Netflix might have started out by being unashamedly American-centric in its original programming, with shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. In the intervening years, though, some of its finest self-made TV shows and films have emerged from the other side of the Atlantic, not to mention the rest of the world.
In fact, one of its British series, The Crown, has picked up an astonishing 39 Emmy nominations since its premiere, an all-time record for the streaming platform. From royal sagas and rom-coms to teen dramas and travelogues (and ignoring shows that first aired on another channel – hence no Black Mirror, The End of the F***ing World, Lovesick etc.) here’s a look at ten of the best.
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Having previously covered the later years of the world’s longest-reigning monarch in The Queen, Peter Morgan then delved deep into her beginnings for a lavish period epic almost as costly as Windsor Castle.
The Crown will have covered more than a half-century of monumental British history by the time it wraps up its sixth season in 2022, including the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the fall of the British Empire and the death of Princess Diana. An impressive ever-changing cast – which saw Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton take turns playing Her Majesty – showed that there’s no better soap opera than the real-life royal family.
Americanized high schools in the heart of the Welsh countryside, ‘70s décor mixed with ‘80s appliances, ‘90s cars and ‘00s technology: it took a while adjusting to Sex Education’s deliberate mish-mash of cultures and eras. Thankfully, the young adult dramedy has plenty of substance to go alongside its anachronistic style.
Starring Asa Butterfield as a socially awkward virgin who follows in the professional footsteps of his sex therapist mother (a scene-stealing Gillian Anderson), the coming-of-age comedy still contains enough bawdy moments to rival The Inbetweeners. But it also balances them with a sweetness and refreshingly matter-of-fact approach to teenage sexuality.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die
You don’t need to be au fait with football/soccer's offside rule to enjoy this fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of the North East’s fallen giants. Like any great sporting documentary, Sunderland ‘Til I Die is about far more than what happens on the field of play.
In this case, there’s the diehard fans whose whole lives revolve around Saturday 3pm, the David Brent-esque boardroom figures who can only communicate via business speak and Sunderland itself, a city which, like its football team, has undoubtedly seen better days. Unlike the more sanitized Amazon’s All or Nothing, this two-season wonder is very much the real deal.
Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father
Comedians going on vacation with embarrassing parents has been an unlikely TV trend of late. And Britain’s poshest stand-up, Jack Whitehall, and his octogenarian showbiz agent dad Michael have taken full advantage, journeying across South East Asia, Europe, the American West and Australasia on Netflix money for four entertaining series.
Beer biking in Budapest, Full Moon parties in Thailand and naked yoga sessions in California allow the odd couple to play on their generational divide. But amidst all the unashamed silliness (Michael’s adoption of a creepy doll named Winston is a particular highlight), the pair also find the time to engage in some surprisingly touching father/son tête-à-têtes.
One of Netflix’s boldest experiments, Criminal is a police procedural anthology which splits its episodes – each featuring a self-contained case – across four different European territories/languages. Featuring famous faces such as David Tennant (Doctor Who), Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) and Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), the UK’s contribution has, unsurprisingly, courted the most attention.
But this star power is matched by a tension-cranking, twisting script which constantly leaves you guessing and a visual flair which makes full use of its claustrophobic sole setting. If the epic interrogation scenes are your favorite part of Line of Duty, this is the show for you.
Perhaps David Attenborough’s most environmentally-conscious series, Our Planet explores just how significantly the rise in global warming has impacted Earth and its animal inhabitants. Filmed across 50 different countries over four years, Netflix’s first nature documentary boasts the kind of breathtaking cinematography that has become synonymous with the national treasure’s composed narration.
Yet just as jaw-dropping as the views of the Amazonian rainforest and Arctic wilderness, however, are the cold hard facts – Attenborough has no time for climate change deniers, that’s for sure – which explain just how fragile these habitats have become. It’s not always an easy watch, but it’s a vital one.
After making little impression with Safe, Netflix then got everyone talking in early 2020 – sometimes for the wrong reasons – with its second adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel. Decapitated alpacas, faked pregnancies and comic goddess Jennifer Saunders playing it straight are just a few of the bizarre ingredients of a patently absurd suburban thriller which often defies logic.
Thankfully, the story of a mysterious baseball-capped outsider threatening to expose a web of dark secrets within a weirdly interconnecting neighborhood never takes itself too seriously. As a result, The Stranger is the kind of addictive guilty pleasure you needn’t feel too guilty about.
After dropping the ball with Life’s Too Short and Derek, Ricky Gervais rediscovered the balance of poignancy and acerbity that made The Office and Extras such classics with this affecting dark comedy. The Golden Globes’ enfant terrible plays a suicidal widower who decides to turn his life around by embracing the ‘superpower’ of brutal honesty.
However, his motley crew of friends and acquaintances soon make him realize that kindness is a much healthier virtue. Essentially Scrooge set in a sleepy English village, After Life’s tale of redemption might not be Gervais’ most original work but it’s undoubtedly his most profound.
Been So Long
Netflix’s stable of original British movies is much slimmer than its TV equivalent, but there are still a few hidden gems worth adding to your queue. For example, there’s Been So Long, which would undoubtedly have caught more attention had it dropped in the wake of the truly ground-breaking I May Destroy You Now.
Michaela Coel is as magnetic as ever as a single mother who falls head over heels for a handsome ex-con in a London rom-com far more diverse than the fairy tales of Richard Curtis. Despite interspersing its love story with musical flights of fancy, it feels much truer, too.
Inevitably compared with Braveheart, David Mackenzie’s take on the Scottish War of Independence proved to be far more nuanced than Mel Gibson’s gung-ho Oscar winner.
This time the action centers on Robert the Bruce rather than William Wallace, with Chris Pine impressing as the outlaw who rebels against the English occupation. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Florence Pugh also shine as the frenzied Lord of Douglas and shrewd young bride Elizabeth de Burgh, respectively, in a compelling history lesson which also boasts more than enough brutal battle scenes to keep the bloodthirsty happy.
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