Period Dramas Outside the English-Speaking World 

Photo by Nataly R. Baeza

Photo by Nataly R. Baeza

When we think about period dramas, we immediately relate them to Britain, or if we’ve watched a few more, to the adaptation of (some) American classics. Even though I've seen films set in the past during my childhood, it was not until my adolescence that I knew they were known as costume/period dramas, and the genre’s explosion over the past decade brought me to Tumblr and to an online community that in those days revolved around Jane Austen and Downton Abbey

Having an interest in watching the past can be based on a desire to escape the tumultuous times that we have to live through, desiring a nostalgic sense of the pas and believing that it might be both more peaceful and cozier than the world we know today. Despite the fact that most of us know that the lives of people in the past were hard and inequitable, especially those of less privileged groups, these shows transport us to evenings with family or friends, perhaps set in winter and in many cases, on holidays. This sense of warmth is accompanied by an aesthetic pleasure, stemmed in the fashion of different times and stunning cinematography, music, and landscapes. 

Happiness aside, we approach history to explain humanity in different times and to help understand what we’re like today. Period dramas do not necessarily speak of an accurate past, but they are always directed towards an audience that looks for certain values or topics. According to Jerome de Groot in Consuming History, some of the most common values in British dramas such as Hornblowerare the duty, respect, and honor depicted in the classic adaptations. To this, I would add love and the importance of family and friendship, and now with the rise of a feminist culture, a surge in strong female protagonists who have to fight and make their way in a man's world. 

With all of the above in mind, it’s important to look at other countries, cultures, and languages that create their own period dramas and therefore sample their own history, customs, and values, to understand them and how they look at themselves without forgetting the sense of comfort that these types of shows give us. Consequently, here are my recommendations for TV shows set in the past and from outside of the English-speaking world:

  • · Gran Hotel – A Spanish show set in a sumptuous hotel in the early 1900s, it follows the upstairs – the Alarcón family, owners of the hotel – and the downstairs – hotel staff. I know that it sounds a lot like Downton Abbey and probably could be, but with murders, detectives, and more soap opera elements like kidnappings, illegitimate children, social climbers, and a love story between a waiter and an Alarcón member. In case you are a slightly sensitive viewer (like me), there is no problem because the murders are not broadcasted, so they are only elements of the plot and part of the suspense. You can watch all the seasons on Netflix, but I will warn that it is one of the most addictive shows I've ever seen.

  • ·Juana Inés – Set in 17th century Colonial Mexico, Juana Inés narrates the life of Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun, scholar, and poet who was an important figure in Latin American Literature and the Spanish Golden Age. In that time, girls were not often educated and if you wanted to devote your life to knowledge, a convent was the only option. Juana becomes a cloistered nun but is still having to fight against a society that wants to stop her. Enjoy strong females figures, Latin American History and relationships between women. Also available on Netflix.

  • ·The Time In Between (El Tiempo Entre Costuras) – Based on the Spanish bestseller, this fashion-spy drama is narrated by Sira, a seamstress who left Spain to follow her lover to Morocco, but when he abandons her, she has to rebuild her life in this new place. After making her own fashion business at Morocco, she moves back to Madrid, now with a different name and working as a spy of the British government against the Nazis. 

  • ·Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl) – My first Turkish drama and my first recommendation for anyone who likes court TV shows such as The Tudors and The Borgias. The show dramatizes the life of Süleyman the Magnificent and his wife Hürrem, a slave girl that became one of the most powerful (and controversial) women in Ottoman history. This harem drama has all you love from similar shows (rivalry, murders, extravagant costumes, and dramatic music) but with little sex and a lot of references to the tension between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire and the Reformation. The international success of this series created a second show inspired by the Kösem Sultan reign.


  • ·Kurt Seyit ve Şura – During the rise of the Russian Revolution, a handsome WWI Lieutenant named Seyit Eminof, Turkish by birth but employed in Russian politics (#Early20thCenturyProblems) falls in love with Şura, the innocent daughter of an aristocratic Russian family. Conflict ensues, including Seyit’s father’s determination to marry him to a Turkish girl, a friend who has secretly joined the Bolsheviks, and their escape to Turkey. The show has such beautiful cinematography, directing and acting – I feel more educated in Turkish history and culture after watching it because the main characters have a strong sense of family and honor that is a bit different than seen in the British period dramas that we used to watch. Please watch my favorite TV show, thanks. 

  • ·Saimdang, Memoir of Colors – A South Korean drama situated in two different time periods; first we see a contemporary day university Art History lecturer who discovers the lost diary of a historical figure and with that, the life of Shin Saimdang, a renowned artist from the Joseon era. This drama is full of love stories, ethical problems in the world of academia, beautiful costumes, and sublime acting. A must-watch. 

Raised in a typical rural town of the central zone of Chile, during her girlhood Nataly R. Baeza used to watch Titanic for the pretty dresses. It meant so much to her that she doted by belle èpoque aesthetic, period dramas, and history.