The Best British TV Shows on Netflix Right Now
Get your Anglo fix with our critic’s picks
If you’re eagerly anticipating the next season of The Crown or Bridgerton, you’ll be happy to know that Netflix has become a surprisingly robust hub for British TV shows — both Netflix originals and existing programs that first aired in the U.K. Here, 10 of our favorites, plus the lessons about British culture, history and politics you might pick up while bingeing. Pour yourself a pint and a bowl of crisps and settle in for some bloody good telly.
The Crown (2016-)
The premise: If you liked the film The Queen by screenwriter Peter Morgan (58), you’ll love his Netflix original series, which takes a much longer view of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (95). Over six seasons (four have aired so far), audiences can follow along as the queen progresses from a young royal upstart to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history. The cast rotates out every two seasons: So far, Elizabeth has been played by Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, with Imelda Staunton (65) set to debut later this year when Season 5 premieres.
You’ll learn about … the unique relationship between the monarchy and the rotating cast of prime ministers, who have been played so far by the likes of John Lithgow, 76, as Winston Churchill and Gillian Anderson, 53, as Margaret Thatcher.
The premise: Richard Madden, who played the ill-fated Robb Stark on Game of Thrones, won a best actor Golden Globe for this incredibly tense BBC One thriller, in which he stars as David Budd, a Scottish veteran of the war in Afghanistan who struggles with PTSD. After foiling an attempted suicide bombing on a train to London, he’s assigned to protect Home Secretary and Conservative Party MP Julia Montague (Keely Hawes), whose controversial policies he despises.
You’ll learn about … the very real discussions surrounding government surveillance in the United Kingdom, though this show pushes them to their extremes for dramatic effect.
Downton Abbey (2010-15)
The premise: Series creator Julian Fellowes, 72, should know a thing or two about the British aristocracy — after all, he is a member of the House of Lords. His upstairs/downstairs drama is set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of the Crawley family, as they and their bevy of servants react to the upheavals of the 1910s and ’20s, from the First World War to the Spanish influenza epidemic. The ITV/PBS coproduction was a runaway critical hit, picking up 15 Emmys, including three for Dame Maggie Smith (87) as the dowager countess. It also spawned a spinoff movie, with a sequel on the way this March.
You’ll learn about … the intricate hierarchy of the domestic servant class, from butlers and housekeepers on down to footmen and scullery maids.
Watch it: Downton Abbey
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The premise: Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, 51, made headlines when she left behind ABC and signed a production deal with Netflix. Her first series for the streamer is this steamy, soapy drama, based on the novels of Julia Quinn and set in the world of 19th-century Regency era London. Julie Andrews, 86, narrates as the anonymous gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who’s keeping tabs on the aristocratic Bridgerton clan and their eight children. Season 1 focused on the oldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), and her relationship with Simon Bassett (fan favorite Regé-Jean Page), while Season 2, which will premiere in March, will center on son — and family title holder — Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey).
You’ll learn about … “the ton,” the nickname for British high society during the Regency period, and their penchant for debutante balls.
Watch it: Bridgerton
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Derry Girls (2018-)
The premise: If you’re a fan of Bridgerton breakout Nicola Coughlan, you won’t want to miss her in this good-natured sitcom set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in the 1990s. She plays part of a quintet of students — four female and one of their male English cousins — who attends an all-girls (with one exception) Catholic school in Derry. Along the way, they deal with problems big (sectarian violence) and small (dating) and very small (a step aerobics routine at the school talent show). The show, which is expected to return for its third and final season this year, is so popular in Northern Ireland that there’s now a themed bus tour that stops at some of the show’s most notable filming locations.
You’ll learn about … such real-life events as the annual Orange walks, in which members of the Orange Order and other Protestant fraternal societies march through the streets, attracting opposition from Catholics and Irish nationalists.
Watch it: Derry Girls
Sex Education (2019-)
The premise: This risqué but deceptively sweet comedy follows the exploits of sex therapist Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson) and her son Otis (Asa Butterfield, of Hugo and Ender’s Game). When it becomes clear that Otis’ classmates at Moordale Secondary School are woefully undereducated about sex and relationships, he and his friend Maeve (Emma Mackey) set up a sex therapy clinic out of an abandoned bathroom behind the school. The show’s ensemble is loaded with likable young actors, including Aimee Lou Wood, who won a BAFTA TV Award for her role as Aimee, and Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Otis’ best friend Eric, the gay son of a religious Ghanaian-Nigerian family.
You’ll learn about … British slang, such as “peng ting” (a very good-looking person), “air time” (getting ignored, such as via text) and “skive off” (play hooky).
Watch it: Sex Education
Call the Midwife (2012-)
The premise: Vanessa Redgrave, 84, narrates this beloved BBC One drama as Jennifer Worth, the real-life nurse on whose memoir the series is based. It’s the late 1950s, and Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) gets a job as a midwife in the slums of East London, where she lives and works with the nuns and nurses of the Nonnatus House convent. Along the way, they thoughtfully deal with a flurry of hot-button issues, such as “the pill,” mental health, prostitution, teen pregnancy and abortion. Oh, and it’s also an emotional roller-coaster. In her review for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum wrote that “it’s an unparalleled tearjerker, triggering more sobbing attacks than the first fifteen minutes of Up.”
You’ll learn about … the early days of nationalized health care in the United Kingdom.
Watch it: Call the Midwife
Peaky Blinders (2013-)
The premise: A cross-the-pond answer to Boardwalk Empire, this gritty crime drama is set in Birmingham in the shadow of World War I. Returning veteran Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) leads the infamous (if fashionable) Peaky Blinders, who get their name from the razor blades they sew into the peaks of their caps; according to historians, the gang was real but the razor trick is probably apocryphal. As Tommy works to expand his family’s criminal operations, he comes into conflict with a police inspector named Chester Campbell, played by Sam Neill, 74.
You’ll learn about … Winston Churchill and his crusade against the Irish Republican Army and gangs and Communists and trade unions and ...
Watch it: Peaky Blinders
The Great British Baking Show (2010-)
The premise: There’s something incredibly soothing and feel-good about this reality competition, in which amateur bakers face off to whip up the best culinary creations, from pavlovas and pork pies to financiers and croquembouches. Originally called The Great British Bake Off in its home country, the series features an ever-changing slate of hosts and judges, including Prue Leith (81) and Paul Hollywood (55), and it has spawned innuendo-filled catchphrases (“soggy bottoms”), celebrity and holiday editions, and a slew of spinoffs and imitators. Everyone in the competition is always so aggressively supportive and lovely to one another that you’ll feel like you’re inside a Winnie the Pooh or Paddington Bear story.
You’ll learn about … the ins and outs of classic British sweets, such as Bakewell tarts, Eccles cakes and Victoria sponge sandwiches.
Watch it: The Great British Baking Show
The IT Crowd (2006-13)
The premise: Lovers of The Office will enjoy this cult workplace sitcom about three members of an IT department: geeky computer programmer Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade), Irish slacker Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and department head Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), who knows nothing about IT. If you recognize the actor who plays the reclusive, goth technician Richmond and you can’t quite place him, see above: It’s Noel Fielding, one of the current presenters on Bake Off!
You’ll learn about … loads of British pop cultural references, such as the game show Countdown.
Watch it: The IT Crowd
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.