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Often dripping with palace intrigue, featuring characters that speak in British accents (despite being set years before Britain was even a thing) it’s hard not to love these shows; either just as an escape from more modern dilemmas or as a way to view history through a modern lens.
I decided to take a look back at some of the historical dramas I’ve enjoyed in the past. Here are my personal top five favourite historical dramas that are worth checking out:
5. Medici, Netflix
There’s just something to love about Renaissance Italy, probably because it’s one of the most fascinating times in history. Never was there so much beauty intertwined with so much death and intrigue. While masters of art like Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli were roaming the streets of Florence and Rome, conniving monarchs and religious leaders were waging war. Medici focuses on a particularly influential family from that era. Bankers to the papacy and coveters of fine art, the Medici work to solidify their hold on Florence, while other noble families seek to usurp them. Three seasons are available on Netflix, each one focusing on a particular era of the family’s turbulent reign. A highlight is the brutality of the Pazzi Conspiracy inside the Florence Cathedral in season three.
4. Borgia, Netflix
Back to Renaissance Italy. This time focusing on much more despicable crimes. Focused around Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI (John Doman) and his family of misfits, Rodrigo attempts to solidify power around the Vatican and uses his children to do so. Full of corrupt dealings, murder, assassinations, affairs and incest, it’s perhaps the most challenging of the historical dramas I’ve seen — but it’s also hard to stop once you get on that ‘one more episode’ train.
3. Band of Brothers, Crave (HBO)
Tense and breathtaking — Band of Brothers made major waves when it released, bringing the production values normally reserved for the cinemas to the small screen in 2001. Focusing on Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, from their gruelling training stateside right up until the end of the Second World War, Band of Brothers remains a harrowing look at the brutality and camaraderie of war. Follow-up series The Pacific is also available on Crave, which focuses on the Pacific theatre through the lens of the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
2. Rome, Crave (HBO)
Although a bit dated around the edges, HBO’s 2005 series Rome is a masterclass in portraying ancient civilization and the brutal conditions people lived under. Primarily through the eyes of two common Roman soldiers, the audience is taken through the most (in)famous period in Roman history — the ascension of Julius Caesar following his conquest of Gaul and the transition from Republic to Empire. Our two protagonists bump shoulders with some of the most prominent figures of the era and are witness to all of the intrigue, war and literal backstabbing. What makes Rome so worth watching to this day is the authenticity of the setting. The splendour of Rome is wiped away and its gritty texture is able to come through.
1. The Crown, Netflix
Yeah, you probably saw this coming, but Netflix’s flagship show is just so bloody brilliant. Starting out when Queen Elizabeth II is thrust into leading the British monarchy following her father’s death. What makes The Crown so watchable is the performances and the attention to detail. I’ll admit that I never paid much attention to the modern monarchy, it all just seemed like a rather dull affair – pomp and circumstance for pomp and circumstance sake. Turns out there was much more going on behind the scenes than I realized. But it’s not tabloid-crazed shock drama on screen, it’s nuanced and genuine. Deeply human. Even post Claire Foy in the leading role (who was excellent by the way, do not skip season 1 and 2!) The Crown manages to deliver gut punches of emotion while also honouring the era. In season three’s best episode, Aberfan, a horrific disaster strikes a Welsh town and the Queen has to come to terms with her role as comforter in chief to a grieving nation.
Amazon announced its first major Canadian program for its Amazon Prime Video service, and it’s a big one. Kid’s In The Hall, a hugely influential sketch comedy show from the lates 80s - early 90s, is coming back for an eight-episode run. The original cast, including Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson are all set to return. No release date has been announced yet.