In the lull between the distribution of final assignments and the deluge of grading, I’ve been indulging in some post-conference season silver screen therapy. Two of my favorite period shows are back on the air, and PBS has a new mini-series.
- Outlander: This series based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling novels has been my favorite thing on TV this year. In the fall I did a series of individual episode posts. I’m behind at the moment for the second half of the first season, now finally back after a six-month hiatus. It is period drama crossed with time travel, with some sophisticated engagements with violence, medicine, and sexuality. Airing Saturday nights and streaming on Starz Play, where you can see the first episode for free.
- Game of Thrones: It seems somewhat pointless to mention HBO’s huge hit. A fan of high fantasy, I love the show, and from an academic perspective, enjoy picking out the threads reminiscent of England’s War of the Roses on which George R. R. Martin loosely based the novels. (And there are a number of other historical parallels as well.) Now that the show is diverging sharply from the novels, those echoes are far more piquant for me, especially when it comes to Jon Snow’s and Sansa Stark’s plot lines. Airing Sunday nights and streaming on HBO Go.
- Wolf Hall: Considering the enormous success of the Hillary Mantell’s novels and critical success of the two stage plays based on those novels, it seems somewhat brazen to also produce a mini-series using the same materials. Until you add Tony-award winning actor and inaugural artistic director of the reconstructed Globe Mark Rylance to the mix. Produced by the BBC and airing on PBS in the US currently, Wolf Hall is a quiet and thoughtful meditation on power and class in Tudor England. Rylance sketches the quiet, complex web of emotions motivating Oliver Cromwell, but so does Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn bring mercurial ruthlessness to their characters. It is an interesting reaction to the hyper-sexualized and emotionally idealized portrayals of these individuals in The Tudors, which I’d like to write about later this summer here hopefully. The last of six episodes airs this coming Sunday night on PBS, where you can stream the episodes online for free.
Relatedly, a couple of my favorite novels trade on allusions to sixteenth and seventeenth century England but not using that setting as a focal point to the narrative include Jeanette Winterson’s rather amazing expression of post-modern narrative, Sexing the Cherry (1990), Josephine Tey’s crime thriller, The Daughter of Time (1980) mentioned in this recent New Yorker article, and Penelope Fitzgerald’s meditation on childhood, acting, and boy actors in At Freddie’s (1982), the newest edition featuring a forward by Simon Callow.