Do you love intriguing historical plots, elaborate costumes and beautiful settings? These period piece shows will be right up your alley.
Period piece shows are more popular than ever. We don’t know if it’s because of the dramatic portrayal of history or glorious wardrobes to match, but viewers can’t get enough of them.
They provide a unique form of escapism, allowing fans to not only get lost in a different world but in simpler times when everyone actually spoke to one another instead of staring at their smartphones. In 2018, that can be refreshing.
Whichever historical era is your favorite, there’s a comedy or drama to cover it and whether you’re after romance, scandal or political intrigue, streaming services have a lot to offer. Not only are these shows staying true to their time period, they also come with a side of exceptional storytelling and great characterization.
Without further ado, here are the best period piece series available to stream in Australia.
1. The Americans
Sometimes when you're facing relationships troubles, it feels like life or death. For Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, that’s often the case.
Set during the Cold War, The Americans follows two KGB spies who pose as an American married couple living in 1980s Washington. At its core a story about marriage, the show explores the two protagonists’ bond as they struggle to lead double lives.
The series received critical acclaim since its premiere, with multiple reviewers calling it one of the best shows on television. For good reason. The Americans is smart and sleek, elegant and thought-provoking.
Thanks to its alluring premise and the engaging performances the two leads deliver, the series is both fun and suspenseful. A spy thriller of the highest order.
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2. Turn: Washington’s Spies
Set in the 1700s, Turn: Washington’s Spies recounts the story of Abe Woodhull, an American cabbage farmer obliged to spy on the British enemy.
The story covers events from 1776 to 1781 and features the farmer and his childhood friends as they form an unlikely group of spies called the Culper Ring. Their little group will eventually help turn the tide during the American Revolutionary War.
Turn: Washington Spies is based on a true story and wins bonus points for shedding light on a little-known benchmark in American espionage. The series is a slow burn and has a rocky start, but the action significantly picks up in Season 2, making for riveting television.
If you’re a history fan in search of a new series to obsess over, you won’t be disappointed with this one.
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3. Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife is a delightful period drama series about a group of nurse-midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It follows newly-qualified midwife Jenny who joins an eccentric community of nuns who are nurses at Nonnatus House. As time goes by she develops incredible friendships, especially since the nurses are perpetually drawn into the lives and homes of the women and families they treat.
Colorful and moving, the series is a celebration of life filled with heart and humour. The visuals are stunning and the performances brilliant, allowing viewers to take a fascinating trip back in time.
Prepare to smile and giggle excessively along the way.
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4. Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey is one of the most popular period dramas of all time, the show that revived the genre and satisfied the commoner in us all.
Set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, this sumptuous series chronicles the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era.
During the course of six glorious seasons, Downton Abbey depicts numerous historical events and their effects on the British social hierarchy. The list includes the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic and the Irish War of Independence, to name a few. It does so with flair and elegance, relying on witty dialogue, well-dosed melodrama and lavish costumes.
Compulsively watchable from episode one, Downton Abbey isn’t just an ode to early 20th-century Britain – thanks to amazing acting and beautifully-crafted characters, it’s so much more.
5. The Crown
This acclaimed Netflix show is all about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
There are two seasons currently available, the first covering the period from her marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 to the disintegration of her sister Princess Margaret's engagement to Peter Townsend in 1955. Season 2 starts with the Suez Crisis in 1956 and continues through the retirement of the Queen's third Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Prince Edward's birth in 1964.
The Crown is one of Netflix’s most-praised series, receiving several accolades for its freshman run. It’s an ambitious and lavish production, with impeccable acting and stunning scenery.
A family drama told on an extravagant scale, the series is also incredibly moving, relying on smart writing to keep viewers invested. Believe the hype.
6. Cable Girls
This Spanish period drama is soapy, fun and beautiful. Cable Girls is set in 1928, when a modern telecommunications company begins operating in Madrid.
The series tells the stories of four young women as their lives start to change when they join the workforce. Follow them as they balance friendship, romance and their careers in a time when such a progressive workplace and lifestyle felt foreign and challenging.
Besides being engaging and addictive, Cable Girls is also a timeless tale of women fighting for independence. The sisterhood formed between the four main characters is the shining star of the show, as the women are always there for each other. The music and costumes are delightful as well.
6. Everything Sucks!
Whether you’re a popular drama enthusiast or low-key geek, you can’t fast-forward high school. And in the ‘90s, you didn’t have luxuries like fast broadband or music streaming to distract yourself from the harsh reality of everyday life. Maybe that’s what makes Everything Sucks! so endearing.
Set in 1996, the show follows a group of teenagers who make a movie together while dealing with age-appropriate issues like dating, fitting in and sexuality.
Everything Sucks! ticks all the nostalgia boxes. If you grew up in the ‘90s you’ll be in for a treat, complete with Zima sightings, ring pops and the nightmare-inducing dial-up tone.
Moreover, it’s a sweet tale overflowing with teen angst and drama, with strong performances and a typical high school feel.
Not perfect, but by the end the occasional flaws won’t bother you. You’ll love the characters too much.
7. Mad Men
This stylish and iconic drama follows the lives of Madison Avenue advertising executives, the so-called “Mad Men”, in 1960s New York.
The series centers on Don Draper, a dashing creative director for ad agency Sterling Cooper. His charms extend well outside the boardroom and into the bedroom as the series follows both his career pursuits and romantic entanglements. Season 1 touches on Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and, appropriately, the rise of the Lucky Strike cigarette brand.
The show is sleek and sexy, perfectly capturing not only the era’s spirit, but also its casual prejudice and sexual manipulation.
Mad Men is a complicated and challenging drama, one that doesn’t rely on twists and cliffhangers to draw you in. Instead, it delivers a nuanced portrayal of flawed individuals, diving deep into what makes them tick.
Soon enough, you’ll find yourself caring so much about these folks that you will be unable to look away.
8. That ‘70s Show
While there is no shortage of period dramas to choose from, comedies are harder to come by. That’s one of the things that makes That ‘70s Show so appealing.
The series follows a group of six teenagers living in fictional Point Place, Wisconsin, from 1976 to 1979. And while they don’t have smartphones or streaming services to keep them busy, they sure know how to get themselves into trouble and have loads of fun.
That’s the best thing about watching That ‘70s Show: you never grow tired of watching the characters make idiots of themselves.
Moreover, the show’s themes are universal, so the series never feels outdated or misplaced. Friendship, love, acceptance, family life – That ‘70s Show relies and all these to tell a compelling coming-of-age story that will make you laugh out loud.
Plus, the series does a great job at offering a comprehensive portrayal of the era. Brace yourselves for tales of economic hardship, mistrust of the government and teenage drug use.
Spoiler alert: the Star Wars references don’t disappoint.
9. Pride and Prejudice
An all-star cast, stately homes and beautiful countryside combine to capture the romance, drama and wit of Jane Austen's classic novel in this memorable 1995 adaptation, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
Consisting of six episodes, the mini-series chronicles a young woman's iconic but rocky romance with an arrogant gentleman. This period piece launched Firth’s career and delivered a lake scene for the ages.
Pride and Prejudice is a splendid adaptation, staying faithful to its original text while also delivering so much more charm than readers might expect. Thanks to brilliant performances and a nuanced script, this is a must-watch for both Austen enthusiasts and rom-com fans.
10. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Follow Phryne Fisher through the back alleys, shady markets and jazz clubs of late 1920s Melbourne.
A glamorous lady detective in a mostly male world, she goes about her work with a pearl-handled pistol and dagger-sharp wit, fighting injustice and making sure that the man responsible for the disappearance of her younger sister stays behind bars. She’s keen to help those who can’t help themselves; and she does so with grace and elegance.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries features a remarkable feminist heroine who fights crime and challenges the status quo, all while looking flawless. Miss Fisher is an unmarried woman in charge of her own life in an era when this was unusual, to say the least.
Overall, the show is glamorous, smart and sexy. A feat for the period drama-obsessed and casual viewer alike.
Outlander doesn’t cover just one historical period – thanks to its time travelling element, it covers two.
Based on the successful series of novels with the same name, the show follows Claire, a married World War II nurse who finds herself transported back in time from 1945 to the Scotland of 1743. Here, she encounters Jamie, a dashing Highland warrior, and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings.
An exciting and steamy period drama, Outlander is a peculiar mix of romance, magical fantasy, adventure and horror. The settings are beautiful and viewers will find it hard not to root for the show’s charismatic star-crossed lovers.
If lust and intrigue are your things, this is the perfect binge to indulge in.
12. Peaky Blinders
If grittier series are more your thing, Peaky Blinders should definitely be on your watchlist.
The epic gangster drama is set in the lawless streets of post-war Birmingham on the cusp of the 1920s. It centres on the Peaky Blinders gang and their ambitious and cunning boss Tommy Shelby, whose main purpose is to move up in the world by any means necessary.
A visual treat, the show is well-acted and pays incredible attention to detail. As any respectable gang drama, it features a lot of brutal violence, sex and drugs, but also delivers intriguing storylines and swoon-worthy character development.
Recommended for those looking for a solid dose of bloody fun.
12. The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel
This charming comedy-drama follows two women as they take on the man’s world of ‘50s stand-up comedy.
The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel centers on Midge, a housewife who seems to have everything she has ever wanted – but when her husband unceremoniously leaves her, she discovers a hidden talent he wasn’t aware of.
Her life takes an unexpected turn as she goes from the comfort of the Upper West Side through the cafes and nightclubs of Greenwich Village, trying to make a name for herself.
The show instantly catapults the viewer into late-50s New York thanks to beautiful sets and a wardrobe to die for. The ensemble cast is perfect, with Rachel Brosnahan offering a breakout performance as Midge. Moreover, the show was created by the minds behind Gilmore Girls, so funny banter and witty dialogues are a given.
To sum it up, The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel is stylish, feminist and fun. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
13. Red Oaks
One of Amazon’s most underrated series, Red Oaks is set in the ’80 and follows David, a college student who works at a New Jersey country club during summer break.
What’s great is that the show doesn’t rely purely on nostalgia to keep you watching. The ’80s references are welcome, but aren’t the main appeal of the show. The characters are.
In fact, Red Oaks is a whip-smart comedy big on characterization and focused on delivering a brilliant coming-of-age story. You’ll root for David as he tries to figure out what he wants to do for the rest of his life, understanding how much these early choices can impact his future.
Red Oaks won’t win any popularity contests anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your time. Quite the contrary.
14. The Tudors
You think you know the story, but you only know how it ends.
The Tudors chronicles King Henry VIII's first years in his nearly 40-year reign over England, starting in the early 1500s.
Viewers get a look at Henry's famous female companions, but the series also delves into his relationships with important figures. The list includes Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was Henry's best friend and unofficial adviser.
The Tudors successfully captures all the splendour and scandal of England's 16th-century royal court. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is outstanding as a young and lustful Henry, as the show focuses mainly on his personal drives and desires.
This may not be the most historically-accurate drama around, but it’s surely one of the most riveting.
15. Black Sails
Pirates? Yes, please!
This glorious series follows the adventures of a pirate captain, his shipmates and his rivals in the early 18th-century Caribbean.
The first season focuses on the hunt for the Spanish treasure galleon Urca de Lima. Real-life pirates who are fictionalized over the course of the show include Anne Bonny, Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, Charles Vane, Ned Low, Israel Hands and Blackbeard.
With strong action scenes and dazzling visuals, Black Sails is dirty and immoral, just like the pirates it features. Ultimately a series about striving for respect, it provides just enough violence to keep you on the edge of your seat.
With superior cinematography and a cast full of scene-stealers, Black Sails is a pirate treasure waiting to be found.
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