The Elizabethan era lasted only a little under a half-century, but this golden era in British history is ripe with material for a good ol’ fashioned mini-series or film. Who could possibly resist some scandalous romantic entanglements from the darling “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I? Or the fact that her first cousin once removed, Mary Queen of Scots, was beheaded after sanctioning an assassination scheme to remove her from the throne? With Will, a fictionalized retelling of a young William Shakespeare’s life, currently airing on TNT, it feels like the perfect time to revisit some of the best Elizabethan-set series and movies currently available to stream. It’s so much better than the Stuart period, no?
What’s it about? The second season of Rowan Atkinson’s sardonically delightful Blackadder finds our lead — Edmund, Lord Blackadder — trying everything within his power to woo a petulant Elizabeth I as he slowly climbs the ranks of British aristocracy. But if his bumbling sidekicks or his other lord-rival (Stephen Fry!) have anything to do with it, it’s not going to be as easy as he’d like.
Where can I stream it? Amazon, Hulu
Gunpowder, Treason & Plot
What’s it about? Moving overseas to Scotland, this BBC mini-series tracks the turbulent reigns of both Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, King James VI. Before Mary gets beheaded and James assumes the throne in England after Elizabeth I dies, watching the duo scheme, manipulate, and murder a cornucopia of palace insiders to advance their royal causes is shocking, yet somehow totally believable.
Where can I stream it? Netflix, Hulu, iTunes
What’s it about? Helen Mirren portrays Elizabeth I in this 2005 mini-series, which follows the queen during the final, tumultuous 24 years of her reign. The Queen canoodles with earls played by Hugh Dancy and Jeremy Irons! What more do you need?
Where can I stream it? HBO Go, Amazon, Vudu, iTunes
Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age
What’s it about? Cate Blanchett played Elizabeth I in this pair of Academy Award–recognized films, released 19 years apart. In 1998’s Elizabeth, the story focuses on the new queen cleaning up England’s infrastructure, willfully ignoring an array of potential suitors, and dodging assassination attempts; in 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the bloody Spanish Armada and familial betrayals are at the forefront. Watch them back to back and you’ll have four-plus hours of Blanchett in her prime.
Where can I stream it? YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, iTunes
The Virgin Queen
What’s it about? If you’re more intrigued by fictionalized, behind-palace-doors period dramas, The Virgin Queen is for you. The four-part mini-series explores Elizabeth I’s personal life (and sexy dreams) throughout her entire reign. Tom Hardy is also there as her potential lover, Robert Dudley!
Where can I stream it? Amazon
Shakespeare in Love
What’s it about? A who’s-who of Esteemed British Actors pops up in this 1998 Best Picture winner — Colin Firth! Judi Dench! Carson from Downton Abbey! — which tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck William Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman while experiencing writer’s block. The result? Oh, just a little play called Romeo and Juliet.
Where can I stream it? HBO Go, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu
What’s it about? Tilda Swinton stars as the androgynous lead in a loose adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography, an amusing tale about a seemingly immortal young English nobleman who transforms one fateful evening into … an English noblewoman. As the centuries pass by, so do Orlando’s skills and worldviews.
Where can I stream it? YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu