The 25 Best Period Dramas on Netflix to Watch Immediately

Name a better form of escapism. We'll wait.

bridgerton, a period drama on netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Every once in a while, we need to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology. In comes the period drama, showing how people (often white royals) lived through major historical events—or sometimes how they just lived, without electricity, indoor plumbing, or Facebook (some innovations vastly more important than others).

Lucky for Netflix fans, the streamer has great period dramas and historical movies from around the globe, with fascinating stories spanning from ancient Greece to 1970s America, filled with romance, intrigue, action, and beautiful gowns. Though they may not all be historically correct, they're definitely entertaining. Below,  the best period dramas on Netflix for when you need a break from modern life.

Bridgerton

Historical era: early 1800s, Regency London

Starring: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Nicola Coughlan, Jonathan Bailey, Claudia Jessie, Adjoa Andoh, Golda Rosheuvel 

Why watch: All the romance, gossip, and intrigue of matchmaking, plus a Regency-era Gossip Girl? Sign us up. (Also, now's the perfect time to binge before Season 2 drops on March 25.)

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The Crown

Historical era: Queen Elizabeth II's reign, 1952-1990 (so far)

Starring: Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, Matt Smith, Tobias Menzies, Vanessa Kirby, Helena Bonham Carter, Josh O'Connor, Emma Corrin

Why watch: This behind-the-scenes look at the British royal family gets more and more fascinating as we get closer to the present day (now accepting fan castings for Meghan Markle).

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Downton Abbey

Historical era: 1912-1926

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Maggie Smith

Why watch: Turns out it takes a village to run an old-fashioned British estate, with the servants downstairs having lives just as complicated as those upstairs.

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The Queen's Gambit

Historical era: 1960s America

Starring: Anna Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Chloe Pirrie, Marcin Dorocinski, Marielle Heller, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Moses Ingram, Harry Melling

Why watch: If you've never seen chess as interesting, Taylor-Joy's depiction of a female prodigy playing among mostly-male competition will change your mind.

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Outlander

Historical era: 1743-1770, 1945-1960s (dual timelines)

Starring: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Duncan Lacriox, Sophie Skelton, Richard Rankin, Tobias Menzies, César Domboy, Graham McTavish

Why watch: Claire and Jamie Fraser have a love that literally overcomes time, where sadistic British soldiers and drastic lifestyle differences aren't enough to keep them apart.

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Derry Girls

Historical era: early 1990s

Starring: Nicola Coughlan, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jaime-Lee O'Donnell, Siobhán McSweeney, Dylan Llewellyn

Why watch: This hilarious comedy shows a group of teens coming of age and going on absurd adventures during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

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Peaky Blinders

Historical era: post-WWI England

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, Helen McCrory, Sophie Rundle, Ned Dennehy, Finn Cole

Why watch: This gangster noir follows the Shelby family as they fight against other gangs for control of their city (including guests stars like Tom Hardy and Adrien Brody).

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Cable Girls

Historical era: 1920s Madrid, Spain

Starring: Ana Fernández, Nadia de Santiago, Blanca Suárez, Maggie Civantos

Why watch: In this Spanish-language series, four women join the progressive National Telephone Company as switchboard operators, becoming career women while dealing with the sexism of 1900s Spain.

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Reign

Historical era: 1550s

Starring: Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows, Toby Regbo, Torrance Coombs, Anna Popplewell, Celina Sinden, Caitlin Stasey

Why watch: Though it isn't the most historically-accurate series on this list, Reign is perfect for anyone who wants CW-style love triangles with their court intrigue and 16th-century fashion.

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Kingdom

Historical era: the Joseon era, 1600s

Starring: Ju Ji-hoon, Bae Doona, Kim Sung-kyu, Kim Hye-jun, Jun Suk-ho

Why watch: Another fictionalized depiction of a historical era, this K-drama takes the Korean Joseon era and fills it with zombies.

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Vikings: Valhalla

Historical era: early 11th century (1000s)

Starring: Sam Corlett, Frida Gustavvson, Leo Suter, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Laura Berlin, Bradley Freegard, Caroline Henderson

Why watch: This sequel to Vikings shows the Norse warriors near the end of their age, filled with action and intrigue.

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The Borgias

Historical era: Renaissance-era Italy (1490s)

Starring: Jeremy Irons, Holliday Granger, François Arnaud, Peter Sullivan, Sean Harris, Joanne Whalley

Why watch: This classic Showtime show presents the Borgia family, led by Pope Alexander VI, as full of sex, lies, and murder.

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Call the Midwife

Historical era: late 1950s-1960s East London

Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Stephen McGann, Judy Parfitt, Cliff Parisi, Helen George

Why watch: This award-winning series follows a tight-knit group of midwives as they deal with heavy issues including poverty, racism, and disease in the post-war era.

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Troy: Fall of a City

Historical era: 13th century BC

Starring: Louis Hunter, Bella Dayne, Jonas Armstrong, Christiaan Schoombie, Chloe Pirrie, Johnny Harris, David Gyasi, and Alfred Enoch

Why watch: Have you watched Brad Pitt in Troy a million times and wished the film was longer? Then this 10-episode depiction of the Trojan War may be what you're looking for.

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Alias Grace

Historical era: mid-1800s

Starring: Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin, Edward Holcroft, Kerr Logan, Paul Gross, Rebecca Liddiard, Zachary Levi

Why watch: This miniseries tells the story of the 1843 murders of a husband and wife by their household servants, with a focus on their maid Grace (Gadon). Though she tells the story, through her psychiatric sessions, you never know whether she's telling the truth or lying.

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Anne with an E

Historical era: 1890s Prince Edward Island

Starring: Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James, R.H. Thomson, Dalila Bela, Lucas Jade Zumann

Why watch: This adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables is a grittier version of the childhood favorite, with a fervent fanbase.

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Mr. Sunshine

Historical era: late 1800s Hanseong (modern-day Seoul)

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Kim Tae-ri, Yoo Yeon-seok, Byun Yo-han, Kim Min-jung, Kim Byeong-cheol, Lee Jeong-eun, Shin Jeong-geun

Why watch: If you want historical romance, this story of a Korean Marine who travels back to his home country and falls in love with an aristocrat's granddaughter is a must-watch.

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Versailles

Historical era: late 1600s

Starring: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Stuart Bowman, Evan Williams, Joe Sheridan, Elisa Lasowski

Why watch: The show starts with the transfer of the French royal court to Versailles by King Louis XIV, as the people begin to turn on the monarchy. Of course, the court remained busy with intricate fashion and backstabbing, making for some great TV.

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Frontier

Historical era: late 1800s Canada

Starring: Jason Momoa, Landon Liboiron, Zoe Boyle, Greg Byrk, Jessica Matten, Allan Hawco, Lyla Porter-Follows

Why watch: Momoa plays a half-Irish, half-Cree outlaw who fights to keep the Hudson's Bay Company from keeping their cruel monopoly on the North American fur trade, complete with Khal Drogo-levels of violence.

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The Last Kingdom

Historical era: 9th century England

Starring: Alexander Dreymon, Eliza Butterworth, Arnas Fedaravicius, Millie Brady, Emily Cox, Mark Rowley, Ian Hart

Why watch: A man named Uhtred, born Anglo-Saxon and adopted by the Danes, a.k.a. the Vikings, has to prove himself a great warrior and decide which side he falls on during the formation of England.

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Medici

Historical era: early 15th-century Florence

Starring: Richard Madden, Daniel Sharman, Alessandra Mastronardi, Synnove Karlsen, Sebastian De Souza

Why watch: If you're familiar with the name Medici but not the family's impact, this series follows the Italian family as they build their business to a banking empire that helps fund the renaissance.

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The King's Affection

Historical era: Joseon dynasty

Starring: Park Eun-bin, Ro Woon, Nam Yoon-su, Choi Byung-chan, Bae Yoon-kyoung, Jung Chae-yeon

Why watch: In this gender-swap drama, the hidden twin sister (Park) of the Crown Prince assumes his identity after he's killed. Though she's terrified of being found out, she begins to develop feelings for her teacher (Ro Woon).

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Hollywood

Historical era: post-WWII Hollywood

Starring: David Corenswet, Darren Criss, Laura Harrier, Jeremy Pope, Jake Picking, Samara Weaving, Dylan McDermott, Holland Taylor

Why watch: See both sides of the classic Hollywood studio system, as a screenwriter and filmmaker fight their way in while an actress gets her big break.

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Halston

Historical era: 1960s to late 1980s

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Dayan, David Pittu, Krysta Rodriguez, Gian Franco Rodriguez, Sietzka Rose, Megan Gerald

Why watch: McGregor stars the titular designer who rose to fame thanks to his innovative designs, all the while dealing with his own ego and self-sabotaging nature.

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Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

Historical era: late 1800s to mid 1900s

Starring: Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo, Blair Underwood, Kevin Carroll, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Garrett Morris

Why watch: See the full story of Black haircare innovator Madam C.J. Walker, as her homemade hair products made her America's first Black woman millionaire.

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Quinci LeGardye
Quinci LeGardye

Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.