David Jenkins’ hit HBO Max pirate rom-com Our Flag Means Death is an absolute delight to watch, even if the final episode tore our hearts up into pieces. The nautical period drama is hilarious, heartwarming, and is a thrilling adventure that anything pirate-related in media should be, with Jenkins’ describing his show as a “historical pirate rom-com” that mainly focuses on the real-life notorious Captain Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) and “The Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnett (Rhys Darby).
While it is unknown if Blackbeard and Stede ever actually had a romantic relationship together, it is an excellent addition to the historical-fiction genre and an excellent portrayal of queer love in period dramas, a genre that is largely represented by heterosexual relationships and cisgender individuals. Thankfully, historical stories focusing on queer relationships, themes, and characters have steadily increased over the years, each having just as much charm as Our Flag Means Death. As you soothe your heart and patiently wait for Season 2, here are more period dramas out there that are sure to win you over in the meantime.
Starting with another swash-buckling pirate show, Black Sails is a fiery depiction of real pirate life, with enough blood and betrayal to keep you well entertained throughout its four-season run. Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine and serving as the prelude to the famous literature classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Black Sails features an array of LGBTQ+ characters, including a polyamorous and queer ménage à trois and other queer portrayals of love and intimacy in a ruthless, pirate world.
If you are still craving pirate romance that can break your heart, then Black Sails is definitely for you, although it isn’t nearly half as chipper and comedic as Our Flag Means Death, so be warned for some intense scenes, as well as a historically accurate portrayal of the lost art of shark wrestling.
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2019)
If you thought that Our Flag Means Death broke your heart, wait until this beautiful French historical-romance drama rocks your world. Created by Céline Sciamma and starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a poignant and deeply moving portrayal of the blossoming relationship between Héloïse and Marianne, the latter of which is hired by her mother to secretly paint her portrait to ensure her marriage to an Italian nobleman. The film is an emotionally rich and passionate display of hidden queer life in the late 18th century, with powerhouse performances from Merlant and Haenel.
You are bound to fall in love with this film, and it is one of the most tender and heartbreaking displays of lesbian romance in cinema history. The film’s blazing ending will give you emotional whiplash and stay within you long after the credits roll, so prepare to never listen to Vivaldi‘s The Four Seasons without weeping again.
While a bit more modern than the golden age of piracy of the early 18th century, Ryan Murphy‘s Pose has just as much heart and endless representation of queer joy and talent that the beloved pirate rom-com also has. Taking place in the 1980s to 1990s, Pose is a vibrant love letter to the golden age of ballroom in New York City and pays homage to the vast array of gay and transgender trailblazers amidst the bleak landscape of the AIDS epidemic.
Filled to the brim with dazzling costumes and stunning makeup looks that would give the cast of Euphoria a run for their money, Pose is a visual splendor of the legendary ballroom scene and also offers an ensemble cast of brilliant LGBTQ+ actors, including Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Billy Porter. Equally fabulous as it is deeply emotional, Pose is an inspiring and beautiful series that depicts all the highs and lows of the queer experience during one of the most turbulent eras in history.
‘The Handmaiden’ (2016)
Erotic, mesmerizing, and absolutely riveting, Park Chan-wook‘s romantic masterpiece, The Handmaiden, is a stunning period drama and a psychological thriller about the relationship between two women in Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. The plot, taking inspiration from the 2002 novel Fingersmith, follows the lonely and isolated Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and the Korean handmaiden hired to take care of her, Nam Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), who is secretly involved in a plot to steal her fortune.
The women soon begin an intensely sensual and romantic relationship, making Nam Sook-hee’s motivation to steal from her muddled and complicated, and is a perfect depiction of how lesbians and queer women secretly pursued relationships with each other throughout history. The film is spellbindingly beautiful and full of plot twists to keep you on your toes, making it a must-watch for any period drama lover.
Another film set during the 1980s, Pride, is based on the real-life actions of British gay and lesbian activists who team up to support the families and individuals fighting in the 1984 miners’ strike, known as the accurately named Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. The film is an earnest, heartwarming and inspiring tale about solidarity and comradeship between two communities that suffered under Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
Pride includes stellar performances by Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Andrew Scott and is perfect for a pick-me-up when the world reveals yet another tragedy and setback against the LGBTQ+ community and will allow hope to return to your heart. That might sound cheesy, but if you’re not crying happy tears and the film’s end, it would be shocking.
‘The Favourite’ (2018)
Starring the always excellent and British national treasure Olivia Colman as the queen of early 18th century Britain, Queen Anne, The Favourite is a black comedy that focuses on the tumultuous relationship between cousins Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham (played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) as they fight to remain the court favorite and romantic interest of the queen. The film examines the brutal social politics of royal court life, as well as the fragile mental state of Anne herself as she spirals due to her inability to have a child and the multiple people who take advantage of her damaged psyche.
Filled with all the opulent dresses and outfits found within the dynamic age of the 18th century, the film helped land Colman an Oscar for Best Actress, a very well-deserved accolade. Comedic, dark, and sardonic, the film still finds time to allow emotional moments to flourish, helping The Favourite be an excellent addition to the growing list of queer-themed period dramas.
‘It’s a Sin’
Created by Russell T Davies, who also worked on Doctor Who, It’s a Sin is a heartbreaking coming-of-age limited series that is a moving and deeply empathetic depiction of the AIDS epidemic in London in the 1980s. Davies, who lived and experienced immense grief during the AIDS crisis, doesn’t shy away from showing how the Thatcher-led government treated victims of the disease like criminals, as well as the devastating effects this had on those infected and their friends and families.
It’s a Sin is incredible not only for all the great performances by the lead actors, as well as all the star-studded guest star appearances but also for its honest and stirring tribute to those who lost their lives fighting the AIDS virus and how this recent history transformed the LGBT+ community permanently.
KEEP READING: 10 Queer Hidden Gems to Watch for Pride Month