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The best historical TV dramas of all time


The best historical TV dramas of all time

Australian author Alison Stuart, whose book The Postmistress comes out on June 17th this year, writes about her favourite historical TV dramas and why they’re excellent. 

I am eternally fascinated by listicles (10 famous celebrities you wouldn’t recognise now etc.) and regularly succumb to the clickbait only to give up in frustration because it is really all about the ads.

I have had some fun in compiling my own listicles (and I promise, no clickbait or endless rolling ads).

As THE POSTMISTRESS is my first foray into Australian historical fiction, and I live in eternal hope of it being made into a film or TV series, I thought I would turn the clock back and start with a list of my favourite Australian historical TV series over the years.

  1. Rush (1974)

Set on the goldfields in the fictional settlement of Crockers Gully (possibly an unconscious inspiration for Maiden’s Creek).

Image result for rush 1974 tv show

REASON TO WATCH: John Waters as the dark and brooding Sgt McKellar. That sexy scar on his cheek bone. How we all swooned…and come to think of it, he was probably the prototype of all my dark-and-brooding lone-wolf heroes! Plus a really catchy theme tune.

  1. Seven Little Australians (1973)

Single father, seven out-of-control children, set in the late 19th century and based on the book by Ethel Turner.

REASON TO WATCH: An engaging family story and the wonderful Leonard Teale as the harassed military father who could control troops but not his own family.

  1. Against the Wind (1978)

Convicts, hardship…love triumphing.

REASON TO WATCH:  Jon English (no scar but, oh, those eyes!) and ‘Six Ribbons’, the theme song sung by English.

  1. All the Rivers Run (1983)

Love and rivalry on the paddle-steamers of the Murray starring the ‘it girl’ of the time, Sigrid Thornton. See my Sigrid story below!

REASON TO WATCH: John Waters (again) and that scar seemed even sexier this time around.

  1. The Sullivans (1976–1983)

An ordinary family from Melbourne caught up in war-time.

REASON TO WATCH: No one missed an episode of The Sullivans, which lasted longer than WW2.

  1. The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (2012)

This was based on the first mystery ever written and I thoroughly enjoyed this telling of it. Much of the TV version was filmed around where I live.

REASON TO WATCH: (Don’t laugh) John Waters – older, greyer but still has the sexy scar – and the fact it is a genuine Melbourne-set historical mystery.

  1. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012)

What’s not to love about the fabulous, feisty Phryne and her minions? Great stories from the pen of Kerry Greenwood and yes, much of it filmed around me.

REASON TO WATCH: Good stories and fabulous costumes (although lacking John Waters!).


I am on a roll now so let’s look at some overseas productions, starting with some old favourites of mine. Of course the British do historical drama series better than anyone so just picking a few is a challenge!


  1. Upstairs Downstairs (1971–1975)

Set in the years 1903 to 1919, it was the first of its ilk – and in its way, the precursor to Downton Abbey – and it spawned a raft of Edwardian-set historical drama series such as The Duchess of Duke Street and The House of Elliott.

REASON TO WATCH:  The original and the best. (Don’t bother with the more recent ‘remakes’.)

  1. Sharpe (1990s)

A dramatisation of the Bernard Cornwell novels. Of course in the books Sharpe is dark haired and lithe…Sean Bean is neither. But…

REASON TO WATCH:  Sean Bean. Sean Bean in uniform. Sean Bean in uniform with a big sword…

  1. Downton Abbey (2010)

Upstairs Downstairs on steroids. Loved this show and can’t wait for the movie.

REASON TO WATCH:  Maggie Smith as the dowager countess. Her lines would cut glass.

  1. The Borgias (2011)

Who needs Game of Thrones when you can watch the Borgias in the knowledge this stuff ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

REASON TO WATCH:  Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia – the voice alone sends chills. Warning: you need a strong stomach. Yes, that thing with the stuffed bodies is true!

  1. Pride & Prejudice (1995)

No one dared miss an episode when it first came out, although personally I am a bit of a fan of the later Knightley/MacFadyen film version.

REASON TO WATCH:  Colin Firth in the wet shirt (of course), although I do love his face when she turns down his first awful proposal!

  1. The Last Kingdom (2015)

Nasty Vikings v Nice Brits. Another Bernard Cornwell adaptation.

REASON TO WATCH:  If you like your hero tall, blond and handsome (but as dumb as an ox) then Uhtred…Uhtred without his shirt on…

  1. Rome (2015)

The rise of the Roman Empire through the eyes of two ordinary soldiers.

REASON TO WATCH:  Everybody without their shirts (or anything else) on…and the history and political machinations of the time are well portrayed.

  1. Victoria (2017)

The ongoing story of one of England’s longest reigning monarchs and her relationship with her family and, of course, her beloved Alfred. Historically inaccurate.

REASON TO WATCH:  The costumes are wonderful – and everyone keeps their clothes on – and I particularly loved the first season when she goes from being a young girl playing with dolls to queen. Oh, and Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne (even though the real Lord M was fat and old and quite revolting!).

  1. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2011)

They only made four episodes of this beguiling mystery series.

REASON TO WATCH:  If you like historical  mysteries, which I do, then these are a great watch with a compelling protagonist.


There are so many others I have loved, such as Cadfael, By the Sword Divided (set in the English Civil War), The Tudors, War and Peace (at least two different series), I, Claudius, Hornblower, North and South (the American story set in the Civil War with Patrick Swayze), the British North and South (with Richard Armitage), Wolf Hall and so many more. Now, before you say ‘Oh, but you’ve missed off Outlander, sorry, I am not a fan either of the books or the TV series. Although I did try to crash the filming of Outlander at a distillery in Scotland but that is a story for another day…


The day I nearly crashed the filming of Outlander…

I am sure I have omitted some of your favourites so please comment below and add to the list and if any of the oldies on my lists pique your interest, you are sure to find old episodes on YouTube.

Oh, yes, before I go…my Sigrid Thornton story. It was late 1983 and I was at pre-natal classes at one of Melbourne’s maternity hospitals. In walks a newcomer, and you know that thing where you think you know someone but can’t place where you met them…? It was Sigrid Thornton.

Image via PBS

by Alison Stuart

A stunning historical tale of loss, desire and courage that is full of the terror and the beauty of the Australian bush, for readers of The Thorn BirdsThe Naturalist’s Daughter and The Widow of Ballarat.

To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role.

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some born of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

‘Meticulously researched and brilliantly realised, Alison Stuart’s novel of vengeance, love and the power of a determined woman is hugely enjoyable.’ Tea Cooper, author of The Woman in the Green Dress

The Postmistress

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