The best historical TV shows and films to stream right now

Looking for a new historical TV show or film to watch? From The Crown to The Favourite, we've rounded up the best history content streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV, HBO and other on-demand services in the UK and US

Band of Brothers (series)

First shown in 2001, the 10-part 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 bag credits as executive producers, further proof if any were needed that Band Of Brothers was a big-money, high-profile project.  Now streaming on Now TV in the UK and HBO in the US


The Banker (film)

Pulled from release in December 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. It is a drama that 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. Now streaming on Apple TV+ in the UK and Hulu/Qello Concers in the US

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years (documentary)

In 1966, The Beatles quit touring. The Fab Four, the cheeky lads from Liverpool who had conquered the world, ceased to be – and been replaced by serious musicians who preferred recording at Abbey Road to life on the road.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’s pretty good. Now streaming on Hulu/Qello Concers in the US

Boardwalk Empire (series)

Playing out over five series that 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 that cost $18m. Back before the long-form television revolution meant it was routine to see film stars on TV, its cast was notably starry, including Steve Buscemias 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. Now streaming on Now TV in the UK and HBO in the US

Bobby Kennedy for President (documentary series)

On 6 June 1968, in Los Angeles where he was on the campaign trail to be the Democratic presidential candidate, Bobby Kennedy was targeted by a Palestinian gunman, Sirhan Sirhan, and murdered. Following soon after the April assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, it’s a tragedy that’s come to be seen as one of the days when the idealism of the 1960s also perished. This four-part documentary series traces Kenned’s trajectory through the decade, taking in his work on his brother’s campaigns, JFK’s death, Bobby’s championing of civil rights. It also looks at events in the aftermath of the killing. Streaming now on Netflix

Black and British: A Forgotten History (documentary series)

First shown in 2016, David Olusoga’s series charts the relationship between Britain and those whose origins lie in Africa. This is a story that goes back further in time than many may imagine. African-Roman legionaries, we learn in the first of four episodes, once guarded Hadrian’s Wall. In other episodes, Olusoga tells the stories of some of the black sailors who fought at Trafalgar, explores Victorian attitudes towards slavery and, closer to our own time, charts the experiences of those who arrived as part of the Windrush generation. Olusoga’s Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners is also available to stream via iPlayer. Streaming via BBC iPlayer in the UK.

BlacKkKlansman (film)

Spike Lee’s 1970s-set drama, for which the director won an Oscar for his screenplay, tells a barely credible story without taking too many liberties with what actually happened. At its heart lies Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who becomes the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Using the phone to pose as white, he infiltrates a local division of the Ku Klux Klan, a ruse that involves recruiting a Jewish detective, Philip Flip Zimmerman (a fictional character played by Adam Driver, nominated for an Oscar) to help him out. Streaming now on Netflix

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (documentary series)

In a series based on an elegantly simple idea, Alice Roberts explores Britain’s history by focusing on a town or city that encapsulates a particular era. When it comes to Roman times, for example, she heads for Chester while York is her destination when Roberts wants to tell the story of Viking Britain. There’s a certain amount of dressing up and larking around involved, but the series is nonetheless revealing as, for example, she explores how Oxford lay at the heart of a battle for control of England played out between an autocratic monarch and parliament during the Civil War. Streaming via All4 in the UK.

Britannia (drama series)

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 series, 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. Streaming now via NOW TV in the UK, and Amazon Prime in the US.

Call the Midwife (series)

Call the Midwife is 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 early 1960s. Boasting a cast that includes Jessica Raine and Stephen McGann, the award-winning show paints a realistic picture of maternity care during Britain’s postwar baby boom, while also tackling gritty issues such as poverty, racism, domestic violence and abortion. Now streaming on iPlayer/Netflix in the UK and Netflix in the US

Catherine the Great

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’s years in power, and shows her as both ruthless and enlightened, interested in the latest thinking across Europe. It also makes much of the relationship between the empress and her lover, military commander Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke), which is central to the series. Now streaming on Now TV in the UK and HBO in the US

Chernobyl (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, living through these events as they happened? The multiple award-winning drama Chernobyl, based in part on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices From Chernobyl, imagines just that. Those who lives we glimpse include firefighters who were first responders 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. Now streaming on Now TV in the UK and HBO in the US

Listen to our podcast exploring the real history behind the events of 1986:

The Crown (series)

No list of popular historical TV series on Netflix would be complete without a mention of its ever-popular show The Crown. The sumptuous royal drama has explored the intricacies of the British royal family over three series so far, providing an engrossing portrait of the mid-20th century monarchy and covering events including the Aberfan disasterand Prince Charles’ investiture as the Princes of Wales. 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. Watch out for the cast change between series two and three, as the royal family ‘ages up’. A must-watch for royal enthusiasts and those who enjoy British history. Now streaming on Netflix in the US and UK

Read more about The Crown and the royal family:

Cursed (drama series)

Arthurian myth, it seems, is endlessly open to reinvention. This latest take on the genre stars Katherine Langford as Nimue, a young heroine with mysterious gifts whose life trajectory (mild spoiler alert) may have something to do with destiny and becoming the Lady of the Lake. Meantime, the series follows Nimue, in the company of a young mercenary called Arthur, on a quest to locate Merlin and deliver a sword. Co-created byFrank Miller (Sin City) and writer/producer Tom Wheeler (Puss In Boots), the 10-part series promises to explore themes such as religious terror and the destruction of the natural world. Streaming now on Netflix

Da 5 Bloods (film)

For many African-American veterans, the Vietnam War and its aftermath remain especially vivid. These are the former soldiers who returned from the front line with physical and psychological injuries, only to find they weren’t supported properly back in the US. The experiences of four such soldiers lie at the centre of Academy Award winner Spike Lee’s new drama, debuting on Netflix and which follows the four veterans – Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr) – as they return to Asia to search for the remains of their squad leader and, they fervently hope, to recover some buried treasure. Streaming on Netflix in the UK and US

Das Boot (series)

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, watch as the French Resistance seeks to disrupt the Nazi war effort in La Rochelle, home to the Germans’ submarine base. Season two takes the show further from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 novel and its sequel, Die Festung (1995), but without losing any of the essence of the books. Season one is streaming in the UK via Now TV and in the US via Hulu. Season two is streaming in the UK via Now TV from June

Days of Glory (film)

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Indigènes, to give this 2006 movie its French title, follows the experiences of a group of troops from France’s overseas possessions. Recruited into the First Army of the French Free Forces, these are men who, for all they fight to help liberate Europe, are subjected to racism seen by white officers as expendable, cannon fodder. A righteously angry film with a strong ensemble cast, including Jamel Debbouze, one of the stars of Amélie. The film contributed to a partial recognition of the pension rights of troops from former French colonies. Now streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK

Death Comes to Pemberley (drama series)

A mash-up between Jane Austen and Agatha Christie may sound initially like an awful idea, but there’s much fun to be had from this adaptation of PD James’ sequel to Pride And Prejudice, first shown by the BBC back in 2013. Set six years after the marriage of Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Miss Elizabeth Bennet (Anna Maxwell Martin), it follows what happens after George Wickham (Matthew Goode) is accused of murdering his friend, Captain Denny. Granted, Elisabeth’s brother-in-law isn’t the most admirable of men, but is he really capable of such a heinous crime? Streaming now via Amazon Prime in the UK


Downfall (film)

It’s easy to forget how shocking the very idea of this drama based on Hitler’s final days seemed back in 2004. This was the first German screen portrayal of the Führer for 50 years. That it’s come to be seen as a hugely important drama is in great part down to the late Bruno Ganz, who plays Hitler as a man sick with Parkinson’s disease, raging at what’s happening and yet utterly unable to take responsibility for what’s become of his country. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film is also horribly claustrophobic as we follow events playing out in a Berlin soon to fall to the Red Army. Now streaming on Amazon Prime in the US

Read on for more TV and film recommendations…