If you want to experience the golden ages of world history through exquisitely presented miniseries, then binge-watch Empires from PBS. With outstanding production values and engaging narration, Empires offers sublimely illuminating portraits of great cultural periods.
Title: "PBS Empires"
Year it began: 10
Where it can be seen: PBS, Amazon Prime.
Narrated by: Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, Richard Chamberlain, Keith David, Massimo Marinoni and David McCullough.
Typical episode length: 3 hours
Number of episodes to date: 10
Brief plot description: Each episode focuses on a pivotal era in either a political empire or a religious movement. Footage of archaeological sites, cultural objects, and historical reenactments are combined with narration, interviews, and historical dramatization.
Why it’s worth watching: "Empires" offers first-rate historical documentaries, with excellent directing, fantastic scripts, and wonderful footage of locations and objects.
With slow-paced, sumptuous studies of cultural periods, "Empires" expertly uses narration and interviews to give viewers a rich sense of both major players and everyday people of the past. In choosing its imperial subjects, "Empires" typically gives deep coverage of a particularly interesting period rather than trying to cram in thousands of years of history.
Its presentation of ancient Rome, for example (narrated wonderfully by Weaver), focuses on the Silver Age of Augustus, and shows us, along with standard political and military history, numerous details about the lives of everyday citizens.
Other wonderfully focused installments include the exploration of political centralization and cultural flowering in Tokugawa, Japan (narrated by Chamberlain); the fascinating examination of both leaders and workers involved in building Egypt’s New Kingdom (narrated by David); the analysis of politics, class, and regional warfare in classical Greece (narrated by Neeson); and the stimulating study of modernization competing with British tradition in "Queen Victoria's Empire" (narrated by Sutherland).
An especially gorgeous installment, "The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance" (narrated by Marinoni), involves a visually magnificent presentation of culture and politics in Italy. "Empires" also includes informative and engaging looks at the rise and development of major religions.
Two particularly fine such installments include "The Kingdom of the Israelites" (narrated by David), which cinematically covers Judaism from its early political consolidation to the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, and "Islam: Empire of Faith" (narrated by Kingsley), which offers a highly informative study of both the ideological and geographical spread of Islamic culture.