Peter Morgan’s gorgeous period epic is just the starting line.
Netflix recently premiered its latest original, the ambitious, expensive period drama The Crown. Created by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), The Crown follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy), from her wedding in 1947 up through the present. The cast also includes Doctor Who’s Matt Smith as Prince Phillip, Mad Men’s Jared Harris as King George VI, and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. The Crown is sumptuous, addictive, and bingeworthy, just as we’ve come to expect from Netflix’s best.
But it’s only 10 episodes long. It will leave you wanting more. And since it’ll be at least a year before a hypothetical second season, we’ve scoured the streaming landscape to find some other royal-related programming to soothe your Crown withdrawals. Here are five shows about royalty to binge after The Crown.
1) Blackadder (1983 – 1989)
Netflix’s The Crown and most of the other entries on this list tend to take themselves pretty seriously—much like most royals themselves. Blackadder, however… takes a different approach.
Created by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and starring Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean himself), Blackadder follows the history of the ignominious Blackadder clan down through centuries of British history. Each season focuses on a different generation’s Blackadder, all played by Atkinson, as the family’s fortunes fall from royalty to servanthood to eventual service in the first World War.
The first season is set in the Middle Ages, with the cowardly Duke of Edinburgh constantly scheming to gain power and avoid personal responsibility, all while adopting the nickname “The Black Adder”—which is far more intimidating than he deserves. It’s worth watching for Brian Blessed’s performance as King Richard IV, and it sets up the template for everything that will come after: Blackadder is a cowardly but clever narcissist, always accompanied by the good-hearted dullard Baldrick (Tony Robinson), and together they scheme for great things that rarely seem to work out.
The show really found its stride in the second season, set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. This and all the following seasons let Atkinson play a slightly more charismatic version of his antihero, and unleash the full fury of his withering British condescension and acrobatic dialogue.
All four seasons are available streaming on Hulu, although this doesn’t include the specials such as Blackadder’s Christmas Carol.
2) The Tudors (2007 – 2010)
If anyone could challenge Lord Blackadder for sheer arrogance and self-involvement, it would have to be King Henry VIII. Over the course of four seasons, Showtime’s The Tudors tracks the early years of Henry’s reign, back when he was still spry and before he ballooned into the portrait-filling form we all know from the history books. Jonathan Rhys Meyers chews every bit of available scenery as the lusty, arrogant Henry, a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
The Tudors was created by Michael Hirst, a veteran English screenwriter with a knack for historical drama in particular. In addition to The Tudors, his resume includes the 1998 film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, and its 2007 sequel, The Golden Age. He also created the hit History Channel drama Vikings. In addition to Meyers, the Tudors cast includes a revolving door of familiar faces, including Peter O’Toole, Max von Sydow, Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).
The Tudors is a heady mix of costume drama and soap opera, with Henry’s selfish whims and changes of mood often betraying even those closest to him, and infamously sending several of his six wives toward poor ends. The Tudors is addictive, enthralling, and visually gorgeous.
3) The White Queen (2013)
Starz built its original content empire on the success of Spartacus: Blood & Sand, and has continued to produce ambitious period epics like Black Sails and Outlander. One historical show that most likely flew below your radar, however, was 2013’s The White Queen. Set during the 15th century “War of the Roses,” The White Queen follows the machinations of three powerful women as they attempt to maneuver through a bitter and violent war for the throne that has pit the House of York against the House of Lancaster.
The women in question are Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), consort to Edward IV of England; Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) of the House of Lancaster; and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), queen consort to Richard III. The White Queen is based Philippa Gregory’s series of historical novels, which began in 2009’s book of the same name. Woodville, Beaufort, and Neville were the protagonists of each of the first three books in the series, respectively, but the show merges material from the books into one 10-episode series.
The White Queen is perfect for binging, and since Margaret Beaufort was the grandmother of Henry VIII, you could even watch it as a sort of “prequel” before diving into The Tudors. And if the show leaves you craving more, there’s good news: Philippa Gregory confirmed earlier this year that Starz had greenlit a sequel series based on her 2013 novel The White Princess.
You can watch The White Queen on Amazon Prime.
4) Reign (2013 – present)
If you like your royal drama to skew a bit more CW than BBC, there’s always Reign. Created by Laurie McCarthy (Ghost Whisperer) and Stephanie SenGupta (The Good Wife), Reign has aired three seasons on the CW, and is set to return for a fourth sometime in 2017. The show follows the life of Mary, Queen of Scots…with some liberties taken. The show begins in 1557, exploring Mary’s (Adelaide Kane) years spent in the court of France, where she was betrothed to marry Prince Francis.
This is a CW show, so expect lots of melodrama among young, ridiculously pretty people… although The Tudors has plenty of that, too, so we can’t take too many cheap shots at Reign’s CW heritage. Although we are going to take a moment to chuckle about the fact that the show’s theme song is by the Lumineers, because of course it is.
Critics have needled the show for its lack of historical accuracy, but let’s be honest: This is the CW, not PBS. If you’re in the mood for a campy, melodramatic period soap opera full of sex, scandal, and gorgeous costuming, Reign may well scratch your itch. This is a show that pissed off the Parents Television Council for having a character masturbate in a stairwell, so that’s worth some bonus points in and of itself.
You can watch Reign streaming on Netflix Instant.
5) The Royals (2015 – present)
If we’re judging Reign by its network, it’s only fair to point out that The Royals is the first scripted series created by E!, a network built on celebrities behaving badly. Expect it to wear its over-the-top soap opera shenanigans with pride. Created by Mark Schwahn (One Tree Hill), The Royals abandons the days of yesteryear to follow a fictional group of modern monarchs as they navigate political rivalries, sex scandals, and paparazzi.
Elizabeth Hurley stars as Queen Helena Henstridge, wife of King Simon. Their eldest son Robert is heir to the throne, leaving Simon and Helena’s younger offspring, the twins Liam and Eleanor, to enjoy all the perks of being royalty without actually having to worry about the eventual weight of a crown. Except then Robert is killed—possibly in suspicious circumstances—and Liam is suddenly faced with the reality that his future may be very different than what he expected. Also in the mix is Simon’s brother, Cyrus, who has his own machinations in play.
The Royals has aired two seasons on E!, and the network picked it up for a third earlier this year. In the meantime, you can watch the show’s full run on Amazon Prime.
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