I think I speak for a large proportion of the millennial population when I say that our current day and age is rather on the side of complete rubbish. Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for all the things we have that many still go without like proper sanitation, healthcare, clean water and electricity- but I can’t help but feel a little put out by the realities of life in the modern Australian city. Sometimes it’s nice to switch off all the
dismal news about corrupt Aussie politicians and the rising youth poverty and unemployment that threatens to swallow us like a hungry Sarlacc. When I need to unwind from the millennial day-to-day grind I turn to the magical realm of the historical drama.
Ah, historical dramas. The costumes, the beautiful sets, the eloquent speech and over the top drama – it’s the perfect escape after a hard day’s work. And when I’m not feeling the cheesy fantasy style period drama there are always the dark and gritty series that make one a little more grateful not to be living in the not-so-good old days.
For this New Year’s round up I decided to share some of my all-time favourite historical dramas (because there is no way I could choose just one) in the hopes that something on this list will give you a movie to snuggle up with or a series to binge watch when you should really be doing something else. I tried to stay away from some of the bigger and better-known dramas, in favour of some less famous films and series that deserve a little time in the spotlight.
Anno 1790 (Series)
If crime dramas and mysteries are your cup of tea then this Swedish series is for you. Anno 1790 is a bit different from your standard Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot types of detective stories. Protagonist Johan Gustav Dåådh may be living in the 18th century but he’s definitely not an old-fashioned kind of guy. He’s both a progressive thinker and an atheist – which causes a great deal of friction when he takes on the job of a criminal inspector in the rather conservative and dangerous city of Stockholm.
This series has all the hallmarks of a good detective drama – with murder and mysteries and, of course – illicit romance. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Sweden and with a decidedly left-wing outlook, this series provides a breath of fresh air after oh-so-many Victorian London crime dramas. The characters are engaging and endearing and the series balances the dark and upsetting with the uplifting and comedic for just the right amount of each.
Anno 1790‘s only real let-down is its length. The whole series is only 10 episodes long and leaves you thirsty for more. Sadly, after it first aired in 2011 no new season has been announced.
There is no shortage of historical series and films about prostitution but Harlots is a cut above the rest. Set in 1763 London, this series focuses on the lives of several sex workers in competing brothels. Our leading bawd is Margaret Wells, who has raised her two daughters to take up the trade and whose is engaged in a constant and hostile rivalry with Lydia Quigly – her former boss and owner of a high-end brothel.
What makes Harlots different from other historical series about sex workers is that it shows the diversity of the people living and working in London’s brothels. Margaret Wells is in an interracial relationship and there are several queer characters and male sex workers. Series creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini treat their characters with dignity and complexity, making for a story that is both engaging and worth investing in. So far there’s only one season – released in 2017 on Hulu – but more seasons are on their way!
Nils Gaup is a Sami director from Norway whose films are truly breathtaking and thought-provoking – making it incredibly hard for me to choose just one of his films for this list. I narrowed it down to a hard choice between The Kautokeino Rebellion (2008) and Ofelas – Pathfinder in English – (1987). Ofelas has to be the winner because it is so incredibly unique and such a wonderful classic. Set in northern Scandinavia circa 1000 AD, the film tells the story of Aigin, a young Sami man who becomes a pathfinder for his people by saving them from the violent Chudes, who massacred his family.
At times the film is dark but also showcases the rich cultural traditions of the Sami people in a time before their culture was threatened by Scandinavia’s now dominant cultural groups. I would definitely recommend this film if you’re interested in learning about Sami culture or if you enjoy a more serious and confronting kind of film.
Birkebeinerne/The Last King (Film)
Okay, so I lied about Nils Gaup making it into the list just once, but come on – how could I not mention this action-packed adventure on skis? Set in Norway in 1206, this film focuses on a couple of men who are tasked with protecting the future king Håkon Håkonsson from a bunch of bloodthirsty soldiers sent to kill him. Håkon, being a baby, spends most of the movie strapped to the heroes’ backs but still manages to steal the show by bringing out the softer sides of his warrior companions. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognise Tormund Giantsbane (played by Kristofer Hivyu) as one of the leading actors. If you’ve watched Kon-Tiki (another amazing Norwegian film) you’ll recognise his co-star as Scandinavian wonder-boy Jakob Oftebro.
This film has plenty of action – with sword fights, chase scenes (on skis!) and plenty of drama. But it’s also sweet and funny at times. It’s just an all-round good time.
This list could go on for miles but I’ll leave it at those four. Coming to the end I realise I chose only one English language drama (Harlots). But don’t let subtitles keep you from the rest – they’re well worth watching ( though I may be a bit biased given I don’t have to read the subtitles on any of them). Hopefully something on this list has tickled your fancy.
Words by Lisandra Linde
Lisandra is an editor, writer, and Hons. student. She has been an editor and designer for Empire Times Magazine and runs advertising and promotion for Speakeasy Flinders and Quart Shorts. She writes Fantasy and essays and frequently performs at spoken word events around Adelaide. She tweets at @KrestianLullaby