Over the years, I have watched many TV shows and movies that were historical, or at least loosely based on historical plots and themes. Some are very accurate, some, much less so! However, I’ve compiled a list, with brief explanations of each one, to share. Keep in mind these are just the ones I’ve watched and enjoyed, and this is not a comprehensive list. Please, feel free to add your favorites!
- Troy – Has Peter O’Toole, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom – flashy but interesting.
- Alexander the Great – Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer
- Vercingetorix (Druids – UK title) – Christopher Lambert, about Celts vs. Romans
- Gladiator – Russell Crowe, Roman empire
- Boudicca – Alex Kingston, Dr. Corday from ER – a Celtic Queen who sacked London in Roman times
- Mists of Avalon – miniseries about King Arthur times, mostly from the female/pagan viewpoint
- First Knight – Sean Connery/Richard Gere/Julia Ormond – King Arthur tale, lots of Hollywood on this one
- Kingdom of Heaven – Orlando Bloom – About the Crusades, and fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims
- Thirteenth Warrior – Antonio Banderas is a Muslim who goes and helps Beowulf kill the dragon
- Braveheart – Mel Gibson in 12th century Scotland
- Henry V – Kenneth Brannagh is the English King who wins at Agincourt against the French
- The Messenger – Joan of Arc
- The Lion in Winter – my favorite – Katherine Hepburn/Peter O’Toole/Anthony Hopkins – Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, parents of Richard the Lionheart, play political games with their children as pawns
- The Agony and the Ecstasy – Michelangelo = Charlton Heston, with Rex Harrison as the Pope
- Anne of a Thousand Days – Richard Burton as Henry VIII, story of Anne Boleyn
- All the Mornings of the World – Gerard Depardieu – a sad story of a cellist in Provence, France
- Dangerous Beauty – courtesans in 15th Century Venice, a true story
- Victoria and Albert – about Queen Victoria’s life
- Lady Jane – about Jane Grey, who was queen for a few days before Mary took over (daughter of Henry VIII)
- A Man for All Seasons – About Thomas More, who dared to say No to Henry VIII.
- Mary, Queen of Scots – about Elizabeth I’s cousin, unhappy in love.
- The Count de Monte Cristo – Not really historical, but based in 17th C. France, and a well-done movie
- Brother Cadfael – great medieval mystery series, with Derek Jacobi, set in 12th century England.
- Gypsy (Natalie Wood as a young girl, who ends up as a stripper)
- Mississippi Masala (Denzel Washington – Indian girl falls in love with black man in Mississippi)
- Memoirs of a Geisha – set in Japan before WWII
- Mrs. Brown (Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, depressed after the death of her husband)
- Valmont (Annette Benning, Colin Firth, 18th century French nobles playing games)
- Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth)
- Rob Roy (Liam Neeson – historical character in the 17th C. Scottish highlands)
- Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a white man raised by Indians after the French/Indian wars)
- John Adams (excellent miniseries on the birth of the US)
- The Queen (Helen Mirrim, about Elizabeth II during Princess Diana’s death)
- Les Miserables (Liam Neeson)
- Sharpe’s Rifles (first in a series of 14 BBC episodes with Sean Bean, about the Napoleonic wars)
- Horatio Hornblower (another series, with Iain Gryffud, life on the high seas with the British Navy)
- Master and Commander (Russell Crowe on the high seas with the British Navy)
- Becoming Jane (life of Jane Austen)
- Emma (a Jane Austen book)
- Sense and Sensibility (another Jane Austen)
- Tess of the D’Urbevilles (depressing story set in England in 19th C.)
- Ivanhoe – set in 12th C. England, about crusaders returning from the wars
- Ladyhawke – Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, set in medieval times, with magic and revenge.
- Outlander – a British WWII nurse gets sent back in time to 1743 Scotland, thrust into the heart of the Jacobite rising. (based on a series of bestselling books)
- Princess Bride (a requirement!)
- Willow – very early Val Kilmer
- Ballykissangel – not really historical, but set in a small town in Ireland, great funny series
- Monarch of the Glen – again, not really historical, but set in the highlands of Scotland, and my favorite TV series, period.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (silliness and fun)
- Secret of Kells – adorable animated movie about the possible origin of the Book of Kells
- Brave – story of a Scottish lass determined to make her own fate
- Princess Caraboo (exotic girl found in Edwardian England)
- Black Adder (more silliness and fun, 4 series – each a different era. Has Hugh Laurie in the later seasons, and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) is the main character)
- Shakespeare in Love (Gwyneth Paltrow) – Fun in life meets art
- Amadeus – Funny/tragic account of Mozart’s life
- Beau Brummell (James Purefoy, who was Marc Anthony in the above Rome, plays the man who turns the Prince Regent from a fop to a dandy, both fashions of the time)
Gritty/heavy/serious/not for kids:
- 300 (Spartans make a stand against the Persions)
- Rome (HBO series) – excellent series with Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy. Lots of violence/sex, but great historical accuracy and acting.
- I, Claudius (BBC Series) – 1970s series with Derek Jacobi of late Roman empire
- Excalibur – King Arthur story
- The Name of the Rose (Sean Connery, Christian Slater) – A 12th century monk tries to solve a murder mystery
- Elizabeth – Queen Elizabeth I first days in power
- The King’s Whore (Timothy Dalton) – gritty and violent, but very well done
- Immortal Beloved (Gary Oldman as Beethoven)
- Queen Margot (16th century Catholic marries protestant prince)
- Water (the tragedy of widowhood in India)
- The Madness of King George (the king that lost the US)
- My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Irish painter quadriplegic)
- In the Name of the Father (Daniel Day-Lewis, accused of bombing in Northern Ireland)
- Kama Sutra (Indian love story)
- Michael Collins (Liam Neeson/Alan Rickman) About Ireland’s revolution
- The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Also Ireland’s revolution
- Quills (about the Marquis de Sade, with Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Geoffrey Rush)
- The Tudors – series by Showtime about Henry VIII and his wives
- Game of Thrones – while more fantasy than historical, the storylines are based on several incidents in history, such as the War of the Roses and the Glencoe Massacre, among others.
Don’t miss information on Celtic myth and history, as well as practical travel planning tips, and hidden places, in my travel books. And watch out for my upcoming historical fantasy novel, Legacy of Hunger!
– Stunning, Strange and Secret: A Guide to Hidden Scotland
– Mythical, Magical, Mystical: A Guide to Hidden Ireland
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