From the 13th century right up to the 21st (with a sneak peek at the 25th), choose to travel consecutively, or dip in and out of the centuries as you fancy with this selection of historical dramas at SBS On Demand.
13th century: Knightfall
Knightfall delves into the unwashed world of the Middle Ages, specifically, the goings-on of the Knights Templar in decline. Loosely based on history, the series is rife with violent deaths by sword, (extra-marital) sex and chasing the elusive Holy Grail. In season 2, Landry (Tom Cullen) is banished now that his affair with Queen Joan has been revealed. King Philip (Ed Stoppard), with his trusty adviser De Nogaret (Julian Ovendon) by his side, plans an attack against the Templars. And who should show up, but the King’s eldest son, Prince Louis (Tom Forbes). There’s plenty of drama to fall into, and look out for series newcomer, Mark Hamill, who plays Talus.
14th century: The Name of the Rose
Based on Umberto Eco’s wildly successful novel, The Name of the Rose presents a week in the life of a secluded monastery in the Italian Alps. While it sounds peaceful, it’s anything but. It’s 1327, and new arrivals Franciscan monk William of Baskerville (John Turturro) and his novice Adso von Melk (Damian Hardung) bear witness to a series of mysterious murders. In their search for the killer, merciless inquisitor Bernard Gui (Rupert Everett) begins to hunt them between bouts of prosecuting anyone who criticises the Pope.
Season 1 of The Name of the Rose airs on Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS and is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
15th century: Medici: Masters of Florence
When banker Giovanni de Medici (Dustin Hoffman) drops dead, his son Cosimo (Richard Madden) is pushed reluctantly to the head of the family dynasty. Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo (Stuart Martin) suspect their father was murdered by arch-rival Rinaldo Albizzi (Lex Shrapnel), who’s drumming up support in opposition to the Medicis. With tangled love interests and the golden-hued locales of the Florentine elite, this intriguing family provides no end of tales to chase round the back streets of Florence.
Season 2, called Medici: The Magnificent, begins 20 years later, and this time round, we’re seeing drama unfold for Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo (Daniel Sharman). He is quickly put to the test when an attempt is made on his father Piero’s life (Piero is played by Julian Sands). New head of the bank, Lorenzo resolves to take a different approach to Piero, and Jacopo Pazzi (Sean Bean), the head of the rival bank, also presents him with challenges, to say the least.
Season 2 arrives at SBS On Demand on Thursday, 24 October. Here’s season 1 episode 1:
16th century: The Plague
As people crowd the Spanish city of Seville, the thriving gateway to the New World, plague decimates the population. Amid the growing misery, outlaw of the Holy Inquisition, Mateo Núñez (Pablo Molinero) has a mission: to re-enter the city and rescue the illegitimate son of his friend, who has died in his absence. Mateo must conceal himself to avoid detection by the Holy Office and finds shelter in the home of former associate Luis de Zúñiga (Paco León). Meanwhile, the discovery of several murdered people is interpreted as an omen of the end of the world. This Spanish noir thriller vividly depicts the darkness of this time.
17th century: The Miniaturist
Amsterdam, 1686. Young bride Petronella (Anya Taylor-Joy) arrives at the home of her new husband, successful merchant Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell) – with debt threatening to sink her family after her father’s death, Nella’s marriage solves a problem – only to be greeted rather coldly by her new sister-in-law Marin (Romola Garai). When Johannes finally shows up, he gives Nella a miniature replica of their home. Enlisting the services of a miniaturist to furnish her tiny home, Nella begins to receive additional pieces identical to items in the Brandt home. Is the mysterious miniaturist behind increasingly creepy events that quickly become disturbing?
This lavish period drama returns to SBS On Demand on 19 October.
18th century: Harlots
Popular period drama Harlots is all about London’s most lucrative business in the 1700s – sex. Season 3 sees Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) fight back at the Pinchers’ imposition on the city’s bawdy houses and Lucy (Eloise Smyth) join forces with series newcomers Elizabeth (Angela Griffin) and her son Fredo (Aidan Cheng) when they set up a molly-house in Golden Square. In Bedlam, Lydia (Lesley Manville) continues to suffer her family’s abandonment and the experimental treatment of her doctors. Meanwhile, in her brother’s absence, Lady Fitz (Liv Tyler) grows bolder, pushing the boundaries of property. Left to her own devices, Sophia’s (Hannah Dodd) eye starts wandering.
19th century: The Son
Based on the novel by Philipp Meyer, The Son spans the 19th and 20th centuries from the setting of the Texan Wild West. At the heart of the series is patriarch Eli McCullough, the younger played by Jacob Lofland, the older by Pierce Brosnan. In a violent frontier world, when Eli’s family is murdered, he’s taken in by a Comanche tribe. All grown up and running an expansive cattle ranch and with sons of his own, Eli digs for oil on the land. Season 2 jumps to 1988 to follow the story of Eli’s granddaughter Jeanne Anne (Lois Smith), running an oil concern and engaging in illegal activities, connecting the generations in various ways. There’s no shying away from the brutality of life on the land and the often violent clashes between cultures in The Son.
Seasons 1 and 2 of The Son are at SBS On Demand now. Here’s season 1 episode 1:
20th century: Ku’damm 56 and 59
Seasons 1 and 2 of this German series are set in 1956 and 1959 respectively. Ku’Damm refers to elegant Berlin boulevard Kurfürstendamm where Caterina Schöllack (Claudia Michelsen) runs a very proper dance school. With three daughters coming of age, Caterina is determined to see them all well married off. While Helga (Maria Enrich) is engaged and nurse Eva (Emilia Schüle) is working her magic on an older doctor at the hospital, middle child Monika (Sonja Gerhardt) is the lost lamb, until she rocks the boat by discovering the passion and power of rock ‘n’ roll. Dubbed Germany’s answer to Mad Men – the fashion is certainly comparable – the dance floor scenes and music are exuberant in contrast to the stifling conventions. Helga is a nurturing eldest sister to Sonja, going some way to making up for Caterina’s harshness.
21st century: The Hunting
A school and its community is rocked by a thoroughly 21st century sexting scandal in this hit local drama. Starring Asher Keddie and Richard Roxburgh, The Hunting follows the lives of four teenagers, their teachers and families in the aftermath of a nude teen photo scandal. Tackling themes of misogyny, online exploitation, sexuality and sexualisation, the series offers a vital portrait of modern, multicultural Australia.
The SBS Original limited series is now available to stream at SBS On Demand.
25th century: The Orville
The year is 2417, and Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is promoted to Captain of the USS Orville, an exploratory vessel tasked with conducting missions in outer space. Appointed as First Officer is Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who also happens to be his ex-wife. On their very first mission the Orville’s crew is ambushed by the Krill, a vicious alien race out to steal a device that can speed up time. Focusing on the challenges faced by the human and alien crew alike, The Orville has built a loyal following both here and in the USA, inspiring the SBS podcast Orvilleland, and leaving fans eager for season 3, which is due to arrive by the year’s end; 2019, that is.
Season 3 of The Orville is coming soon. Seasons 1 and 2 are at SBS On Demand now. Here’s season 1 episode 1: