- The British royal family fascinates viewers on both sides of the pond.
- Insider has ranked the top nine TV series covering the lives of the royals, according to critic reviews.
- Favorites like “The Crown” are well-regarded, while others like “The Tudors” drew criticism.
“Wolf Hall” is the best-reviewed royal drama. It appeared on Masterpiece theater in six parts in 2015.
Summary: This six-part series merges the Hilary Mantel novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies.” It explores the life and career of the Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell, who rose to the top of society before falling out of favor and ending up beheaded.
Critic Review: “It is a special drama that not just withstands a rewatch but grows richer for it,” wrote Vicky Frost at The Guardian.
“The Crown” premiered on Netflix in 2016. It is the second-best royal drama, according to critics.
Summary: “The Crown” begins in 1947 prior to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as she eagerly awaits news about her impending marriage to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Decades before her Platinum Jubilee, the family of the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning ruler scrambles to secure the supremacy of their monarchy by balancing tradition and progress.
Critic Review: “I don’t know how much literal truth there is in the story ‘The Crown’ is telling about the royals… But the season’s insights into our emotions and familial volatility, and its ways of articulating it in such reflective ways, need no added research,” wrote Alex Abad-Santos at Vox.
“Victoria” is the third-best royal drama, according to critics. It premiered in 2016 on ITV in the UK and the following year on PBS in the US.
Summary: The legendary love story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gets the Masterpiece Theater treatment in this epic series full of lush sets and fun historical sidebars. The series takes place in 1837 after William IV’s death leads an 18-year-old Victoria to the throne.
Critic Review: “‘Victoria’ is at heart a love story, or collection of love stories, and while Ms. Goodwin occasionally bogs down in history, she can always get back on solid ground with romance,” wrote Mike Hale The New York Times.
The CW show “Reign” is the next best-rated royal drama. It aired in 2013 and focused on the life (and later death) of Mary Queen of Scots. Some critics found it frivolous and offensive, but others defended its frothy appeal and fun costumes.
Summary: “Bridgerton” was not the first to put a “Gossip Girl”-style twist on tales of the British aristocracy. “Reign” used Mary’s childhood to create fun teenage intrigue. Mary arrives at the French court after an assassin has failed to poison her at the convent where she has been hidden. When she arrives, she encounters backstabbing and bed swapping between her fellow royals and the nobles who empower them.
Critic Review: “The desire to engage a young and distracted demographic with the storied past is an admirable thing. And honestly, what better vehicle than Mary Stuart?” asked Mary McNamara, a TV critic at the Los Angeles Times.
“Becoming Elizabeth,” which premiered on Starz in June 2022, is another top-rated royal drama.
Summary: “Becoming Elizabeth” begins shortly after the death of King Henry VIII in 1547. It presents teen angst set against a backdrop of a possible beheading when the red-headed half-sister of the reigning monarch finds herself a threat to the throne.
Critic Review: “But creator Anya Reiss brings to Elizabeth I’s saga an intimate perspective that prioritizes personal experience over the epic sweep of history. The result is a series that neither sexes up the Tudor era (a la ‘The Tudors’) nor freezes it under museum glass (a la ‘Anne Boleyn’), but instead finds a way to render it nearly as dynamic and complicated as the present,” wrote Angie Han at The Hollywood Reporter.
The Starz series “The White Queen” starts in 1464 during the treacherous War of the Roses. It is the sixth-rated royal drama. It was adapted from the novel of the same title by Philippa Gregory and aired in 2013.
Summary: The houses of York and Lancaster duke it out to determine who is England’s true king.
Critic review: “‘White Queen’ is one of the more handsome and polished imports the premium service has offered,” wrote Brian Lowry at Variety.
“The White Princess,” which aired in 2017, is an adaptation of another of Philippa Gregory’s works. It is ranked seventh by critics.
Summary: In the aftermath of the events of “The White Queen,” women step to the forefront of the palace intrigue.
Critic Review: Shirley Li at Entertainment Weekly wrote that the series “manages to make even 15th-century politics feel contemporary thanks to a stellar performance from Jodie Comer as Elizabeth of York.”
Ranked eighth by critics is “The Spanish Princess.” Like its predecessor on Starz, it focused heavily on the perspective of women. It premiered in 2019.
Summary: Princess Catherine of Aragon fights to fulfill what she sees as her destiny by becoming the queen of England. Along the way, she ropes a few senior royals into lies that could cost their lives.
Critic Review: “As our taste for queen content grows, Starz’s delicious (and dubious) new miniseries, ‘The Spanish Princess,’ seeks to rectify this with amplified pathos and fictionalized historiography,” wrote Robyn Bahr at The Hollywood Reporter.
In ninth place is “The Tudors,” a sexed-up high-stakes romp on Showtime that was met with mixed reviews. It premiered in 2007.
Summary: “The Tudors” begins with a realm in turmoil thanks to Henry VIII’s inability to produce an heir. Each of the king’s six marriages is depicted.
Critic Review: “Timelines are abbreviated, papacies are rearranged, and while the show’s creators have adequately defended these practices as a means of narrative efficiency, they have yet to be held accountable for producing a version of Tudor England that appears to have been spritzed with Febreze,” wrote Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times.
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