If you’ve been enjoying The Crown on Netflix (or if you’re just generally a history buff like me), you’re probably aware that the current queen of England (Elizabeth II) was not actually born to be queen, nor her father born to be king. In Great Britain in 1936, it was soap opera central: Edward VIII, the charming, handsome crown-prince-turned-king, announced that not only was he in love with a divorcee (a no-no for the Church of England) who also happened to be American, but that he wanted to marry her at any cost, including the throne itself. This turned everything upside down for his brother George VI (Elizabeth II’s father), who was forced to take the throne after Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry as he wanted. In Royal Wives at War, the story is told through the eyes of the women behind the men: Elizabeth, wife to George VI (and later the “Queen Mother”), and Wallis Simpson, the object of affection and eventual wife of Edward VIII. The two women could not have been less alike in looks, temperament, or character, but one thing they shared was a fierceness of will and a determination to take the other down in any way possible. The docudrama is part reenactment, part roundtable discussion from British historians, and part dramatic monologues (set in 1967) beautifully presented by Emma Davies as Elizabeth and Gina McKee as Wallis, who certainly don’t hold back with their cinematic-quality performances. The film is available on DVD on Amazon for $15.18 or as a digital purchase for $4.99. While it is only 60 minutes, a lot is packed into the hour, and if you’re a fan of this era of history, it’s an hour you won’t want to miss.
From the moment we wake up to the radio in the morning to when we turn off the lights at night, we are truly living in Nikola Tesla’s world. If you hear his name but can’t quite place it, you’ll probably grab your smartphone and do a search, then moments later read how he is largely responsible for the miracle of the technology you’re holding in your hand. American Experience: Tesla tells the story of this incredible man, who (sadly now eclipsed by more famous names like Edison) was the “It guy” of his day. Tesla’s work included alternating electrical current, the Tesla coil, x-rays, radio, remote control, the electric motor, robotics, lasers, wireless communication, and much, much more. He was not only a brilliant scientist and inventor, but also a master showman, often electrifying his own body so that it appeared on fire. He rose from being a penniless immigrant to rubbing shoulders with those at the top of the social spectrum, such as Mark Twain, JP Morgan, Robert Underwood Johnson, and Stanford White. Tesla was exhaustingly accomplished in many other areas as well: he spoke eight languages, wrote several books, walked 8-10 miles a day, had an eidetic memory, and claimed to never sleep more than two hours. He also did most of his designing in his mind rather than on paper (as illustrated in this awesome TED Talk by Marco Tempest). The DVD of American Experience: Tesla is available on DVD on Amazon for $17.00 or as a digital rental or purchase for $4.99 and $9.99 respectively. Like Royal Wives, it’s only an hour, but well worth watching to pay some respect to the man who not only envisioned our modern world, but made great strides to bring it from his imagination to our reality.