the cursed timeline we currently live in, may just distract you for a bit.

“Harlots”

Hulu

This show may be my all-time favorite historical drama. The story, the actors, the costumes, even the soundtrack seriously turns it out. The show—three seasons running with a fourth coming soon—is about brothel owner Margaret Wells, and her two daughters, Charlotte and Lucy, clawing their way to the top of the 18th century London underworld. There’s murder, there’s intrigue and there’s some raucous times to be had. The cast is also wonderfully diverse and they go out of their way to tell stories that may have been overlooked before, such as those involved in the vibrant underground queer culture of the time. The costumes alone should be a selling point on this one. Plus, who doesn’t like a good fight-the-system narrative? This show deals with some pretty heavy themes and is extremely graphic, so keep that in mind before you decide to watch it during family night.

“Medici”

Netflix

I wasn’t completely on board with this series at first, but it grew on me after a few episodes. The basic premise seems to be “Hey, what if you made the Medici family hot?” and honestly they seemed to have stopped developing the story there. But, once you accept that the show’s storyline is ridiculous and that complaining about the historical accuracy of a show that makes Lorenzo de Medici look like a Disney prince is futile, it gets significantly easier to watch. Each season follows a generation of the Medici family at an important moment in their rise to power. I’m currently in the middle of season 2, which so far gets points from me for toning down the women’s makeup (not going to lie, I was getting a little tired of Smokey Eyes de Medici), but it gets a point deduction for doubling the number of indistinguishable white boys with brown hair, so it ends up about evening out. Each season has 8 hour-long episodes, and it’s very watchable and fun for a little bit of escapism with some very pretty people. Plus, you might learn some cool art history along the way!

“Turn: Washington’s Spies”

AMC

If you are one of the three people who watched this when it came out, congrats on your American Revolution nerd phase. Yes, we can go to Colonial Williamsburg together when this is all over. This show is about spies in the American Revolution, and intrigue doesn’t even begin to cover what’s going on in the show. The first season starts off a little slow, but once you get into the story it’s really addicting. The actors are mostly from the stage and do some seriously good stuff with the already great script. It’s got fun characters on every side, some great romance and its fair share of pretty people (Seth Numrich is the only person who can pull off those dumb tricorn hats). Also, Jamie Bell is a delight as the world’s most chaotic cabbage-farmer-turned-spy. Give it a watch! I need someone to talk about it with because my friends are tired of it.

“Gentleman Jack”

HBO

Hey, are you tired of historical dramas being all about heterosexual romances? Then you should watch “Gentleman Jack”! It’s a wonderful queer romance set in mid-19th century England, starring the delightful Surrane Jones as Anne Lister, an industrialist, diarist and lesbian (to quote her Wikipedia page). The show does have a bit of a tone issue—“jaunty music” and little Timmy falling off a horse and almost dying shouldn’t be in the same scene—but the concept is fun and the actors clearly really love this project. The show only one season with 8 episodes, so it’s a pretty easy show to binge over a weekend while you ignore the headlines.

“The Durrells of Corfu”

PBS

This show is historical, but one cannot really call it a drama as nothing of significance ever happens in the show. It’s almost like a historical sitcom, featuring the chaotic Durrell family as they move to Greece after the death of their father and spend the entire time having loads of fun. It includes some great new British actors, such as Josh O’Connor—who recently played Prince Charles in season three of “The Crown”—as the unruly oldest son Lawrence who aspires to be a famous author. Matriarch Louisa Durrell (Keeley Haws) struggles to organize her lawless children and rebuild her life. It’s basically like if you took Mamma Mia and set it in the 1930s. This show is total escapism, as there are no consequences or changes at any point for anyone in the show (despite the fact they live in the 1930s, which seems like it would have more problems, but whatever).

There’s my list! This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are just the shows that I enjoy escaping to at the current moment. There are so many historical dramas out there to enjoy from around the world. Plus, it’s basically studying if you think about it! Historical dramas exist at the intersection of escapism and education, and I think that’s beautiful.

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