The Hollow Crown has all the ingredients for a good drama – suspense, violence, and theatrical flair. Shakespeare’s historic plays boast new compelling twists in the thrilling miniseries. Get ready for drama: Here are four reasons to watch The Hollow Crown on Monday, December 12, 19, and 26 – or stream it online after it airs.

1. It’s a costume drama on steroids.
The gowns! The swords! The horses! The battles! This production is truly beautiful and hauntingly realistic – like a film crew stepped back in time to capture the conspicuous wealth of kings and queens. Check out this battle sequence from Henry VI, Part I:

2. The cast is superb.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock on MASTERPIECE and Doctor Strange). Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey on MASTERPIECE). Dame Judi Dench (Q – James Bond’s boss). Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd). More than we can name (Keeley Hawes! Michael Gambon!). They are all masters of their craft, and their performances are simply arresting.

Can you look away from Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten of Doctor Who, Æon Flux) as Queen Margaret? Neither can we.

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses HENRY VI (PART II) Photographer: Robert Viglasky © 2015 Carnival Film & Television Ltd Sophie Okonedo (as MARGARET)
The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses – Henry VI, Part II. Photographer: Robert Viglasky © 2015 Carnival Film & Television Ltd

3. This is what Game of Thrones is based on.
The Lannisters and the Starks are a fantasy version of the Lancasters and the Yorks, two sides of the War of the Roses, England’s civil war fought between 1455 and 1487. The Hollow Crown begins as the House of York crowns its newest king, Edward IV. He marries a French princess (the horror!), and in the fallout House York argues amongst themselves, making the entire country of England weak. Meanwhile, House Lancaster waits in the wings.

As a bonus, actor Anton Lesser stars as Exeter, Henry VI’s half-uncle and advisor – in Game of Thrones, he portrays the sinister Maester Qyburn.

4. The plays were filmed on-location – not on a stage.
Shakespeare’s words feel more alive when spoken in a king’s palace – or on a battlefield! The production was filmed at Dover Castle (the largest castle in England), Leeds Castle (built in 1119), and Penhurst Place (childhood home of Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn). Watch this clip of Queen Margaret wresting control of the king’s heart away from his childhood protector in open court – filmed in a medieval court:

Need more? Stream all three parts online from Great Performances.

Shakespeare like you’ve never seen it: The Hollow Crown