17 Best Period Dramas on Amazon Prime (Jan 2024)

One is bound to develop a deeper sense of appreciation for movies based in a different period of time simply for the visible effort put into them. Recreating a specific period in time, now long gone, especially if it’s through props and sets and not special effects, is a mammoth task for the entire team, including the production designers, art directors, and even the writers, for they are the ones who decide how the setting is going to be exploited to best effect. What’s more is that recreating virtual history isn’t merely limited to props including a storefront, an older muscle car, or costumes. It encompasses the mood and the way of life for the period the film chooses to represent.

The world we live in is full of stories to tell, varying in scale, ranging from intimate home-grown tales to battles that changed the course of history as we know it, and Prime Video hosts a bunch of period/historical films with some impeccable craft on display. Even a primal look at the list would reveal that the Second World War is easily the most documented event in all of history, but there are other gems too: ranging from Biblical times to the not-so-recent close of the 20th century itself. With all that said, here’s the list of really good historical movies on Amazon Prime that are available to stream right now.

17. Pippa (2023)

An Indian Hindi-language drama directed by Raja Krishna Menon, this war drama is based on the life of Balram Singh Mehta (Ishaan Khatter) of India’s 45 Cavalry regiment. Singh fought in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 which itself was a part of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The title of the film refers to the PT-76 tank, nicknamed ‘Pippa,’ which was part of his regiment and one he worked on. ‘Pippa’ is an adaptation of Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta’s war memoir, ‘The Burning Chaffees.’ You can watch the film here.

16. The Captain (2017)

Directed by Robert Schwentke, ‘The Captain’ follows German war criminal Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) who deserted his army when World War II was reaching its end and the downfall of Nazi Germany was on the horizon. After finding the uniform of a Luftwaffe (aerial-warfare branch of the German armed forces) captain, garners a group of followers and even executes lots of prisoners after being infatuated with his newly gained powers. He is eventually captured and executed by Allied forces. You can watch the film here.

15. Padmaavat (2018)

Padmaavat’ is the story of Queen Padmavati of Chittorgarh who performed ‘Jauhar’, or the age-old patriarchal practice of self-immolation along with a hundred or so other women in the face of certain defeat as an act to defend her honor, after the fort was laid siege upon by invader Alauddin Khilji. The film is everything you have come to expect from a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, a bollywood director who has made intricately detailed, gorgeous looking mega budget sets and impeccable production design against historical backdrops a genre specialty, a forte of his own. When I say this, I also mean that akin to other Bhansali films, even if you don’t take the story home, especially this one where the proceedings seem long drawn out, the quality of the craft manages to stay with you. ‘Padmaavat’ can be streamed here.

14. Badamasi (Portrait of a General) (2021)

Written and directed by Obi Emelonye, ‘Badamasi (Portrait of a General)’ is a Nigerian authorized biopic film that tells the story of the real-life former military leader and head-of-state Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). The film chronicles Badamasi’s journey from the village of Wushishi in Northern Nigeria to the nation’s corridors of power, depicting the general as a flawed individual who attempts to guide his country through a tumultuous era. After losing his parents at age 14, Badamasi eventually joined the military. His nearly unparalleled charm and intelligence helped him steadily rise through the ranks to become an important player in Nigerian military politics. The film also offers a largely faithful depiction of the Nigerian civil war and Badamasi’s role in it. You can watch it here.

13. American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally (2021)

A Michael Polish directorial venture, ‘American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally’ tells the story of Mildred Gillars, an American woman who serves as a broadcaster for Nazi propaganda during World War II. She is captured after the war in Berlin and transported back to the US Where she is tried for treason. Al Pacino portrays Mildred’s lawyer James Laughlin, who builds a case around the notion that his client was also a victim of the Nazi regime, forced to do their bidding under the threat of deportation to a concentration camp. The film may be subpar to other works of Pacino, but he still has that ability to reel you right into the story. You can check out the film here.

12. The Round Up (2010)

Directed by Roselyne Bosch, this film showcases the horrific events during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup (Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv), a mass arrest of Jews by the French police, at Nazi Germany’s behest, in Paris on 16 and 17 July 1942. More than 13000 Jews were arrested as a part of the roundup. The cast includes Jean Reno, Mélanie Laurent, Gad Elmaleh, Hugo Leverdez, and Raphaëlle Agogué. You can watch the film here.

11. The Lost City of Z (2016)

The legend of Percy Fawcett – a British explorer who went missing in the jungles of the Amazon following his pursuit of the lost city of Z, more famously known as the elusive El Dorado was enough to draw me to the film. While the film is technically sound and gorgeous to look at in parts, it leaves a lot to be desired, storytelling-wise. Give it a shot for Charlie Hunnam, or if historic adventures are your taste. The movie can be streamed here.

10. Peterloo (2018)

Directed by Mike Leigh, this film showcases the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. On August 16, 1819, a huge number of people (estimated 60,000) gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, Lancashire, England, to demand voting rights and Parliamentary reform. 18 people died while more than 700 were wounded after the government militia charged at them with the aim to get hold of the leader. As horrific as the event was, it led to the establishment of the Manchester Guardian newspaper which in turn played a crucial role in passing the Great Reform Act that made big changes in England’s electoral system. The cast includes Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake, David Moorst, Roger Sloman, and Karl Johnson. You can watch the film here.

9. The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine (2018)

Directed by Japanese auteur Takahisa Zeze, ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine’ is set against one of the most tumultuous times in Japanese history. The film depicts the drastic changes that Japan undergoes after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. As the rise of nationalism takes place in the background, the narrative focuses on Kiku and Tamae, two women who are part of a group of all-female Sumo wrestlers. Elsewhere, Tetsu and Daijiro become involved with an anarchist group called the Guillotine Society with the desire to bring changes to their nation through violent rebellion. These two plot threads intersect each other when the anarchists begin attending the female Sumo matches. ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine’ can be streamed here.

8. Valkyrie (2008)

Directed by Bryan Singer, this film showcases the 20 July plot in 1944 (World War II) which was a failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler by a group of German officers, and Operation Valkyrie which was aimed at taking control of the country. If the attempt was successful, it would lead to the fall of the Nazi regime. Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg who is apprehensive of Germany’s future under Hitler’s control and joins the German Resistance to be of use in saving his country. Alongside Cruise, the cast includes Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Carice van Houten, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Wilkinson. You can watch the film here.

7. Kesari (2019)

‘Kesari’ is an Indian Hindi-language war film directed and co-written by Anurag Singh. The movie recounts the story of the Battle of Saragarhi, a violent struggle in which 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai Pashtun tribesmen attacked the outpost of Saragarhi, where the 36th Sikhs of the British Indian Army posted only 21 men to defend the region. Once the enemies were staring right at them, Havildar Ishar Singh, a brave soldier, led his men against one of the most violent confrontations known in history. While offering an intimate overview of the battle, the movie also sheds light on the circumstances that led to it. ‘Kesari’ can be streamed here.

6. Sardar Udham (2021)

Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Sardar Udham’ is a somber, grounded tale of one of the most celebrated revolutionaries of Colonial India. The film’s non-linear narrative shifts back and forth between Sardar Udham Singh’s (Vicky Kaushal) time in London and the eventual assassination of Indian Civil Service officer Michael O’Dwyer in the present and his involvement in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in the past. Wanted by the British authorities, Udham reaches England through Russia and assassinates O’Dwyer. Following his arrest, he narrates his tale to his appointed lawyer and an investigating inspector. He explains how he was impacted by the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 and how that ultimately influenced his decision to kill O’Dwyer. You can watch the film here.

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5. The Courier (2020)

Written by Tom O’Connor, ‘The Courier’ is a historical spy film that stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, and Jessie Buckley. The Dominic Cooke directorial follows a British businessman as he works alongside a Soviet officer in one of the tensest moments of the Cold War. As the fear of nuclear confrontation and widespread death and destruction reach an alarming high, these two men do the groundwork to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis and avert the horrific crisis. You can watch ‘The Courier’ here.

4. Ponniyin Selvan: Part I (2022)

Based on the 1955 novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ by Kalki Krishnamurthy, ‘Ponniyin Selvan: Part I’ is the first entry in a two-part film series. The film offers a dramatized rendition of the early life of Chola prince Arunmozhi Varman, who is destined to become Rajaraja the Great, who would reestablish the Chola control over South India and expand his empire to various islands on the Indian Ocean. The film begins with Emperor Sundara Chozhar realizing that something sinister is brewing amongst his courtiers and dispatching Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan to find out the truth. Veteran filmmaker Mani Ratnam guides this opulent love letter to India’s past with his characteristic candidness, telling a grand tale that is ultimately grounded in remarkable characterization. You can watch the film here.

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3. Fanny’s Journey (2016)

Directed by Lola Doillon, ‘Fanny’s Journey’ is a French-Belgian film that is inspired by the autobiographical memoir “Le journal de Fanny” by Fanny Ben-Ami. It follows Fanny (Léonie Souchaud), a 12-year-old girl, one of a group of French Jewish children, sheltered by the Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE), a French Jewish humanitarian organization, in Vichy France (occupied by Nazi Germany), and how the group flees the place and sets off on a journey to neutral Switzerland without the supervision of an adult. As scary as it sounds, it is a thousand times more so. You can watch the film here.

2. Braveheart (1995)

Directed by Mel Gibson, this cult classic is set during the 13th century and features Gibson as Scottish knight Sir William Wallace who led the first War of Scottish Independence against Edward “Longshanks” aka King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan) of England. This was an act of retribution after Wallace’s wife Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack) was captured and publicly executed by English soldiers. While Wallace was eventually captured and publicly beheaded, his fellow fighter Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen) led the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) against the forces of King Edward II of England, in Wallace’s memory and took the Scots to victory. You can watch the film here.

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1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

This painful film explores the friendship between a German kid 8-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and an eight-year-old Jewish prisoner Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) after the former’s family moves in near a concentration camp and his father, an SS officer, takes charge as a commandant. Unbeknownst to the situation that each of them faces, the two kids forge a friendship that transcends the war that divides them. But can it keep them safe? To find out, you can watch this Mark Herman directorial here.

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