My top 5 dramas to watch to learn more about history

Like many people I love watching television shows, and more so when I can learn something new about an area I knew nothing or little about before. Below are my five top TV dramas where I have learnt more about parts of history. If you haven’t watched them, there may be spoilers!

1. Mindhunter

There have been two seasons of Mindhunter so far (I really hope there will be more) and the show looks at the origins of the Behavioural Science Unit within the FBI in the 1970s and 1980s. It is based on a book, and among many things looks at how the term ‘serial killer’ rather than ‘sequence killer’ which they were using before, began its journey into our consciousness. The two leads Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Bill (Holt McCallany) team up to start researching the sequence killers by interviewing them in prison. They then begin to see patterns emerging about how the newly termed ‘serial killers’ work, think, and feel when they commit such horrific acts. There are some amazing guest stars who play the real life serial killers, and for any true crime fans, you learn a lot about them, and also the origins of how law enforcement learnt about how they can work out who they are as soon as possible

2. Chernobyl

Never has there been, or probably ever will be, a television show that has affected me so much after watching it. I went to sleep thinking about it and I woke up thinking about it. It’s a brilliant television show and fully deserves all of the critical acclaim and awards it has received, but the story itself it horrific – because it is real. Had this been a fictional show, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me, but because this event did happen and so many people have been affected (both at the time and since) it made it horrifying for me to watch. The Chernobyl disaster happened in April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. From this show I learnt a lot about radiation sickness and poisoning, and what it does to people (this is one of the reasons why the show stayed with me long after I watched it) and how so many people risked their lives to help clear up after the incident. It’s shocking, and the event itself was something I knew very little about and so was glad to find out more about what happened.

Image from Pixabay

3. Hunters

Based in 1977, Hunters looks at a group of Nazi Hunters who go after Nazi war criminals who left Germany after World War Two and relocated to the USA. Not only does the show look at Nazi Hunters, it also has a lot of scenes where the viewers learn more what it was like in concentration camps and the horror so many people had to endure in the Holocaust. It’s a tough watch in parts, but I think having flashbacks to what certain characters went through allow the viewers to understand more about why they are doing what they are doing in going after such people and trying to obtain some kind of justice for what they did.

4. The Pacific

I’ve never been a huge fan of war-based films or shows but that has changed recently. The Pacific is one of the reasons behind that. This show, based on real-life books written by Marines who fought in the Pacific War, was released in 2010, and was executive produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg none the less. Not only did I learn a lot about the Pacific War (which was the war fought between 1941 and 1945), I felt like I understood a lot more about how those fighting a war live and what they have to go through to survive. It was also great to see the show delve into the psychological elements of war, especially after the fighting was over. PTSD was a common theme across the ten episodes, in one way or another, and it was good to see such a show look into this as well.  

5. A Very English Scandal.

British politics isn’t usually an interesting backdrop for a good BBC Sunday night drama, but back in 2018 BBC1 aired ‘A Very English Scandal’ which starred Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. It followed the real life story of the ex-Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, his relationship with his lover Norman Scott, and his subsequent trial for conspiracy to murdering him. Even though it is based on a dark crime, it is very funny and the whole production is very eccentric, which makes it even more fun to watch. For this show, it is definitely true what they say – life is stranger than fiction. I hadn’t heard about this case, or the names Jeremy Thorpe or Norman Scott, before but it was brilliant to learn so much about a case you probably wouldn’t believe had you not have read that it was true. As well as the conspiracy to murder trial, it also delves into the time where it occurred – where homosexuality had only recently been legalised, and so society’s views on everything that came with that were seen seeping through the pores of what we saw on screen. It is a fantastically well-written and acted show that I can’t recommend enough.

Do you agree with my top 5? Are there any shows you have watched where you have learnt more about a part of history? Let me know in the comments below.

Published by thekeepingapproach

My new personal development blog focuses on learning, both academically and through our lives every day.

12 thoughts on “My top 5 dramas to watch to learn more about history

  1. We’ve seen all of these except Mindhunters. I’d say that Catherine (about Catherine the Great) and Band of Brothers are also excellent. I’ve really enjoyed The Last Kingdom set against the backdrop of King Alfred.

  2. I love when I can learn about history from a tv show. Mindhunters has been one of my favorites since the beginning and I was so excited to see them involved in the Atlanta child murders in season 2 after hearing other podcasts about it. Another great one to check out is Watchmen on HBO. I honestly had never known about the Tulsa race massacre in 1921 and am so glad this show opened my eyes about it

  3. These are some great choices. I particularly liked mindhunter, it gave a real insight in to life then.

    I’ve learnt a lot from the Crown actually, British history I was unaware of. Highly recommend x

  4. I have watched the first two – mindhunter and chenobyl – and they are two of the best, most entertaining shows of the past decade. If the others are half as good they will be awesome. I’ll check them out. Thanks for the recommendations.

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