As we sit out the mean little month of February, here are a few popular historical fiction series on DVD to enjoy on a cold day. All are available free from your library.
“Poldark,” produced by the BBC and PBS Masterpiece, is addictive. Captain Poldark returns from the American Revolutionary War to his father's ailing copper mines. Armed only with his integrity, each crisis requires a gallop across the rugged Cornish cliffs on his black charger. Haughty Elizabeth holds his heart, and Demelza's hair reflects her varying circumstances. The peasants are grubby, the bankers dastardly, and the doctor fresh faced. If tricorne hats and smoldering honor are your thing, then enjoy! Look out for the scene in the hay field … not since Darcy emerged from the lake in 1995 have we enjoyed quite such a moment.
“Outlander” jumps from the end of World War II back to 1743 Scotland and the Jacobite Rebellion, with feisty nurse Claire Randall having a very odd experience at some standing stones. Although this involves time travel, it’s not science fiction-y, and the premise is surprisingly easy to accept as the story gallops along. If you have Scottish ancestors, you might like this one. But be warned, there’s bawdy clan humor, adult scenes and it’s shockingly violent in places. Certainly not one to put on when the kids are around. Mamby pamby Englishwoman that I am, I kept my finger on the fast forward button.
“The White Queen” is based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novel series. Beginning in 1464, it spans the War of the Roses — the battle between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Think Richard III (recently dug up in a Leicester parking lot), princes in the tower and so forth. Told through the powerful characters of Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort and Ann Neville, this tumultuous period beats Henry VIII’s matrimonial dramas hands down. If you enjoyed The Tudors TV series, you are in for a treat. The story is a combination of grown up fairytale, witchcraft, treachery, female rivalry, medieval finery, and, unlike “Game of Thrones,” is based on real history.
Incidentally, if “The White Queen” sparks your curiosity about British history, I recommend David Starkey’s TV series Monarchy from Channel 4 — I think episode 7, The Crown Imperial, covers the War of the Roses — but the whole series is a great education.
Jules Belanger is a reference librarian at The Westerly Library.