The BBC isn’t just news and sports. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen countless high-quality dramas and comedies air on BBC One as well as BBC Two and BBC Four. These BBC shows are excellent and easily rival what you’d find on AMC and HBO.
And the good news is that many of the best BBC shows are on Netflix US, providing Americans with even more reasons to subscribe to Netflix.
British programming has a different feel to what you may be used to, but if you’re willing to cross that bridge and try something new, you may fall in love with what the best BBC shows have to offer.
1. Sherlock (2010)
Sherlock is a modernized take on the renowned detective story series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are perfectly cast as Holmes and Watson, and the entire show is so stylish and entertaining that one can’t help but be drawn in and enthralled.
Each season only has three episodes, but each episode is basically a 90-minute feature film that covers the material in one or two of Doyle’s stories. There’s a lot to love about this show, including the surprising-but-inevitable twists and turns that made Sherlock Holmes such a hit in the first place.
2. Peaky Blinders (2013)
Peaky Blinders stars Cillian Murphy, also known as “that guy from the Christopher Nolan films,” who plays leader of the Peaky Blinders gang in post-WWI Birmingham (England) and attempts to avoid the investigations of a ruthless detective played by Sam Neill.
But that premise doesn’t do the show justice. It presents a richly interwoven narrative with lived-in characters who span multiple storylines. If you’re looking for a gritty and grounded period drama, it doesn’t get better than Peaky Blinders.
Peaky Blinders is a strong contender for best BBC series on Netflix.
3. The Last Kingdom (2015)
The Last Kingdom is an historical fantasy show like you’ve never seen. It’s like Game of Thrones with its political intrigue in a medieval setting, but grounded in reality and not as stylized or embellished as other historical fantasy shows like Rome or The Tudors.
This show takes place in the 800s when England wasn’t yet England and when the Saxons were at war with the Danes. The story follows Uhtred, a Saxon by birth but raised by Danes, who wants to reclaim his homeland but is often caught in the conflicts of both sides and is never quite sure to whom his allegiance should belong.
It’s one of my favorites and easily one of the best BBC shows on Netflix.
4. North & South (2004) [No Longer Available]
North & South is a four-part miniseries (more like a mega-movie, if you ask me) that tells the story of a woman who moves from southern England to a factory town in northern England during the 1850s and falls in love, but struggles to assimilate.
While there’s nothing particularly original about an “outsider meets hostility and resistance” story, North & South is a winner due to how much attention it pays to production design, atmosphere, and most importantly, its characters. Execution is everything with TV shows, and North & South nails it.
5. Happy Valley (2014)
Happy Valley is anything but happy. This small-town crime drama centers on a police sergeant who’s depressed and grieving the suicide of her teenage daughter. When the man responsible for it is let out of prison, she grows obsessed with tracking him down and demanding justice.
This is drama in the truest sense, and it’s elevated by the intricate web of characters and relationships that drive the central conflict in Happy Valley. A wonderfully written show, though a bit hard to get into if you aren’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.
6. Call the Midwife (2012)
Call the Midwife follows a group of midwives in poverty-stricken London during the 1950s and uses the setting to explore various hard-hitting social and economic issues like miscarriages, abortions, prostitution, birth defects and disabilities, prejudice, and more.
Despite the weight of its themes, Call the Midwife has enough levity to avoid being a depressing mess of a show. In fact, it’s surprisingly hopeful and optimistic on the whole, which just makes it that much more of a must-watch!
7. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015) [No Longer Available]
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell takes place in an alternate 1800s England where magic has been dead for hundreds of years and only two magicians—the titular characters—are able to tap into that power. It’s an entertaining miniseries that builds to a satisfying conclusion, and makes you wonder why miniseries aren’t more popular.
If nothing else, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a fun journey to a not-so-long-ago England propped up by strong performances. Definitely worth a watch as it’s one of the best BBC miniseries on Netflix.
8. The Fall (2013)
Tired of murder mystery shows where criminals are dumb, cops are dumber, and impossible cases are solved and tied off with a neat bow in one episode? Then this is the show for you. The Fall is a slow-burning, methodical crime drama that shows what might actually happen if a smart detective pursued a clever serial killer.
Gillian Anderson delivers one of her best performances as Stella Gibson opposite Jamie Dornan’s murderous Paul Spector. This is a must-watch if you prefer your criminal justice television shows to be more than just mindless entertainment.
9. Bodyguard (2018)
Bodyguard is a crime drama and political thriller that isn’t afraid to take its time when exploring story beats. It centers on a police sergeant, who suffers from PTSD from his time as a war veteran and finds himself assigned as bodyguard—“principal protection officer”—to a politician whose politics don’t align with his own.
The show has its share of political and social commentary, but its main draw is its expertise at being a grounded but intense psychological thriller. Performances are great all around, especially by Richard Madden, who you may recognize as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones.
10. Doctor Foster (2015)
Doctor Foster is a thrilling family drama about Dr. Gemma Foster, a practicing physician who begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair. All of the signs are there, but they’re just vague enough to make her wonder if her gut instinct is right—and as the obsession grows, her life begins to unravel.
It teeters into melodrama at points, but it’s engaging and gripping all the same. Suranne Jones’ performance is enough reason on its own to give this series a try.