Whenever I mention period dramas, most people think of Pride and Prejudice, Bridgerton, and basically 18th century England full of ball gowns and romance. However, period dramas are more than that. While it is my favorite entertainment genre, it unfortunately does not seem to be a very popular one. Period dramas let viewers reflect on how much has changed since the past and what remains true today, and in that respect, they are unique. For example, women now have the right to vote and have more freedom over their bodies than in the 1700s, but the double standards that society imposes on women remain. The social and political complexities that really catch my eye in period dramas, as well as the costumes and betrayals of course! The release of Bridgerton in 2020 captured the attention of many viewers who don’t necessarily watch period dramas and prompted many to look into watching other similar historical shows. I previously wrote an article on period dramas geared towards Bridgerton fans, but I did not included a few of my other favorite shows because they didn’t fit the “stereotypical” 18th century England period drama. Now, I’ve curated a list of some criminally underrated period dramas to watch this year that show how great period dramas can be.
One period drama you have probably heard of but might not have watched yet is Peaky Blinders. Set in 1920s Birmingham, this show follows Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy (one of my favorite actors), who is the leader of a powerful gang — the Peaky Blinders. Tommy’s family members are all involved with the Peaky Blinders, running different parts of this “business,” which involves controlling gambling rings and smuggling weapons. With each season, the Peaky Blinders are faced with new gang dynamics and threats to their power, bringing more violence and chaos to the Shelby family. There are currently five seasons available on Netflix, with about six hour-long episodes per season, but be sure to have subtitles on as their accents are quite strong! I think Peaky Blinders is quite underrated. While the show can be a bit slow at times and the politics behind the gangs can get confusing, it is so beautifully written, and the acting is phenomenal. Peaky Blinders makes me wish I could walk with as much confidence as the Shelby family. Their walks are so iconic!
The Last Kingdom
I was never a huge fan of Viking shows, but The Last Kingdom is truly something else. This show takes place in 9th century Britain where the Kingdom of Wessex is trying to stop the Vikings from conquering the land. The complex relationship between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings is highlighted by the main character Uhtred, who was born a Saxon but ultimately kidnapped and raised as a Viking. Throughout the seasons, as he is forced to work for King Alfred of Wessex, Uhtred’s loyalties are constantly tested as he struggles to choose between the Vikings who raised him and his Anglo-Saxon ancestors. The acting, the sets, the action, and the character dynamics (particularly between Uhtred and King Alfred) were amazing! I was hesitant to watch it at first, but once I started it, I was immediately hooked and quickly caught up on all the seasons on Netflix. Now I’m anxiously waiting for season 5 to be released, which should be sometime this spring! The Last Kingdom is a criminally underrated period drama, which I would say deserves the same amount of attention as Game of Thrones or The Witcher.
I had never watched any K-dramas before, so of course, my first one would be a period piece! I heard about Kingdom before, and I knew it got good reviews, so I began to watch it over the Christmas break. Kingdom is a Korean political period drama set during the Joseon dynasty that follows the spread of a mysterious virus that resurrects the dead and turns them into zombies. After this virus kills the King and political conspiracy brews, Crown Prince Lee Chang and his crew try to battle the plague and the Queen Consort to bring peace and stability back to the country. As you can tell from the description, this is definitely not your typical period drama. The fact that it’s additionally listed as a horror and thriller which makes it more of a hidden gem and, therefore, criminally underrated! The plot twists and action keep you on the edge of your seat, constantly guessing what Lee Chang’s next move will be. With two seasons and only six episodes per season, Kingdom is dangerously easy to binge on Netflix!
Man in the High Castle
Perhaps one of the most remarkable period dramas out there is the Man in the High Castle. It is based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, and takes place in an alternate dystopian post-WWII society wherein the Axis powers won the war instead of the Allies. The United States is divided between the German and the Japanese powers, with the Eastern half being the Greater Nazi Reich and the Western half being the Japanese Pacific States. Many characters come into play as different political powers attempt to hunt down the “Man in the High Castle,” who has compromising films showing a different reality of the Allies winning the war. Conspiracies brew as rebels against the German and Japanese world order get a hold of these films and attempt to take down the regimes. Available on Amazon Prime, the Man in the High Castle is a must-watch and will get you thinking about how different our world might have looked if fascism had won.
Anne with an E
A show you might have seen pop up on Netflix is Anne with an E, which is a coming-of-age period drama based on the book Anne of Green Gables. Set in the late 1890s on Prince Edward Island, this show follows the life of Anne, who grew up as an orphan in abusive environments until she gets adopted by aging siblings. Despite being seen as an outsider and oddball in her new community, Anne slowly learns the meaning of love, acceptance, family, and friendship. Her imaginative and spirited character helps to bring positive change to her community and spread principles of inclusivity and open-mindedness. Anne with an E is very wholesome and different from other period dramas in that there is much less violence and drama compared to Peaky Blinders and Kingdom, yet it’s still a beautiful show with great character building and plot lines. Despite being more wholesome, unlike the other period dramas, it still manages to tackle important issues such as censorship, discrimination, indigenous struggles, and women’s rights.
Las Chicas del Cable
Las Chicas del Cable, or Cable Girls in English, is a Spanish show set in late-1920s Madrid that follows the lives of four women who work in a telephone company and unexpectedly become friends as they bond over the struggles they face as working women. The show starts off being juicy-romance and drama-filled, as one would expect from a Spanish period piece, but quickly develops into something more serious and political as it follows the rise of fascism and the start of the Spanish Civil War. I found that it covered topics that usually aren’t portrayed in other shows, such as domestic violence, transgender struggles, the role and importance of women in war, and fascist regimes. I honestly didn’t expect the show to turn so political and dark, but I’m glad it did because it highlights the sacrifice and struggle of women in the fight against fascism. Available on Netflix, Cable Girls is undoubtedly a period drama to add to your watch list!
One show you’ve probably never heard of on Netflix is the German period drama Babylon Berlin. Set in 1929 Berlin, this series follows Gereon Rath, a shell-shocked detective on a secret mission, and Lotte, a flapper girl who joins forces with Detective Rath attempting to become the first female police inspector. Together, they try to solve the conspiracies and corruption brewing among the police department and the Weimar government as political tensions run high. Babylon Berlin shows what Germany was like following the First World War. In history class, all they teach about interwar Germany is hyperinflation and the rise of Nazism. However, they leave out how inclusive and liberal Berlin society was. While this show might be more explicit than other period dramas, it provides a deeper perspective into how German society and politics developed before WWII. Being an international period drama, Babylon Berlin is definitely underrated!
Hopefully, you give these shows a try and add them to your watch list. I promise you will not regret it. Enjoy!