Home Box Office, or HBO, is an American production company with a streaming service called HBO Max. HBO has been producing period dramas since its establishment in 1972 and co-produced many more with the BBC, among other production companies. In this article, we selected some of the best HBO period dramas for you to enjoy.
HBO Period Dramas
Our selected list of HBO period dramas ranges from narrating real stories to using real-life characters in thrilling fictional settings.
This dramatic and heart-wrenching series brings us the lives of the people who were involved in, got affected by, and responded to the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. The HBO period drama goes in-depth into what transpired during the catastrophe that shook the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the entire world. Chernobyl’s most heartbreaking stories are the lesser-known ones, such as the first responders to the disaster, including the firefighters, the nurses, and the volunteers.
As heartbreaking as reliving this experience can be, we believe it’s crucial never to forget.
Historical Period: mid-20th century.
Length: 5 episodes.
As You Like It
As You Like It is a cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play carrying the same name. This film takes us all the way to Japan, where a group of British traders lived after the Meiji Restoration. We follow Duke Senior, who commands a British outpost in late 19th century Japan; he loves wearing traditional Japanese attire, as does his brother, while everyone else is dressed in European fashion. Even the ladies use fans to hide their faces and wear their hair in Japanese hairstyles. Then the story follows them as they move to live in the Forest of Arden.
The film follows the plot, dialogue and character names set by Shakespeare, and screenplay writer, Kenneth Branagh, added a few more elements that added an extra dimension to the show. Such additions include the attack on Duke Senior’s family by a group of ninja warriors and the treacherous moment when Duke Frederick steals his brother’s kingdom.
Historical era: late 19th century, Japan.
Length: 127 minutes.
The Gathering Storm
Based on the first book of Winston Churchill’s six autobiographical books, this HBO period drama is production cooperation with the BBC. The film follows Churchill’s time on the back bench, where he struggles to voice his concerns to the House of Commons about Germany’s extensive armament. At the same time, he’s facing financial problems, which cause trouble with his wife and son to continue acting out.
In the meantime, Ralph Wigram, a government official, has growing concerns over the continuous growth of the German Air Force. Upon his wife’s persuasion, he finds a way to inform Churchill. Armed with this new information, Churchill attacked the current Prime Minister’s policies. Three years later, in 1939, Winston Churchill was restored as the First Lord of the Admiralty, and The UK fleet awaited his instructions as the Second World War was afoot.
Historical era: the 1930s.
Length: 96 minutes.
Capturing Mary recounts the story of how young Mary Gilbert, an aspiring journalist and known socialite, spent years trying to evade Greville White’s, a social climber, devilish pursuits. We first meet old Mary, who tells her story to Joe, the keeper of the Graham House. During the 1950s, the house was famous for the soirees attended by the crème de la crème of the society, from every field in life, from barons to the highest aristocracy.
One ominous night, Mary met Greville White at one of the soirees, and her life changed forever. After his failure in approaching her, Greville successfully made it his life goal to turn Mary’s life upside down. Through the 1960s, her works were rejected by the British media, and she fell into a vicious circle of alcoholism and depression. Unfortunately, when we meet Mary again, she’s an old woman at Kensington Gardens, while Greville stays the same.
Just like the last HBO period drama, this one is also production cooperation with the BBC.
Historical era: the 1950s – 1960s.
Length: 105 minutes.
The Gilded Age
There’s a reason why the end of the 19th century in New York City is dubbed the Gilded Age. The city is exhumed in a marvellous display of character, costumes, and social experiences. However, every golden age has a dark age that mirrors it, and those years at the turn of the 19th century witnessed fierce social and political battles. Specifically written for HBO, this series shows how the old rich families control who enters or is banished from the city’s high society circle. Rising high in the city’s sky are the new money families, who dazzle the old families and evoke their envy. A fight of class, power, and scheme brews in this period drama.
Historical era: last quarter of the 19th century.
Length: 9 episodes.
This HBO period drama begins with Queen Elizabeth I refusing to marry while her chief advisor and spymaster conspire to wed her to the disappointed Duke of Anjou. The politically-heated debates between Elizabeth and Mary escalate, which leads to Mary’s disheartening execution. We see the end of the first part through the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Elizabeth’s forces and the pledge the Earl of Essex takes to succeed the Earl of Leicester in looking after the Queen.
Historical era: the second half of the 1500s.
Length: 2 parts.
This HBO period drama and production brings us the tale of John Adams, one of the main founding pillars of the United States of America and the second statesman to serve as the country’s president. Over the course of seven parts, John Adams’ political life is dissected and explained. We follow Adams since he was a respected lawyer who entered the political scene following the Boston Massacre in 1770. Then the show details Adams’ essential part in drafting the Declaration of Independence, his fight to strengthen the upcoming United States of America, until his retirement years by the beginning of the 19th century.
Historical era: mid-18th century, mid-19th century.
Length: 7 episodes.
Based on the 1975 documentary of the same name, Grey Gardens is an HBO period drama chronicling the lives of a mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier, and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, otherwise known as Big Edie and Little Edie. The once members of New York City’s high society sought refuge at the summer home called Grey Gardens and abandoned the lavish city life. We see how the Beale women’s lives change as they take in stray animals and how society begins to look at them. Apart from their alleged notoriety, the ladies drew attention because they were related to Jackie Kennedy.
Historical era: between 1936 and 1975.
Length: 104 minutes.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
This emotional HBO period drama narrates the true story of Henrietta Lacks, a heroine who helped tip the scales in humans’ battle against cancer. The show begins with Henrietta’s devastating diagnosis of cervical cancer and the emotional rollercoaster she and her family go through. However, in an attempt to help all future Henriettas, researchers procure a sample of her cancer cells to use in the fight against cancer. Henrietta’s cancer cells became the oldest human cells to defeat cancer, and researchers gave them the name HeLa in honour of their first donor.
Historical era: the 1950s.
Length: 92 minutes.
Into The Storm
This HBO period drama continues where The Gathering Storm left off. The show recounts Winston Churchill’s years as the British Prime Minister during the ominous time of the Second World War. When the war finally ends, Churchill and his wife, Clementine Hozier, seek peace and tranquillity on vacation to France. However, Churchill’s nostalgic dreams of his days in the office disrupt what he hoped to be a peaceful vacation. Furthermore, Churchill comes face to face with the effects of his time as a wartime leader on his marriage and political life.
Historical era: WWII.
Length: 100 minutes.
Iron Jawed Angels
This HBO period drama takes us back to the gruelling suffering women went through in the 1910s to obtain the right to vote in the United States. Through the eyes of four leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Inez Milholland, and Carrie Chapman Catt, we can witness the struggles of the American feminist movement. Until the film’s last minute, we see how opinions change, and the 19th amendment of the US constitution finally passes.
Historical era: the 1910s.
Length: 125 minutes.
During the years of the Great Depression in the United States, Mildred Pierce struggled to organise her life together. The HBO period drama brings us the different struggles Mildred faced; the separation from her husband, trying to earn her daughter’s heart, opening a restaurant, and encountering a new love interest. We follow Mildred’s struggles with the backdrop of political and societal maltreatment against women. This 2011 miniseries is considered the second adaptation of the novel by the same name, written by James M. Cain in 1941.
Historical era: the 1920s and the 1930s.
Length: 5 episodes.
Martine and Filippa are two Protestant sisters living in Jutland, Denmark, during the 19th century. The two sisters once took care of the congregation with their father, who refused suitor after suitor to keep the girls beside him. One day, thirty-five years after they decided to abandon worldly pleasures, a French refugee appears at their door. Babette Hersant begs the sisters to work for free, and she begins to add taste to the rather bland meals they used to have and serve at the congregation.
One day, when Babette luckily wins the lottery back in Paris, a friend sends her the won money, a total of 10,000 francs, and she decides to throw the sisters and the local community a heartful feast. Babette only sends for the best ingredients from Paris, and the heavenly taste and smell of the food lead to more than just a dining experience. While Babette’s Feast is not an HBO production, you can catch it on HBO Max.
Historical era: the 19th century.
Length: 102 minutes.
Miss Evers’ Boys
This HBO period drama brings us the true story of a covert and inhumane experiment through the eyes of Eunice Evers. Eunice was a nurse who worked at Tuskegee University. The Department of Health and Human Services commissioned an experience on poor African American men to study and understand syphilis if left untreated. In need of volunteers, Eunice helps the experiment by convincing young men from her village to participate. Eunice felt for the dying men, but she felt there was nothing she could do but console them.
Historical era: between 1932 and 1972.
Length: 118 minutes.
This HBO period drama takes place in the years leading to the First World War and introduces us to the stories of three Britons with intertwining fates. Christopher Tietjens is an Anglican Tory who marries Catholic Sylvia Satterthwaite, who is pregnant from another man, without Christopher’s knowledge. The third character is Valentine Wannop, a freethinking suffragette who is torn between her beliefs and her feelings for Chris.
Parade’s End brings about feelings of Downton Abbey.
Historical era: the beginning of the 20th century.
Length: 5 episodes.
This HBO period drama retells the heroic story of Mary Temple Grandin, one of the world’s most influential people. At the time of Temple’s autism diagnosis, science still treated autism as schizophrenia, and everyone considered Temple dangerous. However, Temple’s mother believed in her daughter’s extraordinary skills, so she hired therapists to help Temple and facilitate her communication with society.
Temple made her mother proud when she graduated from Franklin Pierce College with a degree in psychology and surprised her peers by majoring in animal science for her Master’s studies. However, society still resisted Temple and ridiculed her research to humanise cattle handling in ranches and slaughterhouses.
Historical era: the 1950s.
Length: 107 minutes.
The Alienist brings us the story of a highly observant team of detectives and journalists who is determined to catch the murderer of street boys in New York City. One after another, the boys keep disappearing, and the team feels like they are chasing a ghost. On the other side of the investigation are Captain Connor and retired Chief Byrnes, who seek to protect New York’s high society rather than worrying about street rats. One of the enjoyable features of this period drama, which you can enjoy on HBO Max, is the utilisation of real-life characters in a fictional setting.
Historical era: mid-1890s.
Length: 18 episodes.
Chaplin narrates the life of world-renowned English comedian Charlie Chaplin. The film, available on HBO Max, begins with the diagnosis of Charlie’s mother with psychosis and placing her in an asylum. Then we see how Fred Karno, a variety producer, was able to send Charlie to the United States, where his career in silent films makes him one of the most successful people in the world below the age of 30. Charlie’s life is full of ebbs and flows; he creates some of the most successful comedy films in the world while making eternal enemies in the industry.
Historical era: end of the 19th century and the 20th century.
Length: 145 minutes.
Finding Neverland brings us the story of how Sir J.M Barrie found inspiration to create the timeless character of Peter Pan. As he walks aimlessly, Barrie runs into a widow and her four boys at Kensington Gardens. Barrie exchanged a few words with the widow, Sylvia, but was continuously fascinated by the kids’ behaviour and their special relationship with their mother.
Society, represented by Sylvia’s mother and Barrie’s wife, harshly judge and forbid their relationship. However, Barrie’s relationship with the boys strengthens, and Barrie’s wife eventually divorces him. Peter Pan, Barrie’s new play, tells the story of a boy who can fly and wishes to stay young forever. Amid scepticism from his producer, Charles Frohman, the play proves to be a huge success, with children and adults alike.
Historical era: the beginning of the 20th century.
Length: 101 minutes
Our carefully selected period dramas will transport you to another place and time to ensure your ride is emotional and thrilling.