Eight TV shows to stream about royal families — ‘The Empress’, ‘Reign’ and 'Wolf Hall'

The lives of monarchs — from Britain’s Queen Victoria to Russia’s Catherine the Great — are laid bare in these entertaining tales

Tom Hughes and Jenna Coleman star as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in a series about the former British monarch. Photo: ITV
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With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the continuing discord between Princes William and Harry, as well as the recent turmoil in Denmark after Queen Margrethe II stripped her youngest son’s four children of their regal titles, royal drama has been making plenty of headlines lately.

Acclaimed Netflix series The Crown can take the credit for igniting a fascination with the machinations of not only the British royal family, but regal houses around the world, and fans eagerly await the fifth season, which will be released on November 9.

For those who can’t get enough courtly intrigue, here are eight shows with seriously royal roots…

1. ‘The Empress’, Netflix

Doing for the Austro-Hungarian empire what The Crown did for the British royal family, The Empress takes a deep dive into the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Devrim Lingnau) as she navigates the court of Habsburg as the 16-year-old bride to Emperor Franz Joseph (Philip Froissant).

The German show, which has English subtitles, follows Elizabeth from her marriage in 1854 through the politics of courtly life as she tangles with her interfering mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie, and deals with a conniving brother-in-law who believes he should be the one to rule.

2. ‘Victoria’, Apple TV+

British actress Jenna Coleman takes on the task of portraying Queen Victoria, who ascended the throne at the age of 18 to become one of Britain’s most celebrated monarchs, overseeing a period of unprecedented industrial, political and scientific change.

Victoria highlights the young monarch’s close relationship with her favourite advisor Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) and marriage to Germany’s Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), and doesn’t shy away from the devastating events during her reign, including the Anglo-Afghan War and Ireland’s Great Famine.

3. ‘The Great’, OSN

Billed as The Great: An Occasionally True Story, the series stars Elle Fanning as the would-be Catherine the Great, and Nicholas Hoult as Russia’s Emperor Peter III.

Heavy on satire, the acclaimed black comedy follows Catherine’s journey through court as the unpopular Prussian (German) transplant, regarded by many as a spy, whose marriage aged 16 to the immature Peter is doomed from the start.

With her ideas of art, education and emancipation that were greatly ahead of her time, Catherine begins to believe Russia would be better off without her husband entirely.

4. ‘Wolf Hall’, Apple TV+

Based on Dame Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, this six-part series tells the story of King Henry VIII’s reign in England in the 1500s.

The story focuses on the rise to power of the king's chief minister Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and his relationship with Henry (Damian Lewis) as the king becomes desperate for an heir to cement his succession.

His determination to defy Pope Clement VII and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, saw the creation of the Church of England so Henry could marry Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy).

5. ‘Versailles’, Netflix

Based on one of the most famous courts in royal history, Versailles begins in 1667 when, after a series of civil wars in France Young King Louis XIV (George Blagden) moves his court from the outskirts of fashionable Paris to the then-hunting lodge of rural Versailles as he battles the French nobility.

What follows is the creation of the Palace of Versailles as we know it today, with corridors brimming with intrigue as the nobles who were forced to follow Louis out to the sticks plot against the Sun King.

6. ‘Rise of Empires: Ottoman’, Netflix

This epic look at one of history’s longest and most powerful empires focuses on the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the Conqueror and the Fall of Constantinople. Turkish actor Cem Yigit Uzumoglu stars as Sultan Mehmed II who, after claiming the Ottoman throne, begins a campaign to take the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople.

A siege, naval blockade and one of the most famous war manoeuvres in history whereby 60 naval ships were moved across land, saw the capture of the city and the establishment of the Ottoman Caliphate.

7. ‘The Tudors’, OSN

Set in 16th century England, this four-season show follows the life of young Henry VIII through some of the most famous moments in his life and 38-year reign.

Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry, Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn and Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, season one follows the king’s attempts to have his 24-year marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, while season two focuses on his marriage to the doomed Anne Boleyn.

In season three Henry works his way through two more wives, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and in season four he meets and marries Catherine Howard before his final marriage to Catherine Parr.

8. ‘Reign’, Apple TV+

With an emphasis on the teen drama side of youthful monarchs, The CW Network's Reign, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, is a highly fictionalised account of real people and events.

The four-season-long show about Mary Stuart, who came to the Scottish throne aged only six days when her father James V of Scotland died, follows her travelling to France with four ladies-in-waiting to secure her engagement to Prince Francis, who would briefly hold the French throne at the age of 15.

Although it's streaming on Apple TV+, it is a CW show, home to The Vampire Diaries, Riverdale and 90210, so plenty of angst and intrigue awaits in the French court.

Updated: October 14, 2022, 6:28 AM
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