Anniversaries, exhibitions, history TV & film: what to expect from 2022
Look forward to landmark exhibitions on Stonehenge and Beatrix Potter, screen adaptations on Marie Antoinette and the discovery of Richard III's grave, and events marking 100 years of the BBC…
This year, Auntie turns 100. No, not your Auntie Irene. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was formed on 18 October 1922 by a group of leading wireless manufacturers, with daily broadcasting beginning soon after, and it is celebrating its centenary in 2022.
Expect a season of programming across the year marking the anniversary, including BBC: A Very British History, a three-part series with David Dimbleby that will trace the impact of the BBC on British life across recent decades. Elsewhere, in BBC Radio 4’s Past Forward, historian Greg Jenner will use a random date generator to alight somewhere in the BBC's vast archive. Keep an eye on the pages of BBC History Magazine each month too, as we’re running a 13-part series focusing on a different theme of the BBC’s history and its relation to society.
But even before this year is out, the BBC has no shortage of historical fare. Period dramas to look forward to over the coming month includes the next series of A Very British Scandal – starring Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll, who found herself at the centre of an infamous 1960s sex scandal. Elsewhere, David Tennant stars in an adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, and into the new year, watch out for Steven Knight's SAS Rogue Heroes. A six-part WW2 drama that begins in Cairo in 1941, it explores the formation of the SAS, who Knight calls a “renegade band of soldiers who used wit and imagination as much as firepower to halt the march of Fascism across North Africa during the darkest days of World War Two”. Expect more from Knight as his most famous anti-hero Tommy Shelby returns to our screens for the sixth and final series of Peaky Blinders, rumoured to arrive on the BBC in February.
Also featuring in the BBC’s bumper year of commissions is another key British anniversary. Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee falls on 6 February 2022, marking 70 years since the Queen acceded to the throne aged 25. She will be the first British monarch to reach the milestone, so expect peak celebrations in June with public events, beacons lit across the UK and Commonwealth, and a party at Buckingham Palace – not to mention an extended bank holiday weekend for Brits, too.
There will also be three special exhibitions held at famous royal residences in the summer of 2022 – Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse – looking back at aspects of the Queen’s reign. Buckingham Palace will host a series of portraits taken by Dorothy Wilding, that formed the basis of the Queen's image on stamps and in British embassies across the world until 1971, while Windsor Castle’s coronation exhibition will display the coronation dress and Robe of Estate worn by the Queen at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953.
But if you can’t wait until the summer to feast your eyes on history, there are plenty of places to get your history fix. For royals, head to the British Library before 20 February 2022, where you’ll find Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, which charts the turbulent relationship between the queens and showcases some remarkable 16th-century manuscripts, including Elizabeth’s famed ‘heart and stomach of a king’ speech. If that inspires you to seek out even more Tudors, visit Bath’s Holborne Museum between 28 January to 8 May 2022 for The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics, which will include some of the most iconic images in British painting, including the ‘Darnley’ and ‘Armada’ portraits of Elizabeth I. Look out for a portrait of Jane Seymour after Hans Holbein the Younger, which has never been shown outside London before. The exhibition then moves to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool between May and August.
Elsewhere, expect childhood memories galore in the V&A’s exhibition in partnership with the National Trust on beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter. Also a scientist and a conservationist, there will be original watercolours, drawings and manuscripts by Potter on display from 12 February, alongside personal artefacts. And there’s more nostalgia on offer (perhaps of particular interest if you’ve enjoyed the recently released Beatles documentary on Disney Plus) in a free exhibition displaying a selection of Paul McCartney’s lyrics at the British Library until 13 March 2022.
Sure to be circled in any history buff’s calendar is the British Museum’s World of Stonehenge exhibition in February 2022. The first exhibition of its kind in the UK, the show will use objects from across Europe to bring the story of Stonehenge into sharper focus and explore how the Britain and Ireland of four millennia ago were places of big ideas, commerce and travel. Look out for the world’s oldest map of the stars – the 3,600-year-old Nebra Sky Disc.
Later in the year from October 2022, the BM will also host a new exhibition on decoding hieroglyphs (title TBC), a nod to the fact that 2022 is a big year for Egyptology. In September 2022, it will be 200 years since Jean-François Champollion announced his breakthrough decipherment of the Rosetta Stone which provided the key to understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Hot on the heels of that anniversary is the centenary of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922.
And if the idea of mummified remains piques your curiosity for more bodily history, don’t miss Anatomy: A Matter of Death and Life at the National Museum of Scotland between July and November 2022. Covering 500 years of medical exploration, it will showcase pioneering Leonardo da Vinci sketches alongside the grisly tale of William Burke and William Hare, who killed 16 people in the impoverished Edinburgh district of West Port and sold the bodies to an anatomist for dissection in the early 19th century.
But if the winter weather still has you craving your sofa right now rather than filling your diary with trips, you won’t have long to wait. Whetting appetites for fans of Downton Abbey is the new trailer for Julian Fellowes’ HBO series The Gilded Age, starring Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon, a drama set amid the clash of ‘old’ and ‘new’ money in 1890s New York City that will premiere on Sky Atlantic in the UK on 25 January 2022. Also imminent is The Last Kingdom, returning on Netflix for a fifth and final season surrounding the exploits of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, followed by a feature film (also on Netflix) currently titled Seven Kings Must Die. Meanwhile on the big screen wartime dramas abound, as Operation Mincemeat and The Edge of Munich also arrive in January. For a more licenced take on historical drama, the sixth series of timeslip drama Outlander will be released on 6 March 2022, and sees Claire and Jamie Fraser take on new challenges in the 18th-century British colony of North Carolina.
This next year also offers plenty of undated but no-less-anticipated releases. Look forward to a new drama on a queen of France, Catherine de Medici, as Samantha Morton takes on the role of the renaissance royal in Starz’s The Serpent Queen, while Vikings fans eagerly await spin-off Vikings: Valhalla, that promises stories of Norsemen including Leif Erikson, Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Harald Hardrada. For thriller-lovers, there’s film Killers of the Flower Moon, in which a murderer targets members of the Osage tribe in the United States. The 1920s case sparked a major FBI investigation, and directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo di Caprio, it’s sure to rise to the blood-curdling tale. Elsewhere, di Caprio also stars in a TV drama; The Devil in the White City, based on the non-fiction history book of the same name by Erik Larson that follows two real figures in the lead up to the 1893 Chicago World Fair.
Listen: David Grann discusses his book Killers of the Flower Moon, which details the killing of several Native Americans in the 1920s and the subsequent investigation by the FBI, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:
There are plenty of new takes on British history, too. Last year Netflix’s The Dig charmed viewers with a quiet study of the unearthing of treasures at Sutton Hoo on the brink of WW2. Expect more archaeological action later in 2022, as Steve Coogan stars in The Lost King, a comedy drama based on the discovery of Richard III's grave beneath a council car park in Leicester. Other period remakes heading to the small screen in 2022 include Brideshead Revisited and Henry Fielding novel Tom Jones, coming to ITV and made by the same company behind previous hits Poldark and Victoria.
Later in the year, we’re promised the hotly anticipated series two of Shondaland’s Georgian-set romance Bridgerton. Lady Whistledown and the Ton became the toast of Christmas 2020 with an updated take on the genre – and with a rumoured spin-off prequel about young Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz also in the works, don’t expect Regency fever to abate any time soon.
Its success is perhaps reflected in another towering wig drama, one of the BBC’s flagship history pieces expected later in 2022. Marie Antoinette, written by Deborah Davis (who also penned Queen Anne ‘punk romp’ The Favourite) will tell the story of the young queen who was barely 14 years old when she left Austria to marry the Dauphin of France. Expect an avant-garde take on the life of the doomed royal.
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