Historical Dramas to Stream Right Now
If you’re a fan of historical drama—the genre that delivers fact and fiction, romance and betrayal, and power and intrigue and secrets galore—you’ll love these seven historical dramas to stream when you watch with PBS Passport, an added member benefit, right now! While you wait for the Sunday, April 5 premiere of World on Fire, MASTERPIECE’s new WWII series, experience some of history’s most dramatic people and events when you check out these bingeable titles—you might even learn something! Note: Full episode streaming is only available within the United States.
Period: From the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 to the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, Wolf Hall traces the rise of King Henry VIII’s advisor, Thomas Cromwell, the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, and the tightening grip of a power-driven king as he breaks with the church.
Drama: Thomas Cromwell, played by Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Twelfth Night), is a blacksmith’s son who rises from the ashes of personal disaster, and deftly picks his way through a court where “man is wolf to man.” Damian Lewis (Billions, Homeland) is King Henry VIII, haunted by his brother’s premature death and obsessed with protecting the Tudor dynasty by securing his succession with a male heir to the throne. Claire Foy (The Crown, Little Dorrit) plays the future queen, Anne Boleyn.
Watch all six episodes of Wolf Hall with PBS Passport before you read Hilary Mantel’s upcoming third book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light.
Period: Love, death, and the struggle for social justice in early 19th-century France feature in this beautifully faithful retelling of one of the world’s most beloved stories, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Drama: Twisted fates, a cat-and-mouse game, tragedy, and—above all else—love, feature in this epic six-part drama. Dominic West stars as fugitive Jean Valjean, with David Oyelowo as his pursuer Inspector Javert and Lily Collins as the luckless single mother Fantine. The distinguished British cast also includes Academy Award winner Olivia Colman (The Crown, The Favourite, Broadchurch) as Madame Thénardier, Ellie Bamber (Nocturnal Animals, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies) as Cosette, and Josh O’Connor (Emma, The Crown , The Durrells in Corfu) as Marius.
Watch all six episodes of Les Misérables with PBS Passport.
Period: In 1837, a diminutive, neglected teenager is crowned Queen Victoria, navigates the scandal, corruption, and political intrigues of the court, and soon rises to become the most powerful woman in the world.
Drama: Victoria dramatizes the romance and reign of the passionate young monarch finding her voice, her power, and the love of her life as a woman, a wife, a mother, and the ruler of an empire. Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) as Victoria, Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle) as Lord Melbourne, and Tom Hughes (Dancing on the Edge) as Prince Albert star.
Period: During the Blitz, young Alison McElvie meets dashing MI6 agent Alec Wilson, and a wartime love affair leads to their marriage. But this central love story that begins in 1940 in London is just one part of the mystery that Alison Wilson traces back to 1930s India and unravels in the suburbs, in 1963.
Drama: Mrs. Wilson is a spy thriller and a totally gripping journey that will have you gasping with disbelief and marveling that the truth really is stranger than fiction! It’s based on the true story of actress Ruth Wilson’s grandmother, Alison, who discovered, upon the sudden death of her husband Alec, that he had another, secret family. But the secrets don’t stop there! And it’s up to Alison to prevent her family and her world from being torn apart as she unravels them, one at a time.
My Mother and Other Strangers
Period: It’s 1943, and the residents of a Northern Irish community struggle to maintain a normal life after a huge United States Army Air Force (USAAF) airfield, with 4,000 service men and women, lands in the middle of their rural parish during World War II.
Drama: Change is inevitable when war descends and cultures clash, as they do when the swaggering American soldiers arrive in the Coyne family’s remote Ulster farming community. But nothing can prepare mother and schoolteacher Rose Coyne (Hattie Morahan, Sense & Sensibility) for the love triangle that forms in her life when she’s drawn to the charming and soulful USAAF officer, Captain Dreyfuss (Aaron Staton, Mad Men), disrupting her marriage and the coming-of-age adventures of their young children.
World on Fire
Period: Set in Britain, Poland, France, and Germany during the first year of WWII, World on Fire traces the struggles, connections, hopes, and losses of several families whose fates intertwine on the home front and the front lines, from the Nazi invasion of Poland, to the near debacle at Dunkirk, to the fall of Paris, and beyond.
Drama: World on Fire makes the wholesale tragedy of World War II achingly personal and, at times, heroic as it follows the struggles and connections of its characters. In Manchester, two families’ fates are intertwined when Lois, the daughter of working-class WWI veteran and pacifist Douglas (Sean Bean), and Harry (Jonah Hauer-King), the son of upper class, emotionally distant Robina (Lesley Manville), grow and change in love and war. A hardened American journalist, Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt), befriends Harry in Warsaw before the war, and fights tirelessly to bring the truth to light in Berlin. Meanwhile, Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz), the young waitress Harry falls in love with in Warsaw, navigates terrible options as her family and home are torn apart by war.
Man in an Orange Shirt
Period: Two love stories are set 60 years apart in Man in an Orange Shirt, the first during World War II and its aftermath, and the second in London in 2017.
Drama: Man in an Orange Shirt‘s love stories are connected by secrets buried in letters, in a mysterious painting, and deep in characters’ hearts. As Allied troops push up through Southern Italy in 1944, Captain Michael Berryman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Mr. Selfridge), encounters his old schoolmate Thomas March. A bond forms between the two men, who part with a kiss and a promise that Michael seek out Thomas after the war. But Thomas has a fiancé, Flora (Joanna Vanderham, The Paradise), who soon makes a startling discovery—and a choice that will lead to a life of bitterness and secrets. The second love story is set in 2017, when young veterinarian Adam (Julian Morris, Little Women) forms a tentative relationship with his client, Steve. But his chance for happiness is hampered by a minefield of shame and fear, made worse by his grandmother…Flora (Vanessa Redgrave).