History is a source of constant fascination for millions of people around the world. Books, movies, TV shows, antiques and vintage items, and even historical reproductions such as costumes and décor are constant bestsellers and hits. Every year, a new crop of films and TV shows set in historical settings, based on real historical events, or adapted from historical fiction, appears. If you are a lover of history in general, take a look at the following current shows that you should definitely be watching! You can lots of these shows in HD with a subscription to DIRECTV satellite television.
No, we’re not talking about the BBC version or the film starring Heath Ledger! Casanova is a new original series produced by Amazon, which is currently being offered up in their pilot season. Casanova is Amazon’s first period drama and is quite different from both previous cinematic versions of Casanova in terms of tone and general storyline. The Heath Ledger film was a swashbuckling romance, the BBC TV series was strictly romantic—and the new Amazon series is more of a straight period drama which doesn’t try to heighten the drama with sword fights or fake storylines. The result is a somewhat slow but ultimately satisfying, particularly for people tired of over the top history shows, period drama.
THE LIZZIE BORDEN CHRONICLES
The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is a TV series continuation of ‘Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,’ a Lifetime series starring Christina Ricci as the titular Lizzie Borden, who finds herself charged with the murder of her father and step-mother. The TV series takes place after Borden was cleared of all charges, but it definitely plays fast and loose—very loose—with history. Some aspects of the show, such as the introduction of a character who eventually becomes Lizzie’s companion, ring true—but the dark family secrets, constant murders by Lizzie, and continuing investigations were all created for added drama.
Poldark, based on a series of novels by Winston Graham, focuses on an 18th century man named Ross Poldark, who returns from fighting in the American Revolution to find that the life he left behind is his shambles: his former grand estate is in ruins, his lover is engaged to someone else, and his father is dead. There was actually another TV series based on the same set of novels produced several decades earlier, however, the new Poldark series is (so far) only based on the first two books in the series, rather than the first four. The series is intriguing, has a premise that promises plenty of drama and heartbreak, and is set apart by its unique setting near Cornish tin mines.
Wolf Hall is based on a book trilogy by Hilary Mantel, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell. The first season of Wolf Hall covered the first two books in the trilogy; the second season is considered to be ‘on hold’ until Mantel publishes her third and final novel in the trilogy. Although Wolf Hall is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, it includes an ensemble cast that should be familiar with anyone with a passing interest in history—Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and all of the other key players during Cromwell’s early career at the Tudor court. The show does have its downsides, such as its tendency to portray Cromwell’s ‘enemies’ in much more negative fashion in order to prop Cromwell up as a better person, it is a worthwhile watch for anyone who loves Tudor history.
Outlander, based on a series of novels by the same name, premiered to almost universally positive reviews from critics. The show, like the original books, focuses on a young nurse working in WWII who suddenly finds herself transported back to 18th century Scotland. As she tries to find a way back to the 20th century, she becomes entangled in a political affair, a forced marriage, and more. Most notably for any book to TV adaptation, Outlander is almost completely faithful to the novels with a few exceptions, such as the increased focus on the husband trying to find his wife and a handful of dramatic additions intended to add conflict to the show’s storylines. The second season of the show, set to premiere in 2015, will take place in 18th century France.
THE SCANDALOUS LADY W
This BBC series will star Natalie Dormer as the titular ‘Lady W,’ and is based on the real-life exploits of an 18th century upper class woman who was the center of a scandalous show trial that was so notorious, George Washington himself requested to read the transcripts. The husband of the titular ‘Lady W’ took one of her lovers to court after he discovered that she planned to run off with him; he sued the lover, claiming that he was owed a huge sum for damages to his property—i.e., his wife. The series is being described as the most scandalous, racy and even sexy TV show to ever air on the BBC, and consider all of the details revealed in the actual ‘Lady W’ trial, there can be no doubt about that. The Scandalous Lady W is expected to premiere in the fall season of 2015.
Downton Abbey is, by now, a staple of period dramas on television. The show focuses on the life and trials of the people who live and work at Downton Abbey, a grand British estate. The show begins in 1912 but will end in the mid-1920s in its final season in 2016. The reason for the show finally ending, according to the show’s frontrunner Julian Fellowes, is that he didn’t want to have to bring any mention of Adolf Hitler or the rise of Nazi Germany into play.
Although Downton Abbey has received some rightfully deserved criticism about its tendency to gloss over the hardships of servant life during that era, it is an interesting, down to earth show that does do its character development justice—for the most part. Fans will be especially interested in seeing how the characters develop over the years, as social changes (serious and frivolous) unfold.