Watching TV, circa 1958

4 Historical themed TV shows to watch

I’m a big fan of historical based TV shows, these are four of my favourite historical drama shows. You can catch them online, on Netflix, DVD and TV.


  1. Boardwalk Empire

    Five Seasons

Set during the 1920’s – 1930’s

boardwalk empire

Boardwalk Empire TV show ran for five seasons and it was set in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era of the 1920’s and 1930’s.  It was a period drama focusing on Enoch “Nucky” Thompson who was a Politician and bootlegger, the character was based on the historical figure Enoch L. Johnson, a politician who rose to prominence and controlled Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the Prohibition era in America.  The actor Steve Buscemi plays the part of Nucky Thompson and it aired on the HBO channel.

I loved watching this TV show, it is one of my favourite shows, there are a few Irish characters in the show, the main character Nucky, played by Steve Buscemi, is an Irish American and he visits Ireland in the show to do a deal with the IRA during the War of Independence. Also, in the show, Scottish actress Kelly McDonald and British actor Charlie Cox play Irish characters.


2. The Knick

Two seasons

Set during the 1890’s to 1900’s


The Knick is an American TV drama show made by Cinemax and directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen and the show ran for two seasons. The series chronicles the professional and personal lives of Dr John W. Thackery (played by Owen) and the staff at a fictionalized version of the Knickerbocker Hospital (“The Knick”) in New York during the early part of the twentieth century. Dr John Thackery (partially based on the historical figure, William Stewart Halsted), the newly appointed leader of the surgery staff, battles his cocaine and opium addictions with his ambition for medical discovery.  

While Dr. Algernon Edwards played by André Holland, is a Harvard-educated, European-trained black surgeon (probably based on the historical Daniel Hale Williams), must fight for respect within the all-white populated hospital.

This being New York at the turn of the 20th century, there are a few scenes with Irish immigrants, although there are not the type of ones we would be proud of, there are portrayed as corrupt, drunkards and racists, but thankfully we have two other Irish characters in the show, who make up for this, the character of Tom Cleary, an ambulance driver who is played by Chris Sullivan, an American actor with quite an authentic Irish accent and English actress Cara Seymour plays Irish nun, Sister Harriet.  Although these characters are far from been saints, no character in the show is either, they have some redeeming qualities.

Irish actress Eve Hewson plays the character of Nurse Lucy Elkins and is the daughter of U2’s Bono.

I’ve never been a big fan of medical dramas, but I really enjoyed this show that recounts the history of pioneering modern medicine, although some of the scenes I have to watch through my fingers, it’s also an interesting look at society at the turn of the 20th century.


3. Peaky Blinders

Four Seasons +

Set after World War 1 and into the 1920’s

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Peaky Blinders is a British historical based fictional crime drama TV show, starring Irish actor Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, which is still airing and is now in its fourth season on BBC Two.

Peaky Blinders is a gangster family epic set in Birmingham, England in 1919, just after the First World War. The story centres on the historic Peaky Blinders gang and their ambitious and highly dangerous boss Tommy Shelby (played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy). The gang comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Chester Campbell (played by Sam Neill), a detective in the Royal Irish Constabulary sent over from Belfast (where he’d been sent to clean up the city of the IRA, gangs, and common criminals).

I found it interesting to watch this show as it is set in the same time period as Boardwalk Empire, the American Prohibition is referenced in the show.  Two of the characters are Northern Irish and Ireland and the Civil War is referenced in the show.  The actress Annabelle Wallis who plays the character of Grace Burgess, an Irish barmaid, sings a hauntingly sombre version of the Irish tune Black Velvet Band.


4. Taboo

1 Season +

Set in 1812 – 1814

Tom Hardy stars as Adventurer James Delaney, who returns to London after living in Africa for ten years, his family believed he had died. Delaney has returned in order to inherit his late father’s shipping empire. The historical Gothic drama begins in 1812 with the British and American war of 1812 playing out in the background.  The show is made by Steve Knight, Tom Hardy and Edward ‘Chips’ Hardy, Tom and his father wrote the original script for the show and Steve Knight also created Peaky Blinders. Season one has aired on BBC and FX channels and two more seasons are planned.

Other historical based TV shows I’ve enjoyed watching include:

Mad Men set in the 1960s in an Advertising agency in New York, actor Jon Hamm, plays the main character, Don Draper.

Speaking of Jon Hamm, he also starred in a short series, alongside Daniel Radcliffe, called A Young Doctor’s Notebook, which is worth a watch.  It was made by Sky TV and there have been 2 series of it. Jon Hamm plays the older doctor remembering his time working in a local hospital in a small Russian village around the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Also, I’ve watched series 1 of the TV show called, Masters of Sex,  which is set in the 1950s and 1960s, the series explores the research and the relationship between Dr. William Masters (played by Michael Sheen or as I like to call him Tony Blair) and Virginia Johnson, two real-life, pioneering researchers of human sexuality at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Let us know of any other historical TV shows to watch!

Blog post originally published in 2015 and updated in 2017

Text Source: Wiki & Melcoo
Cover Image: Photo by Evert F. Baumgardner.  Public domain.
Blog Images: Instagram

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