Looking for something to watch? Here are the best historical dramas, TV shows and films available to streaming in the UK and US this month, from binge-watchable period dramas to fascinating documentaries.

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Best historical movies, dramas and documentaries on Netflix

All Quiet On The Western Front

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Based on German writer Erich Maria Remarque’s First World War novel, like the classic 1930 Oscar winner, here’s a visceral drama that takes viewers to the trenches of the Western Front. Directed by Edward Berger (Deutschland 83, Patrick Melrose), it follows young soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), who patriotically dreams of being a hero, but instead finds himself descending into a nightmare of filthy conditions, poor food and the ever-present threat of an early demise. A film of starkly beautiful imagery that has been announced as Germany’s submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Against The Ice

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

In 1909, Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) set out on an expedition across Greenland. His aim was to prove that Greenland was not, as some maintained, two islands separated by a body of water known as the Peary Channel. This in turn would help to counter an American claim to part of the territory. It would prove to be a brutal journey, one that culminated in being forced to spend a long winter in the wilds. This atmospheric drama charts Mikkelsen’s adventures and his friendship with his companion on the ice, rookie mariner Iver Iversen (Joe Cole).


Streaming in the UK & US | feature-length drama available

Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde charts the life of Norma Jeane Mortenson, better known as Marilyn Monroe (1926–62). It’s by no means an easy watch, as writer and director Andrew Dominik (Chopper) unflinchingly catalogues the actor’s struggles with fame in a near-operatic fashion. Ana De Armas leads the cast in a performance that eerily recalls one of Hollywood’s greatest stars without ever falling into pastiche. Leading the supporting cast, Adrien Brody excels as Arthur Miller (1915–2005), the playwright who was Monroe’s third husband.


Streaming in the UK and US | two seasons available

Worldwide, Bridgerton has found an audience of millions, far exceeding the numbers usually drawn to bonnets-and-breeches fiction. In part, that’s because its portrait of high society during the Regency era is unapologetically escapist – and frequently steamy. But the casting has been key to its success too, in that here is an alternate-history period drama that shows London as racially integrated. The second season focuses on the eldest Bridgerton, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who decides it’s time he married. Cue complications when Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) tries to stop Anthony courting her sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran).

Bridgerton: everything you need to know

Step into the ballrooms of Regency England, and catch up on the real history that underpins seasons 1 and 2 of Bridgerton, from the real royals to the palaces and promenades | Read more
Bridgerton. Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton
Image by Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length documentary

Don’t be put off by the deliberately provocative title. Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, Crip Camp traces the disability rights movement of the 1970s and 1980s to Camp Jened. This was a summer camp for disabled people in the Catskill Mountains, New York State. It was also a place where hippy-tinged, countercultural values held sway, and many found a sense of freedom and belonging – and the confidence to become campaigners. They included filmmaker James LeBrecht, born with spina bifida, whose memories inspired Crip Camp when he told his co-director, Nicole Newnham, about Jened.

The Crown S4: Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II. (Photo by Getty Images)
The Crown S4: Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Crown

Streaming in the UK and US | four seasons available

No list of historical TV series on Netflix would be complete without a mention of The Crown. The sumptuous royal drama offers an engrossing portrait of the Windsors and covers events including the Suez crisis, the Aberfan disaster, and the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. The story follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II and her family over several decades, charting the personal and political challenges facing the Queen’s reign as well as the intricate family dramas going on behind the scenes. Season 5 arrives on 9 November 2022.


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length documentary

The schooner Clotilda was the last slave ship to bring captives to the United States. Arriving illegally at Mobile Bay off the coast of Alabama in 1859 or 1860, long after Congress had banned the transportation of slaves, the ship was burned and scuttled to hide evidence of what had occurred. In May 2019, the Alabama Historical Commission announced the Clotilda's remains had been found. Margaret Brown’s documentary charts the discovery of the ship by marine archaeologists and also considers its impact on residents of Africatown, founded by 32 West Africans who had been trafficked aboard Clotilda.

The Last Kingdom

Streaming in the UK and US | five seasons available

While it’s doubtful whether any TV series could encompass the knottiness and epic sweep of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories novels, The Last Kingdom comes mighty close. At the centre of the action is Uhtred of Bebbanburg, aka Uhtred Ragnarsson, an Anglo-Saxon raised as a Dane, and a warrior present at key battles during an era when England was coalescing into a single nation. While production has now wrapped, Netflix has commissioned a movie set in the same fictional timeline, Seven Kings Must Die, which star Alexander Dreymon says will be “an epic end to a wonderful journey”.

Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson) looks on her seated father Walter Elliot (Richard E Grant) and elder sister Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle) in Netflix's 2022 adaptation of Persuasian
Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson, standing on the left) casts aspersions at her vain father Walter (Richard E Grant) and haughty elder sister Elizabeth (Yolanda Kettle) (Photo by Nick Wall/Netflix)


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

It’s safe to say that director Carrie Cracknell’s take on Jane Austen’s novel has divided critics. For its detractors, it unconvincingly recasts subtle social satire as bouncy-romcom-meets-Fleabag and, moreover, is too modern to be convincing. Others think it will bring new audiences to Austen’s work. One way to make up your own mind is, of course, to watch Persuasion, which stars Dakota Johnson as 20something Anne Elliot, whose family is in financial trouble, and whose life is turned upside down by the reappearance in her life of the chap she once jilted, Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis).

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Culture wars are not new, as the story of the Chicago 7 demonstrates. The seven (originally eight, including Black Panther leader Bobby Seale) were countercultural figures tried for inciting to riot and conspiracy related to anti-Vietnam protests. Their trial, in part at the instigation of the defendants, who included Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin of Yippies fame, became a circus. Just how this happened is explored in this legal drama written and directed by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. A fine ensemble cast includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance.

Vikings: Valhalla

Streaming in the UK and US | one season available

Set a century after the conclusion of Vikings, this similarly visceral swords-and-seafaring sequel Vikings: Valhalla follows a new collection of mariner-warrior Norsemen and Norsewomen. Chief among them is Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett), a figure from the Icelandic sagas reputed to have been the first European to set foot on continental North America, where he established a settlement, Vinland, hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic. His headstrong sister, Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), and an ambitious prince, Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), also feature strongly. The series begins with tensions high in 11th-century England, a prelude to violence.

Harald Sigurdson fights barechested with a bearskin on his shoulders in Vikings Valhalla
Harald Sigurdsson fights as a beserker in Vikings Valhalla (Photo by Bernard Walsh/Netflix)

Best historical movies, dramas and documentaries on Amazon Prime Video

The Aeronauts

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) has a big idea. He thinks it’s possible to predict the weather. To prove this, he needs to fly as high in the sky as possible. Enter pilot Amelia (Felicity Jones), a fictionalised composite of women balloonists. Based on Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air (2013) by academic and biographer Richard Homes, Tom Harper’s fine drama charts an ascent in 1862, when Glaisher (and, in reality, balloonist Henry Tracey Coxwell) climbed to at least 29,000ft and perhaps as high as 37,000ft, the kinds of altitudes at which today’s jet liners fly.

Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts

Streaming in the UK | feature-length documentary

Released to tie in with the Platinum Jubilee, the final film directed by the late Roger Michell (Notting Hill) uses found footage to tell the story of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. At the very least, it’s an approach that reminds you just how much the world has changed in the 70 years since she became monarch. Controversial moments, including Prince Andrew’s notorious interview with Newsnight, are included, but the overall tone is celebratory and respectful. Perhaps to remind us that the second Elizabethan age will soon be over, Michell concludes by looping back to the passing of George VI.

House Of Gucci

Streaming in the UK | feature-length drama

How did Patrizia Reggiani come to hire a hitman to murder her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, former head of the famous luxury fashion house? It’s a late 20th-century story of ambition, power and jealousy laid out here in Ridley Scott’s drama, a film with more than a little of the soap opera about it. That it all works so well is at least in part down to an excellent cast, headed by Lady Gaga as social climber Reggiani and Adam Driver as a rather geeky Gucci. Jeremy Irons plays Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, who rightly foresees trouble ahead.

A League Of Their Own

Streaming in the UK and US | comedy-drama series

Released in 1992, Penny Marshall’s movie version of A League Of Their Own told a heavily fictionalised version of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), founded in 1943. In the years since, women’s sport has become far more widely covered in mainstream media, as has an interest in the history of women’s sport. This new take on women’s baseball promises to mix the humour and sheer joy of the original film with a greater appreciation that it wasn’t just women who made it to the AAGPBL who dreamt of playing professionally. Streaming from 12 August.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Streaming in the UK and US | four seasons available

The ‘Mrs Maisel’ of the title here is a New York housewife who, via downtown Manhattan misadventures with alcohol and an encounter with Lenny Bruce (1925–66), finds she has a gift for comedy. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girl), the Emmy-winning Mrs Maisel sometimes trades in fuzzy nostalgia, yet more often offers an acerbic take on the social mores of the US in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At times, it could interrogate Maisel’s privilege more acutely, but it’s always funny and the main cast, notably Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, is terrific.

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One Night in Miami

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

In February 1964, 7-1 underdog Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), soon to change his name to Muhammad Ali, defeated Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion. After the fight, he met with three friends: soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), Nation of Islam activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and American football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Directed by Regina King and scripted by Kemp Powers from his play, One Night imagines what might have transpired. Suffice to say the quartet spent more time musing on their lives and the fight for civil rights than partying. Illuminating and powerful.


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

On Monday 16 August 1819, a crowd of between 60,000 and 80,000 people gathered at St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand electoral reform. The actions of the authorities would become infamous after cavalrymen charged the gathering, leaving 18 dead and hundreds injured. Director Mike Leigh’s drama, released in cinemas to coincide with the 200th anniversary of an event dubbed the Peterloo Massacre, conveys a righteous anger as it explores what happened that day. Throughout, there’s a sense of the epic that seems wholly appropriate and there are fine performances, notably from Rory Kinnear as radical orator Henry Hunt.


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

By any standards, Aretha Franklin’s early life was eventful. A musical prodigy, she was regularly wheeled out as a child to perform by her pastor father, CL Franklin (Forest Whitaker). After struggling to establish herself at Columbia Records, she became “the Queen of Soul” at Atlantic, the label for which she recorded such classics as Chain of Fools, Think and the song for which this biopic is named, Respect. Jennifer Hudson is terrific as Franklin, notably when she recreates the singer’s return to her gospel roots in 1972. Marlon Wayans oozes dangerous charm as her abusive husband, Ted White.

The Underground Railroad

Streaming in the UK and US | drama series

Prior to filming this series, Oscar-winning writer and director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) noted more than once that he wanted to make a drama dealing with slavery. But how to approach such a difficult subject? By adapting Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel, which reimagines the underground railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved people fleeing the American South, as a physical system of tracks. The fantastic element adds to the power of the piece, by making us look back with fresh eyes. Starring Thuso Mbedu as Cora Randall, a young woman fleeing life on a plantation.

Alexander Ludwig as Bjorn Ironside, son Ragnar Lothbrok and king of Kattegat
Alexander Ludwig as Bjorn Ironside, son Ragnar Lothbrok and king of Kattegat (Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)


Streaming in the UK and US | six seasons available

In AD 793, northern raiders sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, an event now taken to mark the beginning of the Viking Age. It’s also the starting point for this six-season drama that follows the exploits of chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok and his crew, and in later seasons Ragnar’s descendants. Originally made for the History Channel, the show draws extensively on chronicles written later and on contemporary historical sources, which isn’t to suggest it’s somehow didactic. Rather, this is blood-and-thunder entertainment that’s not for the squeamish. A sequel, Vikings: Valhalla, is now available to stream via Netflix.

Best historical movies, dramas and documentaries on BBC iPlayer

Back In Time For Birmingham

Streaming in the UK via BBC iPlayer | documentary series

Multicultural Birmingham is now home to more than 250,000 people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan descent. They include the Sharma family. But what was life for their forebears, who originally came to the UK from India and Uganda? A four-part living history series kicks off with father Vishal and his 19-year-old son, Akash, recreating life for new immigrants in 1950. This involves a dispiriting and dingy room, and a bed they have to share on a rota. Presented by the BBC Asian Network’s Noreen Khan and social historian Dr Yasmin Khan.

Digging For Britain

Streaming in the UK | one season available

First aired in 2010, Digging For Britain rests on a straightforward premise, the idea that, for all the foul weather, mud and long hours involved, archaeology is inherently fascinating. It helps too of course that every year the series focuses in on those excavations that have radically changed our understanding of the past and/or made the most jaw-dropping discoveries – such as when archaeologists, working at a Buckinghamshire site through which the HS2 High Speed Rail link will one day run, dug at the ruin of a Norman church and uncovered spectacular Roman artefacts. Presented by Alice Roberts.

How The BBC Began

Streaming in the UK | two-part documentary

As might be expected, the approach of the BBC’s centenary in 2022 found Auntie commissioning a slew of programmes to explore its own past. This is one of the highlights, a two-parter that focuses on the BBC’s history during its first 50 years. Whether it’s the tensions that surrounded Sir Winston Churchill’s solitary appearance on TV, the role the BBC’s monitoring service played during the Cuban Missile Crisis or even Tony Blackburn recalling how his Radio One colleagues were alarmed he worked without a script, here are stories that emphasise the BBC’s central role in national life.

The Longest Reign: The Queen And Her People

Streaming in the UK | documentary

As has been said often since the news of her passing was announced, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland may never see another reign as long as that of Queen Elizabeth II. As this documentary explores, over the 70 years that followed her accession to the throne in 1952, she was a reassuring focal point for many Britons. And this was often needed, because the UK changed profoundly during the second Elizabethan era. These changes occurred across all aspects of life, from the way we conduct politics through to how we spend our free time.

Lucy Worsley with tray of Folk Belief Charms at National Museum of Scotland
Lucy Worsley with tray of Folk Belief Charms at National Museum of Scotland (Photo by BBC Studios/Mike Robinson)

Lucy Worsley Investigates

Streaming in the UK | documentary series

In which, as the title suggests, Lucy Worsley turns historical sleuth as she looks at some of the more brutal chapters in Britain’s past. The tone is set in the first of four episodes, which looks back at the witch-hunt mania that engulfed the country 400 years ago. Agnes Sampson, a healer and midwife, is a central figure here, not least because she was personally interrogated at Holyrood Castle by King James VI of Scotland. Other episodes deal with the Black Death, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the illness of King George III.

Peaky Blinders

Streaming in the UK | six seasons available

An epic gangster drama set in 1920s Birmingham, Peaky Blinders started out as cult viewing, but became a worldwide hit. Inspired by stories of real-life Brummie mobsters, the series follows the rise of gangster boss Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). The final season takes the Shelbys’ story into the years after 1929, and shows a world thrown into turmoil by the Great Depression. But that may not be quite the end: a big-screen movie is said to be in the works. The show offered the late Helen McCrory OBE, who played matriarch Aunt Polly, one of her defining roles.

Tommy and Arthur Shelby drinking
Tommy Shelby and his Birmingham Peaky Blinders will come up against the Billy Boys in series five of the drama. (Image by BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019/Robert Viglasky)

The Rise Of The Nazis

Streaming in the UK | documentary series, two seasons available

How did Adolf Hitler and his followers seize and then retain power in Germany? It’s a subject covered in depth in Rise Of The Nazis, which combines the insights of experts with dramatic recreations of key moments in history. The first three episodes, collectively entitled ‘Origins’, deal with the years between the two World Wars, and chart how the Nazis outmanoeuvred a political elite that despised them. The second and third tranches of episodes, ‘Dictators At War’ and ‘The Downfall’, deal with the events leading up to Germany’s defeat in 1945.

Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone

Streaming in the UK | documentary series

The collage documentaries of Adam Curtis can sometimes seem more like editorials than documentaries – which isn’t, incidentally, a criticism – but there’s a change of tone here. Using previously unseen archival footage from the BBC’s Moscow bureau, TraumaZone has no voiceover or soundtrack music but instead, over seven hours, slowly but powerfully shows the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of a capitalist Russia where oligarchs are able to snaffle the country’s wealth. Most importantly, the series shows us how events affected ordinary Russians and how they paved the way for the rise of Vladimir Putin.

Small Axe

Streaming in the UK | anthology series

Too often the Black British experience is treated as a kind of parallel history. One of the many triumphs of director Steve McQueen’s mesmerising anthology series is to remind us how the stories of Black Britons are intrinsic to our collective history. The first film in the sequence, Mangrove, which details an infamous trial that followed police harassment of a restaurant used by activists, rightly attracted rave reviews. Elsewhere, there’s considerable star power on view, including John Boyega (Star Wars) in Red, White And Blue as Leroy Logan, a copper who bravely fought institutional racism in the Met from within.

Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll in A Very British Scandal (left); Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (right)
Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll in A Very British Scandal (left); Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (right). (Images by Getty Images/BBC / Blueprint Pictures)

A Very British Scandal

Streaming in the UK | drama series

It was a divorce that both scandalised and fascinated the country. In 1963, the marriage between Ian Campbell, the 12th duke of Argyll (Paul Bettany), and socialite Margaret Sweeny (Claire Foy), fell apart amidst lurid stories of infidelity on Margaret’s part, stories supported by Campbell finding sexually explicit photographs of his wife. It’s a divorce revisited here in a modern take on the story that shows Margaret as a heroic figure who, to quote screenwriter Sarah Phelps, “set fire to the expectation of her class, gender and her sex rather than go quietly” when she found herself engulfed by scandal.

Wolf Hall

Streaming in the UK | drama series

One of the finest historical dramas of recent years, the Wolf Hall bears repeated revisiting. At its centre is an extraordinary performance from Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, a lowborn man who, via the patronage of Thomas Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce), rises to become chief minister – although perhaps chief fixer might be a better description of his role – to an increasingly unpredictable and dangerous Henry VIII (Damian Lewis). Based on the first two novels in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy (Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies), the series also charts the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy).

Mark Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell
Mark Rylance plays Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall'. (Image by BBC Two/Alamy)

Best historical movies, dramas and documentaries on ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BritBox, UKTV Play

The Architecture the Railways Built

Streaming in the UK | documentary series, three seasons available via UKTV Play

Tim Dunn likes railways a lot, an enthusiasm he conveys so vividly that in itself it greatly explains why this series has become cult viewing. More seriously, Dunn, who is especially good on the Victorian era, when so many of Britain’s railways were built, is adept at explaining how the railways have transformed our lives down the years. It’s a subject he approaches through the buildings associated with trains – not just stations but viaducts, signal boxes, tunnels, pedestrian walkways, workshops and railway hotels, so many of which turn out to have fascinating stories associated with them.

Call the Midwife

Streaming in the UK | 11 seasons available via BritBox (& other services)

From its launch in 2012, Call the Midwife has been one of the BBC’s flagship period dramas. Inspired by the memoirs of real-life midwife Jennifer Worth, the programme follows the lives of staff at an East London nursing convent during the late 1950s and, latterly, through the 1960s. Boasting a cast that includes Jenny Agutter, Helen George and Stephen McGann, the award-winning show has plenty of heartwarming moments as it shows how maternity care developed in the wake of the Second World War, but it also tackles gritty issues such as poverty, racism, domestic violence and abortion.

The Great British Dig: History In Your Garden

Streaming in the UK | documentary series, three seasons available via All4

When it comes to excavating certain areas of the United Kingdom, community archaeology is really the only way forward. That’s because so many historically important sites in the country have either been continuously occupied, or built upon after earlier structures have fallen into disrepair. Still, as the success of The Great British Dig proves, many people are happy for their gardens or community spaces to be dug over in the name of historical research. It probably helps too to have presenter Hugh Dennis of Outnumbered fame on hand, a man whose good humour consistently shines through, when undertaking such projects.

Deutschland 89

Streaming in the UK | drama series available via All4

The German-American Cold War spy drama reached its third and final series with a story set in the year the Berlin Wall fell. Not every East German, we’re reminded, welcomed this momentous moment. For many of those working for the Stasi, there was a sudden imperative to cover their tracks. Jonas Nay heads the cast as Martin Rauch, an ex-intelligence officer who is forced to return to his former employment as a double agent. Expect an atmospheric evocation of the past. Newbies may be better off working their way through Deutschland 83 and Deutschland 86 first.

Dunkirk: Mission Impossible

Streaming in the UK | documentary series available via My5

The evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in France in 1940 is sometimes portrayed as victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. In truth, for all that more than 335,000 men escaped capture by the Nazis, this was a disaster. Over three episodes, former marine JJ Chalmers looks back at what happened, beginning by following in the footsteps of British troops being driven towards the sea The second episode focuses on the Royal Norfolk Regiment, whose men held the line to cover the retreat. The final instalment looks at how the battle to keep the Nazis out of Dunkirk ended.

Guy Martin’s D-Day Landing

Streaming in the UK | feature-length documentary, available via All4

Even when he’s telling us he’s having fun, Guy Martin often looks vaguely worried. As well he might considering his documentaries inevitably involve an element of personal risk. This documentary, made to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, is a case in point. It follows the mechanic as he helps to restore a Dakota transport plane, an aircraft once used to ferry paratroopers into Normandy, soldiers who landed at night ahead of the seaborne invasion. Martin also meets veterans and trains with the Red Devils as he himself prepares to leap from the sky into France.

It’s A Sin

Streaming in the UK | drama series available via All4

It’s 1981, and Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin begin new lives in London. Each, in their way, is searching for freedom in the capital at a time when, as gay men, they face overt prejudice. But a mysterious new illness is causing unexplained deaths. The Aids epidemic has begun. Following the interweaving stories of the boys and their friends over the next decade, Russell T Davies’ acclaimed drama, which landed during lockdown to become All4’s most binged show ever, is funny and touching without ever trivialising the tragedy we see inexorably unfolding. Olly Alexander leads a superb ensemble cast.

Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms Of The Amazon

Streaming in the UK | documentary series, available via All4

For many years, received wisdom, at least outside South America, suggested the Amazon rainforest had long been, in human terms, sparsely inhabited. This was despite an account by the Spanish Dominican missionary Gaspar de Carvajal (c1500–1584), who travelled the Amazon and wrote of seeing large cities and other evidence of an advanced civilisation on the great river’s banks. Sadly, as palaeoarchaeologist Ella Al-Shamahi explores here, diseases imported from Europe decimated the local population. Over three episodes, cameras follow Al-Shamahi as she travels in South America in search of evidence to tell us how these forgotten peoples lived.

The King Of Warsaw

Streaming in the UK | drama series, available via All4

Based on a novel by Polish-Silesian writer Szczepan Twardoch, The King of Warsaw is set in Poland’s capital in 1937. It’s a time of huge tension as different political factions struggle for power during the Second Polish Republic era, which lasted from 1918 until 1939, when the country was invaded by both the Nazis and the Soviets. It’s also a time of opportunities for those with ambition, men such as boxer Jakub Szapiro, who dreams of being more than just an enforcer for gang leader Buddy Kaplica. A series that intertwines real and fictional characters.

Passport To Freedom

Streaming in the UK via UKTV Play | drama series

Based on a remarkable true story, this Brazilian mini-series tells the story of Aracy de Carvalho (Sophie Charlotte), who in the middle of the 1930s served in the Brazilian Consulate in Hamburg. Working in the passport section, she granted visas to many Jewish people, including those she knew were trying to escape the Nazis using forged passports. All this was done at a time when her own government effectively denied Jewish people the opportunity to travel to Brazil. Rodrigo Lombardi stars as João Guimarães Rosa, de Carvalho’s second husband and latterly one of Brazil’s most famous writers.

The Tudors

Streaming in the UK | four seasons available via All4

If you are looking for the series that kicked off the current vogue for glossy historical dramas, you could do a lot worse than look to The Tudors, created by Michael Hirst, the screenwriter and producer who later gave the world Vikings. First broadcast in 2007, it follows the life and times not of the Tudor dynasty as a whole, but of Henry VIII, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The series often plays fast and loose with the historical record, but the performances, notably Natalie Dormer as a proto-feminist Anne Boleyn, are terrific.

Best historical movies, dramas and documentaries on Lionsgate+

Alicia von Rittberg as Princess Elizabeth in Becoming Elizabeth
Alicia von Rittberg as Princess Elizabeth in Becoming Elizabeth (Photo courtesy of Starz)

Becoming Elizabeth

Streaming in the UK and US | drama series

In 1558, following the death of her half-sister, Mary I, Elizabeth Tudor ascended to the English throne. ‘Good Queen Bess’ would rule for more than four decades. But as this series created by playwright Anya Reiss reminds us by focusing on the young Elizabeth, things might have been very different. A teenager and third in succession when Henry VIII died, it’s remarkable she survived the era’s poisonous court politics, let alone become such a powerful figure. A drama that explores how people use sex to wield power. Starring Alicia von Rittberg as Elizabeth and Romola Garai as Mary.

The Great

Streaming in the UK | two seasons available

There’s not a great deal of emphasis placed on historical accuracy in The Great. Instead, to quote the opening credits of the second series, it tells an almost entirely untrue story of 18th-century Russia. Then again, historical accuracy is hardly the point. Created by Tony McNamara, co-writer of the Oscar-winning The Favourite, this is a royal romp that has huge fun as it traces the ascent to power of Catherine the Great – portrayed by Elle Fanning as mischievous and progressive – at the expense of her husband, the monstrous Peter III (Nicholas Hoult).

The Serpent Queen

Streaming in the UK & US | drama series

Samantha Morton stars as Catherine de’ Medici (1519–89), a daughter of the banking dynasty that came to prominence in the Republic of Florence in the 15th century. Similarly to The Great and Dickinson, it shows its protagonist, someone who has down the years often been vilified, as single-minded, blunt and far more able than so many of the dreary men who surround her. The plot centres on de’ Medici’s life at the French court, which began when she was married to the future Henry II and which saw her exert a huge influence in her adopted country.

The White Princess

Streaming in the US | drama series

Following on from The White Queen, The White Princess begins with the marriage of Lancastrian chancer Henry Tudor (Jacob Collins-Levy) and Elizabeth of York, aka Lizzie (Jodie Comer of Killing Eve fame), the daughter of Edward IV. The two, it’s safe to say, don’t much like each other initially. Once again based on the writings of Philippa Gregory, this eight-episode series traces events between 1485 and 1496, years in which the queen’s paternal aunt, Margaret of Burgundy (Joanne Whalley), is among those trying to undermine a regime that was vulnerable to challenge.

The White Queen

Streaming in the UK and US | drama series

Based on novelist Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War trilogy, The White Queen tells the interweaving stories of three women who, often working behind the scenes, wielded power and influence during the War of the Roses. The drama begins in 1464, where widowed Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) no longer has access to the wealth of her Lancastrian husband. An appeal to the new Yorkist king, Edward IV (Max Irons), will change her life forever. Also starring Amanda Hale as Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, and Faye Marsay as Lady Anne Neville, queen consort to Richard III.

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1968: A Year of War, Turmoil and Beyond

Streaming in the UK | feature-length documentary

As the title here suggests, 1968 was a momentous year in US history. This was the year of the Tet offensive, a coordinated series of Viet Cong attacks by the that weakened support for the Vietnam War in the USA. It was also the year Lyndon B Johnson announced he wouldn’t be standing for re-election as president, a decision that threw open the race to be Democratic candidate. Both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated. Above the Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 circled the Moon and Bill Anders captured his famous Earthrise image.

Apollo 11

Streaming in the UK | feature-length documentary

Originally released in cinemas to mark the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first human being to step out onto the Moon’s surface, director Todd Douglas Miller’s extraordinary documentary uses hi-res period footage and audio to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission. Yes, you know what happens, but that doesn’t lessen the awe. More specifically, the pervading sense that all this happened long ago gives the footage a near-mythic quality. Did men and women really do this less than a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War? Yes, they did.

Battle of Britain 80: Allies at War

Streaming in the UK | documentary

The summer of 1940 was a time when the fate of Great Britain hung in the balance. The retreat from Dunkirk may have been a small miracle of improvisation but it also represented a demoralising defeat. And yet somehow the Royal Air Force, its Spitfires and Hurricanes flown by those Churchill dubbed “the few”, summoned up the fighting strength and will to repel the Luftwaffe, which was seeking to establish control of the skies over the country prior to invasion. This one-off documentary celebrates the role of those Polish and Czech pilots who fought alongside their British compatriots.

Britain’s Greatest Obsessions

Streaming in the UK | documentary series

Britons may disagree about subjects as diverse as politics, football and whether the jam should go above or below the cream on scones, but we nevertheless have shared national obsessions to bind us together: the weather, pubs and the nuances of social class. These are among the subjects explored in a celebrity-fronted series that begins with comedian Harry Hill investigating the roots of our conviction that we have the world’s greatest sense of humour, or at the very least one that’s far superior to the Germans. Other famous names appearing include Reginald D Hunter, Suggs and Chris Packham.

Read more | What is the oldest pub in Britain?

Zoe Wanamaker as Queen Antedia in Britannia
Zoe Wanamaker as Queen Antedia in Britannia (Photo courtesy of Sky UK Ltd)


Streaming in the UK | three seasons available

The year is 43 AD and life for ordinary Britons is about to change thanks to the arrival of Roman invaders who, unlike the troops landed by Julius Caesar many decades previously, aren’t going to go home anytime soon. Jez Butterworth’s Britannia, a mix of fantasy and historical drama, may be over the top, but it’s undeniably entertaining, at least so long as you enjoy a mix of Celtic-tinged mysticism, strong violence and switchback plotting. Amidst an ensemble cast, look out for David Morrissey as General Aulus Plautius, Kelly Reilly as Kerra and Mackenzie Crook as Veran.

Das Boot

Streaming in the UK | three seasons available

Like the 1981 movie, the television version of submarine drama Das Boot probably isn’t for those who suffer from claustrophobia. Nevertheless, the series widens out the story considerably. In season one, set in 1942, we see events on U-boat 612 as a secret mission starts to go badly wrong. Back on land, we watch as the French Resistance seeks to disrupt the Nazi war effort in La Rochelle, home to the Germans’ submarine base. Further seasons take the show further from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 novel and its sequel, Die Festung (1995), but without losing the books’ essence.


Streaming in the UK | drama series

Livia Drusilla (Kasia Smutniak) was one of the most powerful women in Rome, both wife and advisor to the emperor Augustus Caesar. But as this new series fictionalising her early life makes clear, she first had to survive through years when the men around her ruthlessly competed for power. It helps, it seems, that Livia was single minded and ambitious. We meet the young Livia in the wake of the assassination of Julius Caesar when, despite still being a teenager, she is married to boorish Tiberius Claudius Nero. A strong cast includes Liam Cunningham, Isabella Rossellini and Matthew McNulty.

The Good Lord Bird

Streaming in the UK | drama series

Ethan Hawke is on fine form as real-life abolitionist John Brown in a raucous adaptation of James McBride’s 2013 novel. The plot here has strong fictional elements, not least because we see events through the eyes of Henry ‘Little Onion’ Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a teenage slave Brown frees and then informally adopts. Bowen mistakenly thinks Henry is a girl, Henrietta, and survivor Henry isn’t about to tell the truth if it keeps him out of trouble. It was Brown, remember, who led the Harpers Ferry raid in 1859, an attempt to initiate a slave revolt in the South.

River Hunters

Streaming in the UK | three seasons available

Exploring Britain’s rivers can reveal hitherto unfound archaeological evidence. That’s broadly the premise of this entertaining series, which sees wild swimmer Rick Edwards, underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead and American river detectorist Beau Ouimette diving into the past. To give a flavour of what to expect, season two looked back the battle of Killiecrankie, fought during the Jacobite rising of 1689, an engagement that was notable for featuring one of the earliest uses of grenades. Other shows focused on the Viking era in York and a hunt for relics left by 12th-century pilgrims in Canterbury.

Six Minutes To Midnight

Streaming in the UK | feature-length drama

In a drama loosely inspired by a strange-but-true story, co-scriptwriter Eddie Izzard, in what he has dubbed “boy mode”, stars as Thomas Miller, who in the summer of 1939 takes a job at Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea. It’s a place where, despite tensions between Britain and Germany, pupils are the daughters of high-ranking Nazi officials. (In real life, the school badge featured both a union jack and a swastika.) The school is also, it transpires, at the centre of a Nazi intelligence plot. Judi Dench stars as Miss Rocholl, the school’s head teacher

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The Americans

Streaming in the UK | six seasons available

Evoking the chill of the Cold War during the Reagan years, The Americans ran for six seasons from 2013–18. The title is, of course, ironic because Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are in reality Soviet spies so deeply embedded that few guess at their true identities – and those that do sometimes wind up dead. At the heart of the series lies the emotional cost of such duplicity within the Jennings’ marriage, often played out via the couple’s strained relationships with their children. A slow-burning and subtle series whose reputation, quite rightly, continues to grow.

Buried Secrets Of WWII

Streaming in the UK | documentary series

The latest 3D scanning techniques are revealing hitherto hidden information about the battlefields of the Second World War. Step forward Pete Kelsey, an expert in this technology, who here teams up with military historian Martin KA Morgan to look anew at the past. The six-part series takes in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nazi V-bomb programme, the relentless German Siege of Malta in 1940, the Allied advance on Rome, the 1944 battle of Hürtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border, and Allied attempts to dismantle the Japanese war machine during the long-running New Guinea campaign.

Europe From Above

Streaming in the UK and US | four seasons available

The format here is straightforward. Deploying cameras in the sky and ‘hyperlapse’ effects, Europe From Above travels to different countries, and looks down on both natural wonders and manmade marvels. The results of this filming are frequently mesmerising as we’re offered, for example, a bird’s eye view of star-shaped Fort Bourtange in the Netherlands, originally constructed in the 16th century to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. Subsequent episodes are devoted to Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and Poland, home to the world’s largest castle, which sprawls over more than 50 acres.

Flooded Tombs Of The Nile

Streaming in the UK and US | documentary

As anyone who has watched an Indiana Jones movie can testify, it’s dangerous exploring ancient sites. Doubly so when the site in question is a pyramid awash with rising groundwaters. This one-off documentary shows the risks very clearly as it follows efforts to explore a site associated with Nastasen, the Nubian king of Kush, a kingdom that was centred on the Nile valley in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. The work of Pearce Paul Creasman, an archaeologist whose expertise encompasses ancient Egypt and Nubia, maritime archaeology and the study of the ancient environment, is central to the documentary.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo as Alexander and Eliza Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo as Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. "She was very loving and forgiving," says Chernow. (Image: Disney+)


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length musical

Was there ever a more unlikely Broadway hit? Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical traces the eventful life and times of Alexander Hamilton, lawyer, soldier, statesman and banker, a Founding Father who rose to prominence despite the stigma of being born out of wedlock in the British Leeward Islands. It’s an exhilarating show that received rave reviews and has been a hit in London as well as New York. This film captures the excitement of the show’s first Broadway run and features Miranda himself in the title role.

Jodie Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges in the upcoming film 'The Last Duel',
Jodie Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges in The Last Duel, which tells the story of how a rape allegation in 14th-century France culminated in trial by combat. (Image by Alamy)

The Last Duel

Streaming in the UK | feature-length drama

Rooted in Germanic law, a judicial duel involved two parties fighting in single combat to settle a dispute. Such duels were fought in Europe through the Middle Ages, with the last such encounter in France taking place in 1386, a real-life face-off that underpins this historical epic directed by Ridley Scott. The Last Duel plays out over three distinct chapters, each essentially offering a different character’s perspective, and relates what happens after Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Corner), the wife of knight Jean (Matt Damon), accuses his one-time friend, squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), of raping her.

The Lost City Of Machu Picchu

Streaming in the UK and US | documentary

The Disney+ site features a terrific range of National Geographic documentaries, including this documentary focusing on the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, the existence of which was revealed to the wider world by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham (1875–1956) in 1911, after he had been guided to the site with the help of local farmers. The selling point here is that the documentary will go below the citadel where “mummy kings wait to share their stories”. In truth, the chance just to see the site in such glorious detail makes this well worth watching.

Crystal Yifei Liu stars as Mulan
Crystal Yifei Liu stars as Mulan in Disney's live-action remake. (Image by Alamy)


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Controversy swirled around Disney’s 2020 live-action remake of its 1998 animation. These arrived both over star Liu Yifei’s apparent support for Hong Kong’s police at a time when the authorities were cracking down against pro-democracy campaigners, and because the movie was filmed in Xinjiang, associated with human rights abuses against Uighurs. Despite these news stories, Disney’s decision to premier Mulan via streaming during the pandemic seemingly paid off commercially. The film is a spectacular account of a female fighter who passes herself off as a man when China’s emperor issues a call to arms.

Notre-Dame: Race Against the Inferno

Streaming in the UK and US | documentary

On 15 April 2019, at around 6.20pm, a fire broke out beneath the roof at Notre-Dame de Paris. What followed was a catastrophe, as the cathedral’s spire and much of its roof were destroyed. Yet it could have been much worse. The city’s firefighters fought for seven hours and more to bring the blaze fully under control and restoration is now in progress at a building that’s a marvel of the French Gothic style. Drawing on exclusive footage and interviews with those who were there, this National Geographic documentary focuses on efforts to contain the blaze.


Streaming in the UK | drama series

Drawing heavily on Lonely Boy, guitarist Steve Jones’ candid memoir that detailed his abusive childhood, Pistol takes viewers inside life in The Sex Pistols, punk pioneers and briefly the most notorious rock’n’roll band on the planet. Falling out publicly with his former bandmates, former singer Johnny Rotten/Lydon lost a court battle to stop the Pistols’ music being used in the series. Which dosen’t appear to worry director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) a jot. “I love Lydon for what he does and I don’t want him to like it,” he’s said of a man he calls a “genius”.

The Wonder Years

Streaming in the UK and US | comedy-drama series

First broadcast in 1988, the original Wonder Years was a coming-of-age sitcom that looked back, nostalgically, at the US of the late 1960s. But beyond reasons of filthy lucre, why reboot such a loved and feted series? The answer this new version happens upon is to focus on a family whose experience of the era would have been very different to the white suburban Arnolds. The Williams are a middle class black American family who live in Montgomery, Alabama, and narrator Dean (Elisha Williams, voiced as an adult by Don Cheadle) attends a recently desegregated school.

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The Banker

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Pulled from release in December 2019 following allegations of sexual abuse were levelled at one of its producers (the son of one of the lead characters, whose name was removed from the film’s credits), The Banker arrived with baggage. Nevertheless, it tells an important story, of how real-life African-American entrepreneurs – Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L Jackson) – employed a white frontman, Matt Steiner (Nicolas Hoult), and beat a racist system to make a fortune in Los Angeles real estate in the 1950s. But success eventually brings the unwanted attention of the authorities.

The Best Beer Run Ever

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly of Green Book fame, here’s a comedy-drama based on the extraordinary true story of John ‘Chickie’ Donohue. In 1968, Donohue, a former marine and sailor who in real life had been heavily influenced by anti-war demonstrations, travelled through the Vietnam War delivering beer to men from his home neighbourhood of Inward, New York. Zac Efron plays Donohue as a wastrel on a lark whose worldview is radically changed by what he sees, while Russell Crowe adds A-list star power to the cast as photographer Arthur Coates.

The Essex Serpent

Streaming in the UK & US | drama series

Based on Sarah Perry’s bestselling novel, The Essex Serpent takes us back to the late 19th century, where a young widow, Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes) finds new freedom after the death of her abusive husband. Leaving London for life in the country, she resolves to pursue her interest in palaeontology. At which point sightings of a legendary monster, dubbed by locals “The Blackwater Beast”, begin. Could this be, Seaborne theorises, a living fossil that has made its home out in the marshes? A subtle and sometimes eerie drama that also features, as the Rev Will Ransome, Tom Hiddleston.

Tom Hanks in 'Greyhound' (2020)
Tom Hanks in a scene from the © Sony Pictures new movie 'Greyhound' (2020). The film is set in 1942 at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic and was inspired by C S Forester’s 1955 novel 'The Good Shepherd'. (Photo by LANDMARK MEDIA/Alamy Stock Photo)


Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length drama

Ever adept at playing everyman figures placed in danger, Tom Hanks stars as a US Navy commander, Ernest Krause, given command of a destroyer, USS Keeling. Krause is tasked with defending a merchant ship convoy from submarine attack during the battle of the Atlantic in 1942, but also has to battle his own demons. Based on CS Forester’s novel The Good Shepherd and scripted by Hanks himself, Greyhound was initially going to be released in cinemas, until the pandemic made this impossible and Apple stepped in. Also starring Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan and Elisabeth Shue.

Lincoln’s Dilemma

Streaming in the UK | documentary series

The thoughts of Abraham Lincoln on slavery evolved through his life. At one point, for example, he was a supporter of ‘colonization’, the idea that African-Americans might be funded to leave the United States. Ultimately, after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he abandoned this position. The subject of how his standpoint on this crucial issue changed over the years, and why, is at the centre of Lincoln’s Dilemma. Much is made of the way abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass may have pushed the 16th president into changing his stance. Narrated by Jeffrey Wright.

Louis Armstrong’s Black And Blues

Streaming in the UK and US | feature-length documentary

In so many respects, the public image of Louis Armstrong (1901–71) has come to be defined by his later career, when he was a mainstream star and sometimes attracted criticism for not talking more about the struggle for civil rights. Yet as Sacha Jenkins’ excellent documentary reminds us, this is at best a partial picture of a complex man. In particular, the film reveals Satchmo as one of jazz’s foundational figures – a trumpet virtuoso, a consummate band leader and, gravelly voice to the fore, a man able to make even the most unlikely song choices his own.

The Velvet Underground

Streaming in the UK & US | feature-length documentary

The Velvet Underground’s debut, released in 1967, sold only a few thousand copies. Yet according to Brian Eno, everyone who bought the album started a band. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but the fact this idea exists is testament to the huge, and ongoing, cultural influence of the Velvets. As to why the band are considered so important, director Todd Haynes’ documentary, which features new interviews with surviving members John Cale and Mo Tucker, should help to explain. Expect evocative footage of Lou Reed, Nico and the denizens of Andy Warhol’s Factory, where the Velvets were the house band.

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Band of Brothers

Streaming in the US | drama series

First shown in 2001, Band Of Brothers has dated well. In great part, that’s down to the elegant simplicity of the central idea: to follow Easy Company, part of the 101st Airborne Division, from jump training through parachute landings in Normandy and onwards to the end of conflict. Based on historian Stephen E Ambrose’s 1992 book, which gathered together interviews with veterans, it conveys a gritty authenticity, although the filmmakers did take some historical liberties for dramatic reasons. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks bagged credits as executive producers, further proof that here was a big-money, high-profile project.

Boardwalk Empire

Streaming in the US | five seasons available

Originally aired between 2010 and 2014, Boardwalk Empire set out to tell an epic story of Atlantic City gangsters in the prohibition era. And it largely succeeded, although it’s arguable the earlier episodes are stronger, notably a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese. Back before the long-form television revolution meant it was routine to see film stars on TV, its cast was notably starry, including Steve Buscemi as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, corrupt city treasurer; Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden, a puritanical government agent whose life spirals out of control; and Kelly Macdonald as troubled widow Margaret Thompson.

Catherine the Great

Streaming in the US | drama series

Far more imperious than most royals, Helen Mirren deservedly won a Golden Globe for her turn here as the empress who ruled Russia from 1762 until 1796, and who revitalised the country after organising a coup d’état against her own husband, Peter III. The four-part series, where you can see the budget in every frame, focuses on Catherine the Great’s years in power, and shows her as ruthless and yet enlightened, interested in the latest thinking across Europe. The relationship between the empress and her lover, military commander Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke), is central to the series.


Streaming in the US | drama series

On 26 April 1986, a safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine went catastrophically wrong. The plant’s No4 reactor exploded, an accident that spewed nuclear contamination across Europe. What would it have been like to be on the ground, seeing these events as they happened? The multiple award-winning Chernobyl, based in part on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices From Chernobyl, imagines just that. Those who lives we glimpse include first-responder firefighters and miners who had to dig beneath the facility. A strong ensemble cast includes Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson.

John Adams

Streaming in the US | drama series

Adapted from historian David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, John Adams chronicles the political life of the founding father and second president of the US. The life of Adams (1735–1826) was eventful, yet by telling its story over seven episodes, there’s plenty of time for the series (from 2008) to explore the deeper currents of his life. Paul Giamatti stars as Adams, Laura Linney as his wife, Abigail. There are some inaccuracies, yet John Adams never takes too many liberties with the historical record and its sheer quality was reflected in a haul of 13 Emmy Awards.

Our Flag Means Death

Streaming in the US | comedy series

The story of Stede Bonnet (1688–1718) is genuinely fascinating. Why did a man who was a moderately well-to-do member of the landed gentry in Barbados decide to become a self-styled gentleman pirate? It’s this question that underpins showrunner David Jenkins’ pirate comedy, which portrays Bonnet (Rhys Darby) as a man bored by life – and heroically ill-equipped to lead the dysfunctional crew of his ship, Revenge, in a life of crime. A strong cast features Ewen Bremner as Nathaniel Buttons, Bonnet’s grizzled first mate, and Taika Waititi as Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach.

The Pacific

Streaming in the US | drama series

Once again numbering Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks as executive producers, the follow-up to Band of Brothers focuses on the experiences of three real-life members of the US 1st Marine Division, Robert Leckie, Eugene Sledge and John Basilone. Based on such first-hand memoirs as Leckie’s Helmet For My Pillow, it’s a series offering an unflinching portrait of men at war. It also portrays many of the key engagements in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, including the Guadalcanal campaign, the battle of Iwo Jima and the notoriously bloody US landing at Okinawa.

Perry Mason

Streaming in the US | drama series

Perry Mason has long been associated with Raymond Burr, who played the character on television from 1957 until his death in 1993. This longevity perhaps explains why it’s taken so long for crime novelist Erle Stanley Gardner’s upstanding defence attorney to return to our screens. The spin in this big-budget HBO series is that we meet Mason (Matthew Rhys) in 1932 Los Angeles, where he’s working as a gumshoe detective. Haunted by his experiences in the First World War, this is Mason down on his luck, when along comes a kidnapping case offering the opportunity for redemption.

The Plot Against America

Streaming in the US | drama series

Alternate histories don’t come spookier than Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, which imagines a xenophobic Charles Lindbergh using his aviation fame to run for president and to turn the country towards fascism. In this mini-series from writers David Simon and Ed Burns of The Wire fame, it’s a rise to power we see primarily through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family from Newark, New Jersey. The cast includes Winona Ryder as independently minded Evelyn Finkel and John Turturro as charismatic Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, who supports Lindbergh despite the disquiet this causes in his community.

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The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years

Streaming in the US | feature-length documentary

In 1966, The Beatles quit touring. The Fab Four, the cheeky lads from Liverpool who had conquered the world, ceased to be – to be replaced by serious musicians who preferred recording at Abbey Road to life on the road. Yet the quartet’s itinerant years between 1962 and 1966 are important to understanding the band, and Ron Howard’s acclaimed documentary from 2016 tells a cultural history story of huge significance as we see The Beatles on the hoof redefining what it meant to be a pop star. Plus, for all the screaming, the music is pretty good.

Buried Secrets Of WWII

Streaming in the US | documentary series

The latest 3D scanning techniques are revealing hitherto hidden information about the battlefields of the Second World War. Step forward Pete Kelsey, an expert in this technology, who here teams up with military historian Martin KA Morgan to look anew at the past. The six-part series takes in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nazi V-bomb programme, the relentless German Siege of Malta in 1940, the Allied advance on Rome, the 1944 battle of Hürtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border, and Allied attempts to dismantle the Japanese war machine during the long-running New Guinea campaign.

Escape From Pretoria

Streaming in the US | feature-length drama

In 1979, a trio of anti-apartheid activists escaped prison in Pretoria. But how exactly did Tim Jenkin, Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris (renamed Leonard Fontaine here) get away? Adapted from a book by Jenkin, this Australian film takes us back to an era when South Africans could be incarcerated for distributing pro-ANC leaflets and when political prisoners received especially harsh treatment. The trio’s ingenious bid for freedom involves making wooden keys and plays out as a thriller. Daniel Radcliffe leads the cast as Jenkin. Ian Hart plays Denis Goldberg, a long-imprisoned activist who helps his fellow prisoners.


Streaming in the US | documentary series

If journalism is the “first rough draft of history”, the analysis piece that runs a little after the newsmen have gone home might be said to be its second draft. Television has developed its own variation on this latter idea with series that offer testimony from those who were there during major events yet have had time to reflect, an approach much used by the BBC. Hillary takes a similar approach. Nanette Burstein’s four-part series draws on campaign footage from the 2016 presidential election, and features Hillary Clinton reflecting on what’s been, by any standards, an eventful life.

Mrs. America

Streaming in the US | drama series

Author and activist Phyllis Schlafly (1924–2016) was a conservative who doggedly fought the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution in the 1970s, legislation that would have offered women protection from discrimination. The contradictions of such an intelligent, formidable and self-starting campaigner, a woman who herself often had to battle sexism, pitting herself against the leading lights of American feminism are explored in a series that stars Cate Blanchett as Schlafly. Those on the other side of the argument include writer and feminist leader Gloria Steinem, played with a waspish intensity by Rose Byrne.

Looking for something else to watch? Explore the new history TV and radio airing in the UK this month and the real history behind your favourite films and dramas.

*All information correct at time of publication