Marcus Garvey said: “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” This saying is still popular to date, and those who read a lot about their past are able to hold great conversations with a wide variety of people. Fact: reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but even those who can’t be bothered to crack open a book shouldn’t be left behind. There are several TV shows that take viewers through the lives of some of the most influential leaders in history.
Here are five TV series you should watch if you are a history buff.
The Underground Railroad
The setting is in the 1800s, when America was still engaged in the slave trade. There are several black people brought into the country against their will who are struggling to escape and hence the formation of the underground railroad. This network is made up of people helping enslaved African-Americans escape to their freedom through a series of routes and hideouts that are unknown to the enslaver. One of the slaves, Cora, who is the lead actor, is among those trying to escape from Georgia through this train.
So many things happen along the way. Those unlucky enough to get caught are made examples of punishment that should never be meted on human beings. They are beaten to death or burnt in the presence of their fellow slaves. Also, Cora, as she runs away from her captor, passes through several villages with absurd beliefs. At one, the residents are burning everything that they deem impure and unchristian, including killing black people – whether slaves or free. In a world determined to bury its head whenever slavery is mentioned, this TV show is a reminder that it indeed existed. It is based on a novel with the same title by Colson Whitehead.
If you have had to read about the military successes and failures of Napoleon Bonaparte, then you might enjoy watching a miniseries based on his life. It would help to have read online essays on Napoleon in advance to prepare you for the journey that is his life. This series covers lots of things – actually almost everything about Napoleon’s public life. It takes you through his battles; Austerlitz, Eylau, and Waterloo, his Russian retreat, and his marriages and divorces, as well as the scandalous affairs. At the time of its production, this series was the most expensive of its kind because the producers did not spare a dime in making things seem as real as possible.
It begins with the imprisonment of Napoleon on Saint Helena before it moves to him meeting his wife, Josephine de Beauharnais. The show takes viewers through everyday things the leader did, like checking out a house they would later buy as a couple to the more complex areas of his life when he went to battle. It creates a balance between personal and professional life that makes it interesting to watch. Do not be surprised if you get so invested in his life after watching this short series.
This show is set in 16th-century England and based on the reign of King Henry VIII during the Tudor Dynasty. The king’s reign enjoys the usual conflicts associated with such leadership – there is international conflict and local opposition to worry about. He gets to meet and sign a peace agreement with the ruler of France after the counsel of his chief advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. At some point, the king is concerned with the lack of a male heir to his throne, which causes him to question his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. In a panic, he ends up having numerous affairs, one of which is with his wife’s lady in waiting, Elizabeth Blount, who actually bears him an illegitimate son.
Along the way – in season two – beautiful Anne Boleyn comes into the scene and catches the king’s eye after being encouraged by her father and uncle to seduce him. She does fall in love with him too but insists on marriage as she cannot be his mistress. The Catholic church will not grant a royal divorce simply because the king can marry a second wife, so some pull-and-push ensue. The king has made it clear he will do whatever it takes to marry Anne. This series shows the delicate balance between leadership and the personal drama of a historical leader.
If you are intrigued by the British monarch, then you will enjoy this show. The first season takes viewers through the marriage of Queen Elizabeth to the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. It goes deeper than just their role as leaders and slightly into their lives as a married couple, which is a refreshing way to look at the life of someone – the Queen – who people mostly see as the larger-than-life public figure. The second season opens up a part of history that is usually forgotten – the Suez Crisis of 1956 – and political resignations that followed it. It then moves to the birth of some of the couple’s children and introduces other influential people in the British government.
What most people find to be the most intriguing part of this drama is the fourth season that introduces the reign of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. This season also covers the marriage of Princess Diana to Prince Charles. The Crown is one of the best-written series on the British throne.
Mary, Queen of Scots, ruled Scotland from 1542 to 1567. During this time, she has a series of up and down moments that lead to her eventual removal from power. Season one starts with the Queen taking her place in the French courts and starting her reign. She is also to marry Prince Francis, who has been her fiancé from when she was six. As she grows into her role, we see the Queen battling to stay in charge of her subjects as well as manage a private life.
The second season highlights some of the challenges in the dynasty caused partly by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants as well as the attack of the French kingdom. In season three, King Francis’ health starts to decline, something that the Queen expected as it was clear their marriage would lead to this. Overall, this series sheds light on a political leader that would otherwise have been forgotten. It also brings to light some interesting details of the 1500s.
Take a Break from Fiction
History is enriching, sad, eye-opening, and intriguing. Even hilarious sometimes! If books aren’t your thing but you would still like to chip in when your friends talk about infamous spills or royal drama, check out any of these TV shows and more. They make a good break from the regular fiction we are so used to seeing on TV these days.