To be absolutely honest with you, I am a complete sucker for a good TV show, and I believe most of you are too as well. Being a little bit of a history geek, I love watching period dramas, even if it isn’t very historically accurate because these shows tend to introduce me to topics I have not explored before.
Here are my recommendations (and short reviews) of some of my current favorite period dramas.
The White Queen first aired on BBC in 2013 and to this day I recommend it to everyone who shows even the slightest interest in period drama. The show is based on three of Philippa Greggory’s books (The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter), and it is about the events in the reign of King Edward IV and his commoner Queen Elizabeth Woodville. The show covers roughly about 21 years in history – from the first year of the reign of King Edward IV, through his reign, the disappearance of the Princes of the Tower and finishes with the Battle of Bosworth and the unsettled fate of Edward’s family and the York affiliation. I have watched this show probably 10+ times and I will keep rewatching it, I love all the characters so much. Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), Anne Neville (Faye Marsay) and Elizabeth of York (Freya Mavor) are just the main part of the faction of women that drive the show and make the story what it is – and this is a story of power, politics, magic and love. While it is historically accurate that women at the time did not have much of a say in what was happening in the world, these strong females fought for their place in the world, plotted and schemed to get what they wanted and were respected as the people pulling the strings behind the scenes.
What I love about the show is the notion that there is magic in the Woodville/Rivers bloodline that is passed down to Elizabeth of York. It amazes me how magic is woven into the essence of the events – if you are familiar with the first book The Lady of the Rivers, Jacquetta Woodville whispers to Henry VI to shut up and go to sleep, and he supposedly goes to sleep and falls into his infamous madness. I am fascinated by Elizabeth Woodville and her determination to get the love of her life and defy the public opinion that she can’t marry the King because she is a commoner. The show portrays little bits of magic here and there and pinpoints how magic influences what happens in the court (Elizabeth is often called a witch). I am quite curious (and have even written a paper) about the notion that the curse introduced in the series about the young lost Princes in the Tower somehow influences the fate of the Tudor rule (
I do believe that someone in Team Tudor murdered the boys ).
A very recent addition to my favorite period dramas but a show I looked forward to for the longest time, is The White Princess. As you might have guessed it is a continuation of the story from The White Queen, again
loosely based on Philippa Gregory’s book. This show continues off from where The White Queen ends and shows the beginning of the Tudor reign in England. Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York to strengthen his claim on the throne of England and Elizabeth plots against him in the beginning, but eventually the dust settles and they fall in love. I absolutely love the characters of dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville (Essie Davis), Queen Elizabeth of York (Jodie Comer), My Lady the King’s Mother / that was her title and she had a lot of power in Henry VII’s court/ (Michelle Fairley) and Margaret Pole (Rebecca Benson). Again, this show is not only about the settling of the Tudor reign in England, but also about politics, love, schemes and magic, and to me it feels like a continuation of The White Queen.
Elizabeth of York is often portrayed as a quiet queen without much of a backbone, but this woman is one of the most important historical figures
(in my opinion). She was a daughter, a sister, a niece, a wife and a mother to kings and she grew up in one of the most beautiful courts in Christendom. Watching her family fall from power, she knows that she would have to marry the new King, whose family took the power from her own, for the sake of the country and peace in the land. I believe the show portrays quite well the complexity of her character (even if some bits are fiction) – she refuses to show fear about the uncertainty of her remaining family’s fate, she refuses to be broken by the ruling faction, she allows herself to humanize someone that has been her war enemy for as long as she could remember, and to fall in love with him is something so foreign to her (as it is foreign to him, and something neither of them expected), and what I thought was most impressive was that they showed that she was a worthy heir of her parents, she was never meant to be Queen of England, yet she became one at very grievous circumstances but she put her upbringing to rule and helped with the establishing of the Tudor rule and protected her children’s legacy. And to be quite honest with you, this is a very small portion of what goes down in this series and to watch characters grow and do unthinkable things and plot to protect their loved ones is always fascinating to me.
Reign finished airing just about a month ago and I already miss it. The show is about Elizabeth of York‘s great granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, and her very turbulent life. The show covers some of the most difficult years of Mary’s uneasy life – from her welcome to the French court to get married to Francis II of France (which lasted only two years), to her return to Scotland to reclaim her throne in the midst of an ongoing religious war between Catholics and Protestants, to Mary’s desire to lay a hand on the English throne, her conflicts with her cousin Elizabeth I, her decision to marry Henry Stuart (producing the future heir for both the English and the Scottish throne, James VI and I) and her brief affair with James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell; and finally,
spoiler her execution.
I have had a very on/off relationship with this show for some reason, but looking back on it now, what I appreciated the most about it is the way women stuck together and formed friendships where rivalries were expected. The women pulled the strings of the complicated courts, they were the power players hidden in the shadows. Mary rises above heartbreak and remains friends with her husband’s mistress. Catherine de Medici schools Mary in the ways of queendom despite the many ups and downs of their relationship, Catherine plots, schemes and pretty much sells her soul to keep the Valois on the throne. Mary’s ladies go through hell, but do not give up their queen. Elizabeth I (Tudor) is in a very politically difficult situation and still tries to keep the peace with her cousin despite everyone’s desire for the cousins to be at each other’s throats.
Has it become obvious to you by now that I really love shows about royalty?
Depicting a woman who grew up very isolated and is suddenly thrust into power must have not been an easy task, but Jenna Coleman did it beautifully. In the show the representation of Queen Victoria as a strong woman who fights to establish her position and steps out of the shadow of the little isolated girl that she grew up being, a woman who falls in love and fights for the person she loves. She is reluctant to share her power with Prince Albert, and she wants to keep her newfound freedom while loving him and I love how gradually she starts seeking a second opinion and companionship because that shows how she learns that there is nothing wrong with seeking a companion while remaining in power.
Season 1 of Victoria does exactly all that, tracing the last moments of the isolated life of young princess Victoria, through her becoming Queen and falling in love, and the season ends with her becoming a mother for the first time.
My last (but in no way least important) suggestion for you to watch in this first edition of period drama recommendations is The Crown. Another powerful woman is in charge (still to this day) but this shows her early days of still being a Princess, the gem in her father’s eye. Princess Elizabeth Windsor in the first episodes is someone you want on your side. She is there for her father the King, trying to learn everything she can because she is aware that sooner or later this will be her job, she demands that she gets a good education after becoming queen and she hires tutors even though that is unheard of (that a fully-grown reigning monarch would be tutored, that is), she demands that her husband is respected and fights with him to respect her. She makes some decisions that cause heartbreak to a person closest to her, but she knows it is for the best in the long run. This is why I love this show – because Queen Elizabeth II is shown in a very complex way – she is a daughter, a woman that demands to be educated, she fights for her family on all fronts and does not get her head in the clouds with power, but rather tries to learn more and more and to gain knowledge not only from her own experiences but of those around her.
Have you seen any of these shows? Do you have any royalty-related period drama recommendations for me?