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The best historical TV shows to stream right now

The Bridgerton cast.
'The Bridgerton' cast. (Image credit: Netflix)

You need a guide to the best historical TV shows as there are so many of them!

Whether you're searching for a lavish costume drama, a peek inside royal palaces, or to get caught up in a gritty story of rebellion, robbery and resistance, there’s nothing better than getting lost in a rich historical drama. 

The only problem is where to start? To help, here’s our guide to the best historical dramas available to stream right now. We’ve divided it into genres so everybody can find the right period piece to suit their tastes. 

The best historical TV shows to watch right now

Period Dramas

'Bridgerton'

Rege-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor.

Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor star. (Image credit: Netflix)

Bridgerton nearly broke the internet with its sizzling scenes of passion between its gorgeous cast. But for more traditional tastes, there’s still plenty to enjoy.

A lavish period drama based around the eight siblings of the aristocratic Bridgerton family as they look for love in the competitive social scene of Regency-era London.

It looks divine, is great fun and is full of lust and scandal. The action begins as Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the oldest Bridgerton daughter is announced onto the social scene to find herself a suitable husband. But her over-protective brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), ruins her chances as no man matches up to his exacting standards.

The intense sense of desperation to find a suitable match is only increased by the writings of Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), who publishes a pamphlet discussing who’s hot and who’s not in the dating scene.

And just as Daphne is about to lose all hope of finding her Mr Right, the dashing Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) comes up with a cunning plan to help them both navigate the choppy waters of Regency relationships…

Why watch: A thoroughly modern take on the period drama genre with a great young cast. Plus, Bridgerton season 2 is already being made, with a released date of some time in 2022, check out the trailer below. And if that wasn’t exciting enough seasons 3 and 4 have also already been commissioned. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons:

Episodes: 8

Average Running time: 61 mins

'Downton Abbey'

'The Gilded Age' writer Julian Fellowes created Downton Abbey.

The cast of Downton Abbey. (Image credit: ITV)

While this lavish period drama is certainly more sedate than its racier Bridgerton cousin, it's still an iconic historical drama that you mustn't miss. 

Over the course of six seasons the drama follows the fortunes of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic staff, which call the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey home.

The grand house is led by Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, (Hugh Bonneville) and his American heiress wife Cora Levinson (Elizabeth McGovern). The couple have three daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) plus Dame Maggie Smith plays Robert’s acid-tongued mother Violet. The ‘downstairs’ staff are led by more acting giants including Jim Carter as butler Mr Carson and Joanna Froggatt as lady’s maid Anna.

Written and created by Julian Fellowes the first series begins in 1912 as the family discovers the Titanic has sunk along with the male heir of the estate, who was betrothed to Lady Mary. The new heir is a distant male cousin named Matthew, played by Dan Stevens, who arrives at the estate and quickly ruffles a few well-preened feathers.  

Why watch: Set at the real country estate of Highclere Castle in Hampshire, which is currently home to the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, it’s gorgeous to look at as the castle itself becomes one of the stars of the show. 

Plus, if six seasons are just not enough then check out the film, which is now also available on Netflix.

Where to Watch: BritBox/Amazon Prime

Seasons: 6

Episodes: 52

Average Running time: 49 mins

'Poldark'

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark.

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. (Image credit: BBC)

A historical drama set in 1783 as Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returns from fighting in the American War of Independence to his home in Cornwall.

But during the three years he spent in the army, life back in Blighty has very much changed. His father Joshua has died, leaving his estate in ruins and in debt and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth is engaged to his cousin Francis.

As he sets about rebuilding his life he meets a young woman called Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) at the market and falls in love. The rest of the series, based on the books by Winston Graham, follows Poldark’s life as he and Demelza build a future together.

Why watch: The coastal and rural county of Cornwall looks stunning as does the handsome Aidan Turner as the charismatic protagonist. Watch out for episode 3 of the first season as Poldark’s shirtless scything of his crops caused quite a stir!

Where to Watch: Netflix/Amazon Prime

Seasons: 5

Episodes: 43

Average Running time: 57 mins

'Call the Midwife'

Call the Midwife cast.

Midwives Cynthia, Jenny and Trixie. (Image credit: BBC)

This brilliant series follows the work and lives of a group of midwives and nuns in the East End of London, beginning in the 1950s.

Based on the memoirs of a real midwife, Jennifer Worth, it’s a heart-warming and comforting watch but one that never shies away from tackling tough issues including miscarriage, illness and prejudice.

The first season begins as newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee, (Jessica Raine) gets to grips with caring for the women of East London, a poverty-stricken area of the capital.

The cast is outstanding with Jenny Agutter and Judy Parfitt just two of the stalwarts featuring in the series, plus it’s also narrated by the soothing tones of Vanessa Redgrave, who acts as the voice of the older Jenny.

Why watch: It just isn’t Christmas unless there’s a Call the Midwife special on. Since the first series aired on the BBC in 2012, every Christmas Day has aired a new special and there’s usually snow, heart-warming and emotional drama, plus the pitter patter of beautiful tiny new feet – what’s not to love!?

Where to Watch: Netflix/ iPlayer

Seasons: 8

Episodes: 72

Avg Running time: 56 mins

Royal historical TV shows

If queens and kings are your thing then there is plenty to enjoy as we guide you through the best royal historical dramas.

'The Crown'

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II.

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II. (Image credit: Netflix)

For anyone interested in the British Royal Family this is must see viewing. The series follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II from just before her coronation in 1953 up until the 1990s, so far.

The actors playing the cast changes every two seasons, with Claire Foy taking on the role of Queen in the first two as the young princess married her prince, the dashing Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), faced the sudden death of her father King George VI and then took the throne herself at the age of 27.

In seasons three and four Olivia Colman takes over the regal role, while Imelda Staunton dons the crown for The Crown season 5 (due to be released in Nov 2022, see below for a message from Imelda herself) and six.

Why watch: It’s just too much fun guessing how much is fact or fiction? While obviously based closely on true historical events, this is a drama and not a documentary, but still, it is fun to feel like a fly on the very expensive wallpaper of Buckingham Palace!

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons: 4 (two more are coming)

Episodes: 40

Average Running time: 56 mins

'Victoria'

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria. (Image credit: ITV)

Jenna Coleman plays the young Queen Victoria as this series follows the monarch during the early years of her 63-year reign, the second longest in history, only being beaten by the UK’s present monarch Queen Elizabeth II.

The first series follows the 18-year-old as she takes the throne for the first time and the weight of such a role falls on her very young shoulders. She forms a close bond with her advisor Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), far too close for some and then meets and marries Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), a young German prince. 

Why watch: Jenna is brilliant as the young queen and there’s a great chemistry between her and Tom, plus there’s a stellar supporting cast and it looks suitably fabulous. 

Where to Watch: BritBox in the UK and Amazon Prime Video in the US.

Seasons: 3

Episodes: 25

Average Running time: 46 mins

'The Spanish Princess'

Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon.

Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon. (Image credit: Starz)

It’s 1501 and the young and beautiful Catherine of Aragon leaves her native Spain to travel to England to meet her soon-to-be husband Prince Arthur. A lot rests on their young shoulders as their marriage is set to unite the two countries, bringing security and wealth to both.

This is the third series based on the books by Philippa Gregory, The White Queen, (2013) and The White Princess (2017) are both still available on Starzplay, should you wish to completely immerse yourself in Tudor England. 

Catherine’s arrival in England is a culture shock for the young woman used to the warmth and luxuries of her homeland. On her first meeting with the young nervous Prince he teaches her the many words she can use for rain, which doesn’t exactly help the feisty princess feel at home. 

She also discovers that the author of the love letters sent to her in Spain were not from her betrothed Arthur but his younger brother Henry, which is devastating news at first, but will prove to be quite useful when poor Arthur doesn't last long.

Why watch: A great story about an often overlooked figure in history. It also looks beautiful with the most sumptuous costumes. It has a great cast, with Charlotte Hope as the feisty Catherine and Harriet Walter and Laura Carmichael as Lady Margaret Beaufort and Lady Margaret Pole.

Where to Watch: Starzplay

Seasons: 2

Episodes: 17

Average Running time: 55 mins

Historical action TV shows

With epic battle scenes, plenty of heroes and some hearty plundering and pillaging, here are our top picks of historical dramas that pack an action-filled punch. 

'Vikings'

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar. (Image credit: Sky)

A blood-covered face surveys a body-scattered battleground in the first few moments of the epic series-opener to Vikings. The hero of the battlefield is Ragnar (Travis Fimmel), a fearless farmer, warrior and protagonist of this action-packed series. Over the course of six seasons viewers follow his adventures as he embarks on a daring voyage across the unknown sea from his Scandinavian home to England. 

In episode one we meet his family, his equally strong and fearless wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and his two children. Life is hard, tough and dirty but Ragnar is ambitious and has plans to explore new lands to the west, where he believes great riches will be found. 

On their first daring raid, they land on the island of Lindisfarne, which as you can imagine, given the Vikings reputation, is not a good day for the monks who already call it home. 

Why watch: The characters are strong and fearless and it’s hard not to get caught up in their sense of adventure and single-minded determination to explore, conquer and rob. It’s fast-paced and full of action, but it’s also violent and explicit, so it’s not for the easily offended.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video

Seasons: 6

Episodes: 89

Average Running time: 43 mins

'Band of Brothers'

Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer star.

Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer star. (Image credit: HBO/Sky)

This Emmy-award-winning series was released in 2001, but is still one of the best historical war dramas there is.

It’s based on the experience of E Company, the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, as they face some of the heaviest fighting of the Second World War. The battle scenes are epic, as is the emotion, as the effects of fighting this brutal and chaotic war takes its toll on many of the brave young soldiers.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and with an all star cast, including Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer, this is a historical drama that hits the mark on all levels.  

Why watch: Historical storytelling at its absolute best. They only made one season (and at the time it was the most expensive miniseries ever made), but fans of war drama should also check out The Pacific, which follows the exploits of US soldiers as they battle the Japanese army.

Where to Watch: HBO in the US, or to buy on Amazon Prime Video or with a subscription to NOW TV in the UK.

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 10

Average Running time: 49 - 70 mins

'Barbarians'

Barbarians Season 2

A first look at the cast of 'Barbarians' season 2. (Image credit: Netflix / Krzysztof Wiktor)

A German production based on the occupation of Germany by Roman troops in 9AD. The action evolves around the suppression of the Germanic people that led to a rebellion that stopped the mighty Roman army in its tracks and changed the course of history.

The series begins as Roman troops gallop into a village demanding more taxes than the poor inhabitants can afford. But without unity between the warring Germanic tribes, they have little choice but to pay up to stop the Romans murdering their people and destroying their village.

Outnumbered by the all-powerful Romans it seems the villagers have little choice but to accept the unfair and violent rule, except for a small group who just won’t let their way of life be destroyed without an almighty fight. 

Watch out for a nice twist at the end of the first episode, the Romans aren’t always who you think they are…

Why watch: A classic David and Goliath tale that looks fabulous and is full of action and adventure. It is of course violent and bloody, but then you wouldn’t expect anything less from a historical drama about a hard-won rebellion. It’s also been renewed for a second season, so there’s plenty more action to enjoy.  

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 6

Average Running time: 46 mins

'The Last Kingdom'

Alexander Dreymon stars as Uhtred.

Alexander Dreymon stars as Uhtred. (Image credit: Netflix)

Vikings are the theme once again in this series that focuses on the Saxon perspective as they are attacked by the invading Danes.

The action begins as a Saxon fort is destroyed, actor Matthew McFadden briefly plays the King before his youngest son, Uhtred, is taken as a slave by the victorious vikings. But the courageous young boy eventually enjoys life with his new viking family, who respect his warrior-like character and bravery.

Tragedy strikes however when the viking settlement is attacked the night before a wedding and only Uhtred and another former Saxon slave called Brida survive. Uhtred wants revenge on the murderers of his adopted family, which sets him on a bloodthirsty course that will see him fight his own family to honour those he lost. 

Why watch: Uhtred (played by Alexander Dreymon) is a strong and interesting character as he must fight his own family to win back what he lost, a nice conflict of interest which adds to the complexity of the series. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons: 4

Episodes: 36

Average Running time: 60 mins

'Outlander'

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser. (Image credit: Starz/Sony Pictures TV)

This intriguing series, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, centres on a nurse who mysteriously falls back in time by 200 years. It starts during the Second World War as capable medic Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) treats badly injured soldiers. 

After the war is over, Claire goes on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) to the Scottish Highlands. While visiting an ancient stone circle, Claire falls back in time to 1743 and finds herself being chased by English Redcoats, led by an ancestor of her husband.

It sounds a little bonkers but the quality of the cast and writing makes this utterly believable and enthralling. Claire is rescued from an attack by an English soldier by a group of Scottish warriors, including the handsome Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan.

Why watch: An inventive and imaginative series with a great cast that spans not just one but two historical periods. It’s also been confirmed that season six will be released sometime in 2022, with a seventh to follow that. 

Where to Watch: Netflix and Starz in the US and Starz and Amazon Prime Video in the UK

Seasons: 5

Episodes: 67

Avg Running time: 58 mins

'Black Sails'

Toby Stephens as Captain Flint.

Toby Stephens as Captain Flint. (Image credit: Starzplay)

Toby Stephens is Captain Flint, the boss of a motley crew of pirates in this big budget series that’s gone from strength to strength, attracting more fans with each swashbuckling series.

The action begins as Flint and his crew attack a passing ship, but the loot is poor and the crew are getting restless. Flint has a plan for a big haul of Spanish gold but he needs to find it first.

There’s a large cast of pirates, captains, feisty women and sailors up to no good and all of them change their allegiances faster than their sails, so buckle up and get ready to ride the waves. 

Why watch: A swashbuckling adventure brought up to date with plenty of action and strong characters. It looks beautiful, being set in the Caribbean but filmed in South Africa, but it's also explicit and violence so it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Where to Watch: Starzplay

Seasons: 4

Episodes: 38

Avg Running time: 58 mins

'Knightfall'

Tom Cullen stars as Sir Landry.

Tom Cullen stars as Sir Landry. (Image credit: Netflix)

A historical drama that follows the trials and tribulations of The Knights Templar, the mysterious legion of warrior monks charged with protecting pilgrims across the globe.

The series begins in Acre in the Holy Land as the Knights Templar lose the city and Christianity’s most precious relic – the Holy Grail. Fifteen years later one of those knights, Landry de Lauzon (Tom Cullen) is in Paris, frustrated by the lack of action of the order. ‘What are we for?’ he asks furiously.

But Landry is soon back in the thick of it after his mentor and Master of the Templars, Godfrey, is assassinated and he discovers a plot to murder all the Jews living in Paris. 

Why watch: A historical drama full of big bloody battles and brave and noble warriors. 

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons: 2

Episodes: 18

Average Running time: 43 mins

Fantasy TV shows

For nine years, eight seasons and 73 episodes one fantasy show has dominated, Game of Thrones. Check out our guide below if you're still wondering what all the fuss is about or check out the new fantasy show in town – The Witcher. 

'Game of Thrones'

Kit Harrington stars.

Kit Harrington as Jon Snow. (Image credit: HBO/Sky Atlantic)

It’s one of the biggest TV series of recent times winning critical acclaim, multiple awards and a hugely dedicated fan-base. Based on the books of George R. R. Martin, it is set in medieval times as a civil war is erupting. 

The series is complex with multiple plot lines, although the first series is set in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos and focuses on the battle for the ‘Iron Throne,’ the seat of the king of the Seven Kingdoms. It also has a huge cast including Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington.

Why watch: If you haven’t already lost hours of your life to this series then aren’t you intrigued to see what all the fuss is about? It’s ambitious with great characters and epic special effects. It’s also very violent so despite what the rest of the world says, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Where to Watch: HBO Max in US, Sky/NOW TV in UK

Seasons: 8

Episodes: 73

Average Running time: 50 - 82 mins

'The Witcher'

Henry Cavill as The Witcher.

Henry Cavill as 'The Witcher'. (Image credit: Netflix)

Henry Cavill stars as Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter or witcher, in this fantasy medieval drama based on the novels of Polish writer Andrzej Saplowski. 

In the first episode Geralt is charged with killing a human called Renfi, who a sorcerer called Stregobor believes is evil because she was born during an eclipse and was cursed by the black sun. But Geralt is no fool and doesn’t always do what he is told. 

Elsewhere, the kingdom of Cintra is attacked and the Queen sends away her granddaughter, Princess Cirilla, to find Geralt because as she mysteriously tells the young girl, 'he is your destiny' and the world depends upon it. 

The Witcher season 2 will be released on December 17 2021 and a third has been commissioned so there’s plenty more to enjoy.

Why watch: It’s exciting and fast-paced with epic battle scenes, plus a hearty dose of magic and mayhem. Cavill is great as the troubled outsider and the special effects are brilliant.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Seasons: 1

Episodes: 8

Avg Running time: 61 mins

Historical crime TV shows

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad in days gone by, but this series below is seriously addictive, so clear your diary and enjoy the darker side of city life. 

'Peaky Blinders'

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders.

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in 'Peaky Blinders'. (Image credit: BBC)

Set in Birmingham in 1919, just after the end of WWII, this dark and powerful drama follows the exploits of the gangster Shelby family. Led by Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby (Cillian Murphy), his brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) and Aunt Polly (the late Helen McCrory), they rule the rough streets of the city with a rod of iron.

In the first episode, we meet the crime family, new barmaid Grace (Annabelle Wallis), and also Major Chester Campbell, played by the brilliant Sam Neill, as he is sent over from Belfast to clean up the streets of Birmingham. His first task is to investigate the theft of some guns and his first target is Arthur Shelby, who certainly feels the strong arm of the law!

Why watch: It’s violent and dark but totally enthralling with an outstanding cast.

Where to Watch: Netflix/iPlayer

Seasons: 5

Episodes: 30

Avg Running time: 56 mins