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Two of the best reviewed and most popular TV shows right now take place during the 1920s. Downton Abbey's third season, which takes place in England, and Boardwalk Empire, which centers mostly on Prohibition-era New Jersey, look at two different sides of life in the '20s.
Neither show is or claims to be a non-fiction documentary, but both of them are based in fact. Downton Abbey focuses on the family of an English nobleman who married a massively wealthy but untitled American heiress. With the rapidly changing economic landscape and the rise of formerly middle class families to enormous wealth, families like that really did exist in the early 20th century -- Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, was born into the fantastically wealthy de Rothschild family, and like Downton's Lady Cora in season 2, really did open her estate, Highclere Castle (where Downton is filmed), to wounded WWI soldiers. Another example of such a marriage happened in Winston Churchill's extended family. Consuelo Vanderbilt, an heiress of the famous American family, married Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, and her money helped him keep Blenheim Palace afloat -- just like Cora's family money keeps Downton from being sold off.
Boardwalk Empire focuses on a less respectable cast of characters: American bootleggers. With the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, selling, buying, or drinking alcohol became illegal. For the people willing to risk jail time or even their own safety in order to brew their own alcohol or import it from other countries where it was legal, like Canada, a fortune in money and power was waiting. Boardwalk is centered on Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, based on the real-life bootlegger and political powerhouse Enoch Johnson. While the dialogue is made up and lots of the peripheral characters aren't based on real people, several of the main characters are. The show producers did a lot of research in making the sets and costumes look realistic, including visiting museums and the Fashion Institute of Technology's archives, and episodes include period correct music that was written and performed at the time. The show is generally accurate about the way 1920s Atlantic City looked and sounded.
Both shows are geared for adults, but if you're old enough or your parents have given you permission to watch them, they each take on a different side of the Atlantic in the 1920s, and both were nominated for Emmy Awards.
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