When novelist L.P. Hartley scribbled his celebrated epithet, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” he’d obviously just enjoyed a preview of two extravagantly and exquisitely put together costume dramas available now on a screen near you. My Country: The New Age , on Netflix, finds itself in excellent recent company by plundering the history of Old Korea for a tale of skull-smashing military action offset by the tender tangles of young love’s favourite shape – the triangle. It’s the last knockings of the 14th century and during an attack on a royal household former best mates Seo Hwi (Yang Se-jong) and Nam Seon-ho (Woo Do-hwan), now enemies divided by politics and social rank, go straight to the point, at the end of their respective swords. How they came to be in this pretty pickle is explained in a lengthy flashback that bows to the beauty and bloody-mindedness of Han Hui-jae (Kim Seol-hyun), who’s no meek love interest but a firebrand revolutionary with a price on her head. She’s also a sophisticated, bewitching kisaeng , or courtesan, much like a geisha and comparably educated. But this doesn’t stop her from being discriminated against, together with the rest of the “lowborns”. Nevertheless, in this production, they would seize any prize for television’s best scrubbed-up oppressed classes, so harmoniously do they fit into Goryeo’s glossy and spectrum-straddling, if still largely rural, expanse. Series one is now hitting its enterprising stride, but there’s still time to choose a side. Helen Mirren takes on Catherine the Great in highly anticipated HBO series Alleged equine enthusiast Catherine the Great saddles up for some pan-European political horseplay in the glittering new series of the same name on October 29 at 10am on HBO and HBO Go; repeated at 10pm on HBO and showing at 11am and 11pm from November 5. It takes genuine acting royalty to do justice to one of history’s most towering roles, hence the coronation of Helen Mirren as Empress of Russia. Dame Helen, notably, has form when it comes to depicting blue bloods, having been Elizabeths I and II in previous lives, evoking each to widespread acclaim. The Catherine resurrected here is the ruler heading towards the end of her 34-year reign, which was often turbulent thanks to counterclaims to a throne snatched during a coup. Beginning life as a German princess, Catherine would prove to be an enlightened leader devoted to her adopted country and champion of the rule of law, witty in company but ruthless when required by expediency, as Ivan VI discovers in episode one of four. The vivid opulence of the series’ production design shows 18th-century St Petersburg to have been a fun place, providing you had wealth and influence at court. But what really brings the show to life is – no prizes – Mirren’s performance, which, to different degrees, reduces almost everyone else to supporting props. While it’s arguable that Jason Clarke, as Catherine’s most famous lover Grigory Potemkin, celebrates his over-promotion with some overacting, the likes of Kevin McNally, Rory Kinnear, Gina McKee and Richard Roxburgh aren’t so easily eclipsed. Perhaps it’s Mirren’s Russian heritage that makes her the perfect fit. “I believe in reason. I believe in progress,” her empire-building majesty announces to a throng of periwigged ministers and nobles, although she’s rarely too busy with the affairs of state to neglect the affairs of the gilt-splattered bedchamber, regularly giving the glad eye to various dashing chaps in uniform or frock coat. Catherine the Great has something for everyone, deftly combining the heavy responsibility of high office with the low frivolity of a sumptuous, cross-dressing costumed ball. So that’s what they did for fun.