12 of the best TV drama series about the British royal family

Period drama fans just can’t get enough of the British royals!

We’ve picked out 12 of the best historical TV series based on the country’s many different monarchies, listed here in alphabetical order.

 

The Crown

Created and written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), Netflix’s hugely successful series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom launched in 2016 and is the most expensive TV production ever made.

The first two seasons of The Crown starred Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) as Elizabeth and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as Prince Philip, covering the years from 1947 to 1964.

They will be replaced by Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander) respectively in the upcoming third and fourth seasons. The Crown is set to run for six seasons and 60 episodes episodes in total.

 

Edward II 

The Lord of the Rings star Ian McKellen leads the cast of the BBC’s 1970 studio recording of the successful stage production of Christopher Marlowe’s play, alongside Timothy West and a young Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire).

The 2-hour TV movie’s plot sees the reign of Edward II, King of England, in trouble from the start, when he brings his male lover, hated by the nobles, out of exile.

 

Elizabeth I

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this two-part mini-series starred Helen Mirren (The Queen) as Elizabeth I of England and aired on HBO and Channel 4 in 2005.

Beginning in 1579, Elizabeth I focuses on the final quarter-century of her nearly 45-year reign, including the latter years of her relationship with the Earl of Leicester and her subsequent relationship with the Earl of Essex.

Alongside Mirren, the cast also includes Jeremy Irons (The Borgias) as the Earl of Leicester, Hugh Dancy (Hannibal) as the Earl of Essex, Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Robert Cecil, Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars) as Lord Burghley and Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) as King James VI.

Eddie Redmayne, who Hooper would go on to work with in 2015’s The Danish Girl, also appears as Southampton.

 

The Last Kingdom

Based on the Saxon Stories novels by English author Bernard Cornwell, Netflix and the BBC’s epic series is set in the late 9th century AD, when England is divided into seven separate kingdoms.

The Last Kingdom tells the story of a Saxon man (Uhtred, played by Alexander Dreymon), raised by Danes, who must choose a side and play his part in the birth of a nation, alongside King Alfred the Great (David Dawson).

Two seasons have aired so far, in 2015 and 2017, with a third season due to air later in 2018.

 

The Lion in Winter

A remake of the stage play and the original 1968 movie which starred Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, this epic 3-hour TV movie was broadcast in 2003.

The Lion in Winter follows King Henry II as he meets with Eleanor of Aquitaine at Christmastide 1183 to choose one which of his sons will become his successor.

British acting legend Patrick Stewart (X-Men) and Glenn Close (Damages) lead the cast.

 

Pillars of the Earth

Adapted from Ken Follett’s novel, The Pillars of the Earth took a year to make and cost $40 million.

The huge cast includes Ian McShane (Lovejoy), Rufus Sewell (Victoria), Matthew Macfadyen (Ripper Street), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) and Sarah Parish (Merlin), with Clive Wood playing King Henry I.

Airing on Starz in 2010, the eight-part mini-series centres on the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge during a tumultuous period of English history known as The Anarchy in the 12th century.

 

Reign

The CW’s highly fictionalised historical romantic drama series about the early exploits of Mary, Queen of Scots ran for four seasons from 2013-2017.

 

The Tudors

Created and written by Michael Hirst (Vikings), this American produced drama series was set during the reign of King Henry VIII in the 16th-century Kingdom of England.

28 episodes aired between 2007 and 2010, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry, alongside Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) and singer Joss Stone.

The Tudors is only loosely based on historical fact, with writer Michael Hirst admitting: “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history … And we wanted people to watch it.”

 

Victoria

Doctor Who star Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria in ITV’s lavish drama series, which launched in 2016.

Beginning with Victoria’s accession to the throne at the age of just 18 and friendship with Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), the series later follows her marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) as she balances her responsibilities as both parent and Queen.

Victoria will return for a third season later this year.

 

The White Queen

Based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novel series The Cousins’ War, the BBC and Starz collaborated on this ten-part adaptation in 2013.

Beginning in 1464, The White Queen charts the story of the women caught up in the ongoing conflict for the throne during the War of the Roses. Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman) played Elizabeth Woodville, aka the “White Queen”, and Max Irons (Woman in Gold) played Edward IV of England.

A sequel mini-series, titled The White Princess, aired in 2016 and a further series, called The Spanish Princess, will follow in 2018.

 

Wolf Hall

The BBC adapted Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in 2015.

The six-part series chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a humble blacksmith who became King Henry VIII’s chief minister, as he navigated the corridors of power in the Tudor court.

The cast included Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) as Thomas Cromwell, Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Henry VIII and Claire Foy (The Crown) as Anne Boleyn.

 

World Without End

Set two hundred years after The Pillars of the Earth (see above), this eight-part sequel series based on Ken Follett’s novel aired in Channel 4 in 2010.

Starring Cynthia Nixon (Sex & The City), Peter Firth (Spooks), Ben Chaplin (Dorian Gray), Charlotte Riley (The Take) and Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter), with Blake Ritson as King Edward III, World Without End returns to the medieval English town of Kingsbridge as it is besieged by war and plague during the start of the Hundred Years’ War and the outbreak of the Black Death.

 

Click here for our list of the best movies and TV series about Queen Victoria.