Upcoming in 2023: historical anniversaries, exhibitions & television
In the year Britain’s new monarch will be crowned, see where you can get your history fix…
With a wealth of upcoming major events – including the coronation of King Charles III on 6 May – it seems 2023 will not have to fight for its place in the history books.
But what if you wish to explore history already made? British museums are spoiling the public this year with a broad selection of exhibitions to enjoy. And, when you just fancy some time indoors, there are plenty of historical dramas to curl up in front of.
What period dramas are being released in 2023?
The BBC begins this year with a classic drama to warm the winter nights. The 12th series of Call the Midwife will see the return of our old favourites from Nonnatus House as they bring more babies into the world. Missed the first instalments? No need to worry, you can catch up on the goings on in Poplar on BBC iPlayer. Read more | Midwifery and childbirth: a historical A-Z guide
And Call the Midwife is not the only series the BBC is bringing back this year. Ghosts is set to return in 2023, a comedy series following young couple Alison and Mike Cooper who inherit an old manor house. But that is not all – after a near-death experience, Alison can see the ghosts who live within its walls. Elsewhere, World on Fire is also coming back to our screens, a WWII drama centred on the intertwined lives of ordinary people affected by war.
The BBC aren’t alone in treating the public to new stories featuring old favourites. Netflix is set to release series three of Bridgerton this year, the hugely popular period drama headed by showrunner Shonda Rhimes. The new episodes will focus on the romance between Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton). And fans of this glitzy Regency world are well and truly spoilt – a prequel, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, will explore the backgrounds of central female characters in the series, including the early relationship of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and King George III, and is expected to premiere in the spring.
As the months roll on, we can expect series seven of Outlander on Starz, an historical drama based on the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. It follows the story of a former Second World War military nurse Claire Randall (Caitríona Balfe) in Scotland who, when transported back in time to 1743, falls in love with Highland warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). Starz will also release the second series of The Serpent Queen in later 2023, a drama about the life of Catherine de Medici (Samantha Morton), the 16th century Queen of France who became one of the most powerful and longest serving rulers in French history.
What about more modern monarchs, you say? Look no further than series six of The Crown is expected on Netflix in November or December, and will no-doubt cover more contentious themes on Britain’s royal family. Read our articles on previous series of The Crown.
If you prefer rolling fields to the royal courts, Channel 5 will air series four of All Creatures Great and Small in September. Based on famous veterinarian James Herriot’s memoirs in the Yorkshire Dales, the previous series saw the characters enter the trials involved on the home front in the Second World War.
As the year comes to an end, we’ll see the 60th anniversary of the nation’s favourite time traveller. David Tennant will return as Doctor Who for three episodes, joined by Catherine Tate. Then, Christmas will see Ncuti Gatwa’s debut as the 15th Doctor, starring alongside Millie Gibson as his companion, Ruby Sunday.
What historical films are being released in 2023?
There are historical films aplenty making their way to the big screen. Babylon debuts in January and depicts the rise and fall of individuals in 1920s Hollywood. Featuring Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, the characters are loosely based on real figures from the ‘golden age’ of film. Empire of Light, released on 9 January, also centres on the world of movies, but in front of the screen rather than behind it. Starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, it tells the story of an old cinema, and the beauty that film can bring to people’s lives.
Also released in January is Till, which follows the true story of Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. The film will centre on Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett’s mother, as she pursues justice for her son.
As the days become warmer, two much anticipated biopics will be released. The first, on 7 April, is Chevalier, inspired by the true story of composer Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The illegitimate son of an African enslaved person and a French plantation owner, he rose to be a celebrated violinist-composer. This film has been described as the ‘Black Mozart’ biopic. Then, on the 21 July, Universal Pictures releases Oppenheimer, featuring Cillian Murphy as the American scientist J Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the atomic bomb’.
Firebrand will also be released this year, featuring Alicia Vikander as Katherine Parr. The title is about the life of Henry VIII’s (Jude Law) last wife, and is written by Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth, best known for their work on Killing Eve.
What exhibitions are on at British museums?
There are many spaces beyond the screen to get your history fix. From May to August, the British Museum is displaying an exhibition Luxury and power: Persia to Greece, which explores how luxury shaped the political landscape of Eurasia in the first millennium BC.
And if it’s women’s history you’re interested in, you’d better head to the V&A. Until the 1 May, an exhibition, Print and Prejudice, is displaying the work of female printmakers from 1700–1930. In addition, they are holding tours every Saturday to uncover the contribution of women to art and design.
The BBC’s centenary was widely celebrated in 2022, but it’s being marked by National Museum Cardiff in their BBC 100 in Wales exhibition until the 16 April. The exhibition takes visitors through time to explore how the country has contributed to the making of the BBC.
Meanwhile, Bristol Museum has an exhibition curated by Peter Braithwaite on the rediscovery of black portraiture. It reveals how a black presence is at the heart of many of our spaces and objects, and is running from April to July.
If you find yourself in Belfast, Ulster Museum is displaying the work of Irish artists post 1870, until the 10 September. Entitled Light from the West, the exhibition will feature scenes from the remotest landscapes to the cosmopolitan, which reveal the resilience of Ireland’s residents through history.
If you have an interest in historical fashion, this is the perfect year for you. From 1 July to 29 October, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is hosting an exhibition exploring the history of the little black dress. It is seeking to deconstruct the conventions surrounding this fashion choice and to examine the power of the colour black in fashion’s history. And, if you’re heading to London between April and October, Kensington Palace has an exhibition, Crown to Couture, which explores the glamour of the Georgian court right through to the modern-day red carpet. Also in London, at the V&A, the UK’s first exhibition dedicated to the work of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel will begin on the 16 September.
What historical anniversaries are there in 2023?
As well as bursting with dramas and exhibitions to enjoy, this year is not short of history in the making, either. On 6 May, King Charles III will be coronated at Westminster Abbey. The King will be 74 at the time of the ceremony – the oldest age that a new monarch has ever been crowned. An extra bank holiday will take place two days after the official ceremony.
But what about history already made? February sees 100 years since Howard Carter opened the door to the burial chamber of Tutankhamun.
“Presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold,” Carter recounted. “For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words ‘Yes, wonderful things’.” Find out more about the discoveries, and what we have learned about the Boy King since, in our podcast series on Tutankhamun and his treasures.
As 2023 moves into spring, 30 April will mark 60 years since the start of the Bristol Bus Boycott, a campaign that drew huge attention to the racial discrimination in Britain. It arose when the Bristol Omnibus Company refused to employ black and Asian people, and the resulting demonstrations are said to have influenced pioneering legislation – including the 1965 Race Relations Act.
And the Bristol Bus Boycott is not the only campaign which will have an anniversary this year. 50 years ago, on 1 May 1973, 1.6m workers went on strike across the nation. Made in response to a call by the Trades Union Congress, the industries most affected were railways, car manufacturing, newspaper production, mining, and work on the docks.
Summer marks a significant anniversary – on 22 June it will have been 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Britain. This event, Colin Grant told HistoryExtra, marked the start of an immigration boom that would change the face of Britain forever. Read more in his guide to the HMT Empire Windrush.
The warmer months bring another 75th anniversary on 5 July, of the formal founding of Britain’s National Health Service. Brought about by Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health in Clement Attlee’s government, it altered the very foundations of the nation’s healthcare service and made medical care accessible to all.
With autumn comes the anniversary of a revered writer’s death. JRR Tolkien, famous for high fantasy works The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He died 50 years ago, on 2 September 1973. His literature led to a resurgence of the genre; a transformation that has identified him as the father of modern fantasy texts.
Autumn also brings another milestone. On 16 October, it will have been 100 years since the founding of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded the media company, which is now one of the largest in the world.
On the 22 November, it will be the 60th anniversary of President John F Kennedy’s assassination. The youngest US president to have been elected, his death was a huge turning point in American history. Read our eyewitness account from Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth, credited as being the only journalist to have witnessed JFK’s assassination.
As 2023 closes, 16 December brings the 250th anniversary of Boston Tea Party. The event occurred when American colonists dumped 342 chests of tea imported by the British East India Company into the harbour, making it a significant precursor to the American revolutionary war.
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