Five Fantasy Historical Shows We Should Be Watching

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Frock Flicks has a general policy of not reviewing fantasy shows, but every so often fantasy crosses streams with historical and it’s hard to avoid getting sucked into these flicks. A good example of this is Outlander, which we think of as more of a historical show with a fantasy element (magical time travel) than an outright fantasy show. The harder to categorize shows like Penny Dreadful and Westworld are still worth mentioning, because the costuming is usually juuuuust enough historical content to qualify for this blog’s purposes, despite the overwhelming fantasy or science-fictional elements. So today we’re going to look at some of the current crop of historical-ish fantasy shows available on various streaming services for your quarantine bingeing.

 

Cursed (2020-) on Netflix

A twist on the classic King Arthur myth, centered on female protagonist Nimue and the curse that binds her to Arthur’s destiny. I’ve only watched the first episode of this, but it’s an interesting retelling of the same old retread concerning Arthur’s rise to power so worth continuing just to see how it plays out.

 

The Witcher (2019-) on Netflix

Toss a coin to your witcher, people, if for no other reason than Henry Cavill, doing his best Elric of Melnibone impression (now with 98% more hotness), is cast as the namesake character in this spin-off of the wildly popular video game series of the same name. Again, it’s placed in a quasi-medieval alternate universe with magic and stuff, so there’s a lot of fun interpretations on medieval clothing to enjoy.

I hear this got favorable reviews.

 

Umbrella Academy (2019-) on Netflix

If you haven’t watched season one of the show dedicated to exploring the emotional wreckage left over when seven “gifted” children grow up into incredibly dysfunctional adults with super-powers, I highly recommend doing so before diving into season two. The historical influence is much less in first season than it is in the second, but it lays the foundation for the sinuous plot that travels through time and space, dragging the Hargreeves siblings with it. The second season takes place in the 1960s with some particularly fabulous mid-century couture sported by the enigmatic character known only as The Handler (played by the awesome Kate Walsh). Her campy, over-the-top couture is one of the most interesting aspects of this season, which makes it all the more fun to watch.

 

Carnival Row (2019-) on Amazon

Set in the Edwardian era, the show deals with an unexpected twist on the classic immigrant story: the immigrants in this case are Fae and other fantastical creatures, refugees who have been driven out of their world and into the human realm by war in their homeland. The plot focuses on the struggles of the marginalized Fae-folk as they try to adapt to the unforgiving world of mankind. Bonus: It stars Orlando Bloom as the human inspector who finds himself an ally to the Fae community. The costumes for both Fae and human characters look fabulous too.

 

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (2020) on Showtime

Heck, I can’t leave this one out, considering it’s one of the most successful historical-fantasy-horror shows currently available. Trystan has already reviewed it, so you can read more about the dark-gothic-meets-1930s-noir aesthetic costumes on her post.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (2020)

 

 

Are you currently binge-watching any historical/fantasy shows? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

27 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    I’ve seen some of The Witcher and Cursed, and will certainly look for the others. The cast and costuming of the original Penny Dreadful were certainly worth seeing. And Eva Green burns up the screen in anything she does; the combination of sexuality and emotional intensity that she generates is hard to beat. But god, I just wish she didn’t smoke!

    Reply
  2. Dana

    Eh, maybe it’s just because I’ve already read and watched so much Arthurian fantasy, but Cursed felt so tired and played out to me. It’s the same old “badass girlboss™ pagan against the patriarchal, unreasonably mean, pseudo-Catholics” plot that’s been the center of pretty much all medieval, fairy fantasy for the past 15 years or so.

    They basically stole all the ideas from Mists of Avalon, added a lot more self-congratulatory “sEe hoW fEMinIST wE ARe!!!1!” scenes, and patted themselves on the back for being so modern and forward-thinking.

    Reply
    • Dara

      I had the same feeling about Cursed. It wasn’t bad persay, just “meh”. I got about 6 episodes in and wasn’t really excited to keep going. I found the sorceress and female storylines in The Witcher similar and far more compelling.
      I find the two series an interesting contrast because The Witcher’s main creator and show runner is a woman, Cursed is from two cis-gendered white dudes.

      Reply
    • Gwen

      Lord, yes. ‘Cursed’ was nothing new and it was so paint-by-numbers. And I’ve glad somebody else picked up on the anti-Catholic leanings. Gettin’ real tired of that shit.

      Reply
    • Roxans

      I so know what you mean! As for Mists of Avalon, personally I never saw anything feminist about a Goddess cult that requires its priestesses to sleep with men they don’t know and don’t want.

      Reply
  3. Janet

    Man, I binge-watched ‘The Witcher’ when it first premiered on Netflix here in Europe. And have been longingly waiting for the next/2nd season. So much so: that I have even watched “Inside the Episodes – The Witcher” & “Making – The Witcher”. Just for an excuse to watch Henry Cavill grin from ear to ear. Never seen an actor soooo happy he got to play a role that wanted so badly.

    Reply
  4. Nzie

    I’m late to every trend and wary of dark stuff right now so I’ve seen none of these. I’ll just keep hoping whatever Amazon does with Lord of the Rings comes close to the quality of the LotR movies, including with medieval-esque costumes, and doesn’t screw up Tolkien.

    Reply
      • Nzie

        I’m just happy to look at the costumes here on those. :-) Fingers crossed on LotR. If the powers that be decide they need to make everything gritty from an author whose work reflects a believe about escapism in literature and, as a veteran, kept violence serious but not super explicit, I am going to lose it. I am still pissed about Anne with an E.

        Reply
    • Elise

      I am just like you! Cursed was too gruesome. What I really liked–and maybe you will, too–is A Letter for the King. Violence similar to Lord of the Rings. I liked the costumes and the casting and the story. Deep it is not, but it’s intelligent and I liked the plot.

      Oooooh…I loved so many of the costumes in the LotR films! You too, I bet.

      Reply
      • Nzie

        Totally adored them. And I’ll file that A Letter for the King away.. It sounds vaguely familiar but I’ll google to see. I’m hoping Amazon doesn’t go crazy on the content… sometimes the streaming services are like, hey, look, we can do what we want because it’s not on cable.. And then I nope the heck out of there (still scarred by a particularly gruesome murder in I think the 4th episode of Daredevil on Netflix… after hearing s2 was more consistently like that I just noped the heck out, despite a lot of great elements).

        Reply
    • Rori

      Same. The majority of these kinds of shows feels the same to me – all dark and stuff. Hopefully this decade we will have more colorful fantasy series, and my fingers cross for Amazon’s LOTR.

      Reply
  5. Saraquill

    Binged the Umbrella Academy and saw the pilot of Carnival Row. Carnival Row’s premise annoyed me, as I’ve overdosed on “imagine if coded white people were treated like PoC.” After the umpteenth iteration, it reads as “creators want to make a stand against bigotry but not really.”

    Reply
  6. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I have been watching The Man in the High Castle. The mid 50’s-60’s clothes are lush and beautiful

    Reply
    • Lmaris

      History Channel’s Project Blue Book is pretty good that way too. Not fantasy, but HBO’s Perry Mason is also well dressed.

      Reply
  7. Gail F.

    I’ve binge-watched both seasons of The Umbrella Academy and preferred the second season – yes, Kate Walsh was marvelous. Carnival Row was kind of fun; but was it renewed or not? I binge-watched The Witcher, too; interesting comparison with poor Elric, but the Witcher’s sword isn’t as hungry as Stormbringer as I recall…

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Carnival Row finished filming a 2nd season in the Czech Republic “under strict coronavirus protocols” according to reports. When we see a release date, we’ll add it ot the upcoming movies page.

      Reply
  8. Danuta

    A note on the Witcher: the games were based on books, and the show is more faithful to the books than to the games. And I found the show compelling!

    Reply
  9. Ayla

    Yes! I really liked Cursed, I didn’t have high expectations so I was pleasantly surprised :D Also enjoyed Umbrella Academy and Carnival Row, although CR probably less than the the other two. Fun to read about them on your blog!

    Reply
  10. Lily Lotus Rose

    LOVED The Umbrella Academy–seasons 1 and 2.
    LOVED and just binged the original run of Penny Dreadful (and am sorry that I don’t have Showtime to see the newest iteration.)
    REALLY LIKED The Witcher.
    LIKE / TOLERATED Cursed.
    PASSED on Carnival Row, but will probably break down an watch it eventually.
    HOLDING MY BREATH re Amazon’s LotR.

    Reply
  11. Roxana

    When you write, I hear this got favorable reviews, are you referring to the Show Witcher, or the very nice rear view of Henry Cavill? 😁

    Reply
  12. Amneris

    Just add 5 cents here – The Witcher is not based on video game actually, but on the books by Andrzej Sapkowski :) the game and books have completely different plots.

    Reply

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