5 for Friday: Family-Friendly Historical Dramas — ‘When Calls the Heart,’ Jane Austen and More

I’ve always been a big fan of historical-fiction books, and I was delighted to discover the similar genre of TV shows. But the catch, I found, was that these shows sometimes have a bizarre and rather anachronistic amount of sexual material.

If, like me, you’d prefer a show about a more innocent time to actually be more innocent, here are five shows you might want to check out:

When Calls the Heart

This is a pretty squeaky-clean Hallmark drama, also available on Netflix, about a city girl who moves to a mining town to start a new position as a teacher.

I’ll warn you that the cheese is real in this one at times, but it does still have its moments of truly compelling story. To me, the trade-off of having virtually nothing objectionable (except maybe some pretty mild violence, like fist fights or threats from bad guys) made it worth the watch, especially when I wanted to watch something with my toddler that wasn’t animated.

Here’s the most recent season trailer:

Anne With an E

I’ve seen this Netflix original adaptation series of the beloved Anne of Green Gables novel get a lot of bad reviews. Mostly, the complaints have been centered on its darker, more grown-up tone than the novel. While I think there’s some truth in that, I still found this show about whimsical orphan Anne Shirley and her new adoptive parents to be pretty enjoyable.

It’s rated PG, mostly for those darker elements that include things like flashbacks to Anne being bullied at the orphanage, as well as some brief innuendo, but nothing too serious.

It’s also been renewed for a second season.

(Editor’s Note: Common Sense Media generally agrees with Adrienne; but a writer in Vanity Fair isn’t a fan.)

Here’s the trailer:

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

OK, technically this one’s a mini-series, but any list of historical dramas would hardly be complete without this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic. While I do like the more recent Kiera Knightly movie adaptation, this mini-series is often called the “definitive” “Pride and Prejudice” adaptation and gives a pretty complete picture of the whole story as contained in the novel about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy falling in love despite their pride and prejudice.

And obviously, since it’s based on a Jane Austen novel, it’s pretty clean, though this version does show Wickham’s past misdeeds a bit more clearly than some versions.

If you hunt around, all six episodes are available on YouTube; the series is also on DVD and — in meticulously rendered high-def edition — on Hulu.

(Editor’s Note: This might spark conversations with youngsters about an estate being “entailed away” (explanation here). It also could require an explanation of how few ways single women could make a decent living in the early 19th century, hence the emphasis on finding good husbands. This can be contrasted with the courage with which eldest sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet pursue men of character, whom they truly love, over merely rich or “respectable” men. Of course, the fact that they fall in love with good men who are also rich is a bonus.)

Take a peek:

Granite Flats

Another squeaky clean option that I’ve watched with my toddler, “Granite Flats” on Netflix is a Cold War-era drama about a boy who plays at being a spy and then actually ends up kind of becoming one, as he and his friends stumble onto some suspicious activity in their small town.

This show was made by members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (a k a Mormons), who specifically wanted to create a show the whole family could enjoy together. I’d say: mission accomplished. It’s only rarely cheesy, typically pretty compelling, and has some pro-nondenominational Christian themes (nothing Mormon-specific). It’s currently available on Netflix.

Here’s a promo video for the show:


This NBC drama — whose fans saved it from cancellation after its freshman season — is not historical per se, but it’s a time-travel drama in which the characters go back to several very interesting points in history, so the history geek in me loved the concept.

It centers around a history professor and some scientists who are trying to stop someone evil from changing a bunch of past world events for personal gain. There is some violence – they do go back to events like Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the Alamo, after all. But it’s otherwise pretty clean. You can find it on Hulu, with season 2 set to come out mid-season on NBC.

Image: Courtesy Hallmark Channel

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