The British royalty have remained a subject of global fascination through the centuries. Much of their aristocratic ways have been documented in films and books, and Peter Morgan’s creation is the latest to join the bandwagon. The Netflix series chronicles the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II from her days as a young princess in the mid-20th century to her transition as a staunch monarch in the decades that followed. Political drama, family feud, and extravagant getaways blend in this delicious cocktail that spans four seasons (with the final two still underway). The viewers are taken on a tour of the grand yet gloomy palaces in the U.K., with a special lens on the commonwealth nations around the world. But it’s the jungle safari in Kenya, a paparazzi-evading hideout in the Caribbean, and a presidential party in the U.S.A. that you should keep an eye out for.
If it’s pretty landscapes you seek, then look no further than this historical drama set in the backdrop of England in the early 1900s. Following the lives of the Earl of Grantham’s family—the aristocratic Crawley family through the years 1912 and 1926—we’re treated to the stunning Berkshire countryside, villages in Oxfordshire, gothic churches and blooming gardens in London and the imposing towers of Scotland. We’re taken through the length of England as we follow the sinking of the Titanic, the onset of World War 1, the Irish Independence and the fight for Women’s Suffrage—covered in detail through the series. The Downton Abbey mansion may be all glitter and power from the outside, but if walls could speak… scandal, thy name is Crawley.
Everything that’s been said about Renaissance Florence—and the movement in Italy at large—is showcased perfectly in this Italian historical drama. The three seasons follow the rise of the glorious (and infamous) Medici family, the most powerful banking family in all of 15th-century Europe. As the storyline follows the Medicis gaining political hold over Florence (often through ruthless and illegal means), and emerging in recurrent clashes with the Vatican and its resentful neighbours—we’re taken through the picturesque locales of Florence, Pienza, Montepulciano, Rome, Tivoli and Bracciano. Most importantly, it offers us the chance to feast our eyes on the extraordinary Renaissance art, history and architecture that styled the republic in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Several movies have been made on T.E. Lawrence, the famed WWI British army officer who made friend and foe across the Middle East, but none are as visually stunning as David Lean’s 1962 masterpiece. Lean actually filmed at Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert and Morocco’s Aït Benhaddou kasbah, but the Moorish architecture of southern Spain stood in for Jerusalem and Damascus, particularly, Sevillian Mudéjar-Renaissance and Revivalist palaces and plazas. These cinematic locales full of 16th century fountains and elaborate courtyards include the Almohad palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Real Alcázar, the Andulsian palace, Casa de Pilatos, and the revivalist Plaza de España and Plaza de América.
If there is any film that etches frontier life in 1757 America with naturalistic detail, this one is it. The story follows Hawkeye, a luscious-haired warrior (Daniel Day-Lewis) who roves the unsettled countryside of New York with a tribe of Mohicans, a vanishing indigenous peoples, during the French-Indian war. Unexpectedly Hawkeye and his cohorts find themselves responsible for the safety of two English sisters, Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice. Cora and Hawkeye’s mutual fascination blossoms into a simmering romance, unfolding against a series of fiercely fought ambushes and battles, all of which is shot across North Carolina’s Asheville and its adjoining pristine wilderness. Mohicans’ portrait of the rugged Old West ways has the kind of painterly allure to suddenly turn us into wannabe wood-chipping, gun-slinging musketeers.
Few books offer a sense of place like Kiran Desai’s famous novel. The storyline is set in parallel: contrasting the experiences of Sai, an anglicised Indian girl living with her grandfather—a retired judge in a grand estate in the sleepy town of Kalimpong and Biju—the son of her grandfather’s cook who’s living as an illegal alien in the United States. On one hand, Desai’s Kalimpong offers up a rich lesson in post-colonialism and its after-effects, including a burning agitation taking place in an otherwise peaceful town that’s well-versed in solitude. Meanwhile, New York’s bustling streets and chaotic energy prove more than a little overwhelming for Biju who is forced to make a tough decision.