We are big fans of historical dramas. Historical dramas are films and series based on true stories. They are known by other names, such as biographies, biopics and docudramas. “Docudrama” is my go-to genre phrase so you’ll see it sprinkled around this website.
We are able to learn something while being entertained.
Historical Dramas we recently enjoyed and where to find them:
Netflix Streaming Historical Drama Series
Inventing Anna (2022): Anna Delvey story starring Julia Garner (Ozark), Anna Deavere Smith
(Nurse Jackie), Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black)
Halston(May 2021): Starring Ewan McGregor, Bill Pullman and Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli. McGregor will surely win some awards for this. Beautifully done.
The Crown (2016 – ) Netflix Original starring Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. Now streaming the historically controversial fourth season that includes the story of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher and the “British Empire” starring Olivia Colman as Queen Elisabeth II, Tobias Menzies (Outlander) as Prince Phillip, Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret.
Fact or fiction articles of interest from The Atlantic and The Economist:
Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (2020, March): starring Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Blair Underwood, Garrett Morris
Unorthodox(2020): Miniseries. Based on Deborah Feldman’s bestselling memoir about a woman who escapes from an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Berlin.
Unbelievable (2019, Sept 13): Sexual assault. Crime Drama. Female power and bonding. Starring Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, Kaitlyn Dever and Brooke Smith. The first episode is an important insight into what a victim goes through reporting an incident right after it has happened. The next seven episodes are a binge worthy crime drama with outstanding performances. 8 episodes. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica article. Vulture appropriately calls it a feminist crime show: vulture.com/2019/09/unbelievable-netflix-feminist-crime-series.html
The Spy (2019): starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season Two (2018): Docudrama starring Darren Criss, Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez. Won three Emmys and two Golden Globes. Based on Maureen Orth’s book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.” Mini-series from FX that began with The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
The People Vs OJ Simpson (2016): miniseries, docudrama Sarah Paulson, 9 Emmys. Originally on FX. 10 episodes
Call the Midwife (2012 – ) 11 seasons Historical drama. Highly rated, but mostly will be enjoyed by women. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. Takes place in East London in the late-1950s to mid-1960s.
The Time In Between (2013 – 2014): Spanish language, World War II, Dress Design, Power Women
El Tiempo Entre Costuras
Netflix Streaming Historical Drama Films:
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021): Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films bought the rights to Tammy Faye’s story in 2012. Freckle Films was created to support diversity, LGBTQ and women in film. Chastain won best actress Oscar for this film. 4-7 hours of prosthetics and make-up a day during filming. Also starring Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones and many other recognizable actors.
Mank (Dec 2020): black and white. Set during the depression. Story of the writing of Citizen Cane by an eloquent alcoholic; along with insight into Marion Davies, Louis B. Mayer and “Willie” Hearst. Interesting if you keep reminding yourself it is a biography but low marks for entertainment value. Lots of award nominations although so far few wins. AARP Time Capsule winner.
Snowden 2016 film but just came to Netflix streaming November 1, 2020. directed by Oliver Stone, starring Joseph Gordon-LevittThe Trial of the Chicago 7 (October 2020): Netflix Original Docudrama Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin. Starring: Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden) Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman) reminding us of what a good dramatic actor he is; Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz); Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman); Alex Sharp (Rennie Davis); Mark Rylance (William Kunstler); Ben Shenkman (Leonard Weinglass); Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Bobby Seale). Yes. Tom Hayden was married to Jane Fonda 1973-1990. Nice wrap up of what happened to each of leading players at the end of the movie.
The Laundromat (2019): based on the Mossack Fonseca scandal. Starring: Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryl Streep. A bit odd combination of documentary narration and drama but rewarding in the end
The Aeronauts (2019): This is fiction based on real events. James Glaisher was a real English meteorologist who is remembered for his pioneering work as a balloonist. But his copilot on the pioneering flight in 1869 was Henry Tracey Coxwell, not Amelia Wren. Her character is based on Sophie Blanchard who died in 181.
Woman Walks Ahead (2018): Starring Jessica Chastain, Sam Rockwell. Directed by Susanna White. Based on true story of Catherine Weldon, a portrait painter from 1890s Brooklyn, and Sitting Bull.
The Big Sick (2017)
Lion (2016) Announced July 9, 2017, note the Netflix DVD has bonus features, nominated for 6 Oscars
The Founderr (2016) Announced August 2, 2017, note the Netflix DVD has bonus features. McDonalds. Starring Michael Keaton.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2017): starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg (Wolowitz on Big Bang Theory)
Street Cat Named Bob (2016) James Bowen, a busker and recovering drug addict, life transform when he meets a stray ginger cat. Based on best selling book. (no longer on Netflix)
Barry (2016) Early life of U.S. President Barack Obama
Concussion (2015) Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin. Dr. Bennet Omalu uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.
Woman in Gold (2015)
The Imitation Game (2014): story of Alan Turing
Fruitvale Station (2013): Police shooting of Oscar Grant
Philomena (2013): Judi Dench
Sleepwalk with Me (2012): comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote and stars in film about his life 28 – 33
Marley and Me (2008): Starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Anniston and Alan Arkin with appearance by Kathleen Turner as a dog trainer. From book by journalist John Grogan.
Amazon Prime Streaming Historical Drama Films
Blinded by the Light (2019): Coming of age, music. Story of Pakastani first year community college kid who loves to write and through a new friend discovers Bruce Springstein in 1987.
Beautiful Boy (2018, Oct): Docudrama about addiction based on father and son memoirs starring Timothée Chalamet, Steve Carell, Maura Tierney. Chalamet was nominated for Golden Globes best supporting actor.
Breathe (2017): Starring Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield. Robin and Diana Cavendish, inventor Teddy Hall and their contribution to helping very disabled polio victims. Their son Jonathan produced with first time direction by his friend and business partner Andy Serkis.
Megan Leavey (2017): Marine corporal bonds with a military combat dog in Iraq starring Kate Mara, Edie Falco, Ramon Rodriguez
Woman Walks Ahead (2017): Jessica Chastain. Based on true story of Catherine Weldon who traveled from New York to the Dakota’s to paint Sitting Bull.
Denial (2016): starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson. Based on book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” by historian Deborah Lipstadt (also on Netflix DVD)
Trumbo (2015): starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.
Waffle Street (2015) Starring Danny Glover (1946) aging gracefully. Waffle Street is the true story of Jimmy Adams, a VP of a $30 Billion hedge fund who loses his job and winds up working as a waiter at Papa’s Chicken and Waffles.
Middle Men (2010): Based on true story of Jack Harris, an e-commerce pioneer. humorous. porn and drugs. Starring Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, James Caan, Kevin Pollak, Kelsey Grammar, Estimated budget 22 million, worldwide gross 24.5 million
Amazon Prime Streaming Historical Docudrama Series
A Very English Scandal (2018): starring Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw (Whishaw won a Golden Globe for his performance). Mini-series in three one hour episodes.
Mr. Selfridge (2013 – 2016): Jeremy Piven
The Loudest Voice (2019): The story of Roger Ailes and Fox News and their influence on the Republican party. Starring Russell Crowe, Sienna Miller, Seth MacFarlane, Annabelle Wallis. Excellent.
Escape at Dannemora (2018): Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano. Many Emmy nominations. Golden Globe for best acting in a limited series for Patricia Arquette.
Still Alice (2014): starring Julianne Moore
Apple TV Plus Historical Drama Films
The Banker (2020): Excellent. Starring Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson
Greyhound (2020): Starring Tom Hanks. World War II submarine story. Rank this as just OK.
HBO Max Historical Drama Films
King Richard (Nov 19, 2021): Plenty of tennis in this well-executed 2.5 hour HBO Original film of Richard (Will Smith), Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena Williams. Aunjanue Ellis plays mom. Nice matching in appearance of well known characters. Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci.
Judy (2019): Reneé Zellweger – also on Amazon Prime
Just Mercy (2019, launched on HBO Max fall 2020): starring Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson. Story of Bryan Stevenson and his work freeing death row prisoners in Alabama.
Bad Education (2020, April 25): True story of New York’s Roslyn school district 2002 embezzlement scandal with Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanatha https://nymag.com/nymetro/urban/features/9908/
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018): Launched on HBO July 2019. (also on Netflix DVD). Story of Queen with good production values and of course great music. Rami Malek won Oscar for his great portrayal of bisexual lead singer Freddie Mercury.
BlacKkKlansman (2018): Launched on HBO April 2019. Starring John David Washington (Denzel’s son), Adam Driver, Alec Baldwin (cold open). a Spike Lee film. 6 Oscar nominations, win for best adapted screenplay. Ron Stallworth, a black police officer from Colorado Springs, infiltrates local Ku Klux Klan branch with help of a Jewish surrogate.
The Tale (2018): Starring Laura Dern, Common and Ellen Burstyn. If you are disturbed by sexual abuse of 13 year old girl, please watch with caution. Very well done.
The Post (2017) Please see our details under Netflix DVD’s.
The Danish Girl (2015): A fictitious love story loosely inspired by the lives of Danish artists Lili Elbe (transgender pioneer) and Gerda Wegener. Beautifully played by Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander
Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003): Story of 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, starring Scarlett Johansson, Collin Firth, Tom Wilkinson. On HBOgo till the end of April.
Bernard and Doris (2006): HBO original film starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes. Twilight years of tobacco billionaire heiress Doris Duke and her relationship with her gay butler, to whom she left her entire fortune.
HBO Max Historical Drama Series
The Staircase (2022): Starring Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Juliette Binoche
*Belfast (2021) Docudrama created by Kenneth Branagh reflective of his life, starring Judi Dench (1934). Won Oscar for best original screenplay in 2022. Mostly black and white.
Isabel (2021 March 12): In Spanish. Well executed story of renowned writer Isabel Allende. Just 3 Episodes.
Gentleman Jack (2017, season 2 2022): Story of Anne Lister. LGBTQ.
Catherine the Great (2019): Miniseries in 4 episodes. Helen Mirren
FX Docudrama Series
The Feud – Betty and Joan (2017)
The People Vs OJ Simpson (2016)
NetFlix DVD DocuDrama Films
It it’s here that means you can pay to stream it elsewhere
Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019): Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper. A must see film.
Ford v Ferrari (2019): starring Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Christian Bale (Ken Miles) and Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) as Mile’s wife. DVD has one hour Making Of documentary which explains how this movie gives you the experience of driving a race car.
The Looming Tower (2018): Made for Hulu. Starring Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill; Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan. I now follow @Ali_H_Soufan on Twitter. He is one of the producers of this 10 episode series. Bonus features on the 2 DVD’s include commentary episode 1 and 10; In Ali Soufan’s own words; making of and more.
Green Book (2018): Starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini (Dead to Me). Heartwarming, excellent film.
Vice (2018): Golden Globe best actor to Christian Bale playing Cheney. Sam Rockwell nominated for George W. Bush, Steve Carrell great as Rumsfeld and Amy Adams as Cheny’s wife. Humor and drama. Narrated by Jesse Plemons who we just enjoyed in Game Night.
Boy Erased (2018): On the horrible and very real world of religious gay conversion. Excellent making of the film bonus features. Starring Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.
The Old Man and the Gun (2018) starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover. True story of Forrest Tucker
Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018): Starring Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, the best-selling celebrity biographer who turned to deception. Directed by Marielle Heller (Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
The Captain (2017): Story of Willi Herold. In German. Film begins two weeks before the end of War World II. The DVD includes an interesting interview in Chicago with the creator, Robert Schwentke. Schwentke is German but speaks perfect English.
The Rider (2017): “Fiction” made with the people who lived the story and the “ficitionalized” version comes very close to the true story of a horse trainer who suffered a brain injury in a rodeo. Good bonus interviews with the star and makers of the film.
I, Tonya (2017): This is in and out of HBO and other streaming now but we watched on Netflix DVD. Brought Allison Janney an Oscar and Golden Globe for best supporting actress. Margot Robbie does a great job as Tonya Harding.
Borg vs McEnroe (2017): starring Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf. Good bonus feature interviews with the director and the lead actors.
Molly’s Game (2017): starring Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner (as her skiing coach and father). Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game, became an FBI target and drove the predecessor to our Audi A5 cabriolet.
The Post (2017): Story of the Pentagon Papers and biographical insights into Kay Graham, Ben Bradlee and other characters involved starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford and many more. Excellent bonus features on the DVD with interviews with the Graham family, historical, filming of, style of the era. Currently streaming on HBOGo.
Timing of this film. Amy Pascal got the rights to the screenplay October 2016. Steven Spielberg joined as director in March 2017 and rushed it to completion because of the timeliness of the freedom of the press issue, as well as a strong woman biography.
Stronger (2017): Inspirational true-life story of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon 2013 bombing. Based on Bauman’s New York Times bestselling book.
Bonus feature: making of “Faith, Hope and Love, Becoming Stronger
Only the Brave (2017): Granite Mountain HotShots in Arizona, nice insight into fire fighting. Starring Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller
Disaster Artist (2017): Dark comedy docudrama. Making of The Room, starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogan
The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017): Antonina & Jan Zabinski saved 300 Jews during WWII in their Warsaw Zoo. Starring Jessica Chastain.
The Glass Castle (2017): Woody Harrelson, Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, based on the book by Jeanette Walls about her dysfunctional family. Photos and videos of the Walls family at the end of the film and rental DVD special features: from Memoir to film and a conversation with Jeanette.
Wonder (2017): Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts. Not actually a true story but well researched and has great moral lessons for your kids on how to treat kids who look different.
All the Money in the World (2017): based on the true story of the kidnapping of J Paul Getty III starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg. Bonus feature addresses issue of re-filming the parts that had to be replaced when Plummer took over for James Spacey. Directed by Ridley Scott.
The Innocents (2016): Directed by Anne Fontaine. Starring Agata Kulesza (of Cold War) 1945 Poland.
The Founder (2016): Story of McDonalds starring Michael Keaton. includes bonus features
Snowden (2016): directed by Oliver Stone, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. On Netflix streaming since November 1, 2020
Hidden Figures (2016): starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons
Lion (2016): book: “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierly. now also on Netflix streaming but the DVD has bonus features, starring Dev Patel.
Sully (2016): starring Tom Hanks
Patriot Games (2016): Boston Marathon bombing, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, JK Simmons, Michelle Monaghan
Gold (2016): The Bre-X scandal, starring Matthew McConaughey. Everyone loved McConaughey in this movie except rival book authors who had sold the film rights but were beat to production. Their story.
The Big Short (2015): starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
The Walk (2015): starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt
The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015): Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy, starring Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons.
Joy (2015): “Queen of HSN” Joy Mangano starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. docudramas, Vanity Fair on the back story
The Theory of Everything (2014): Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking
A Special Relationship (2010): Tony Blair and Bill Clinton
Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003): Story of 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, starring Scarlett Johansson, Collin Firth, Tom Wilkinson.
First Do No Harm (1997): Patient Advocacy, Ketogenic diet for pediatric epilepsy, starring Meryl Streep. Made for ABC TV. Several actors in the film were cured of epilepsy with the Ketogenic Diet.
Hulu Streaming Historical Drama Films and Series
The Drop Out (2022): Theranos starring Amanda Seyfried, William H. Macy, Sam Waterson and more
DopeSick (October 13, 2021): Docudrama starring Michael Keaton, Kaitlyn Dever (Unbelievable), Michael Stuhlbarg, Rosario Dawson, Peter Saarsgard. Based on the real story of Purdue Pharma, OxyContin and the opioid crisis.
Mrs. America (2020): The well told and disturbing story of how Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett with husband played by John Slattery) stopped the ratification of the ERA and dragged the Republican party to the right. Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus, Tracy Ullman as Betty Friedan, Margo Martindale (The Americans) as Bella Abzug, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Sarah Paulson composite figure on Phyllis’s Stop ERA movement (later organized into the Eagle Forum), Melanie Lynskey (Rose in 2 1/2 Men) Rosemary Thomson head of Illinois for Eagle Forum. Yes that was Bobby Cannavale uncredited as Tom Snyder. Takes a darker turn in Episode 6 when Phyllis realizes she wants Lottie Beth Hobbs’ robust mailing list of Christian Evangelicals. Her own son is gay and she opposes gay rights. Originally on FX.
the Great (2020): Starring Elle Fanning. Female directed, empowering and engaging. A comedic stylized loosely biographical drama of Catherine the Great ruler of Russia. Hulu Original.
The Act (2019 though it was featured on Hulu in 2022): starring Patricia Arquette, Chloë Sevigny
Ammonite (2020): Included because of the category and it’s not bad. Rating is only 6.5 on IMBD. Watch only if the stars or subject matter is of particular interest. Starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. 1840’s England story of fossil hunter Mary Anning. Director Francis Lee chose to assume that Mary and Charlotte had a romantic relationship. LGBTQ.
Searching for In a World, a DocuDrama we saw back in the heydays of Netflix big library of films, the only place I could find it included free with a paid service was Hulu. Please note we never download films from unsanctioned sites.
In a World (2013): Written, directed, co-produced and starring Lake Bell. Power women, gender equality. About the professional field of voice-overs. Billed as a comedy. According to Bell, almost no notable film trailers had employed female voice-over talent except for Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), which used Melissa Disney.
Our List of Historical Dramas to See on Netflix Streaming
They sound good. We haven’t seen them yet.
Versailles (2015 – ): 1667
The Paradise (2012 – 2013) UK first department store. Two Seasons
Caution: On 12 February 2014, the BBC confirmed that The Paradise would not return for a third series
The Tudors (2007 – 2010): King Henry VIII
Please let us know your recommendations for docudramas we have not captured. And most importantly where they can legally be viewed.
Please comment here and/or tweet to me @LindaSherman