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5 British TV Shows You’re Not Watching (But Really Should Be)

5 British TV Shows You’re Not Watching (But Really Should Be)

For those willing to go beyond Sherlock and Doctor Who, here are some quality imports from across the pond that not nearly enough Americans are watching.


Programme Name: Peaky Blinders - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Embargoed for publication until: n/a - Picture Shows:  Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) - (C) Tiger Aspect - Photographer: Robert ViglaskyImage Credit: BBC

Where You Can Watch: Netflix

Why You Need to Watch:

Don’t be put off by the title, interesting though it is: the Peaky Blinders were an infamous real-life gang in 1920s Birmingham, and the fictional version of the Peaky Blinders — a working class family with Romani Gypsy heritage — is fascinating on so many levels. Most fascinating of all is its leader: cool, theatrical, calculating Tommy Shelby, graced with the razor-sharp cheekbones and electrifying charisma of Cillian Murphy. Having survived the first World War, Tommy has returned to England reeling from the trauma but hardened with steely ambition, determined to move the Shelby family up in the world… at any cost. As embodied by Murphy in one of the most unforgettable performances of recent years, Tommy is a transfixing, contradictory force of nature, defying easy categorization as a ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ or even an ‘anti-hero’ — but whatever he is, he’s exhilarating to watch.

The rest of the show is as captivating and cliche-defying as its lead. The writing is sharp and often hilarious, the plot is an adrenaline rush of twists and layers, the cinematography is impeccably stylish, and the stellar cast is fleshed out with the likes of Tom Hardy and Helen McCrory. The soundtrack is an anachronistic mix of modern rock, from PJ Harvey to the Arctic Monkeys, and Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” is the show’s theme song. Intrigued yet?


mirrorfaceImage Credits: Channel 4

Where You Can Watch: Netflix

Why You Need to Watch:

Looking for an anthology series that will keep you as engrossed as American Horror Story, without the gross? (Well… mostly.) Look no further than Black Mirror, arguably the most brilliantly disturbing speculative fiction series of all time. Like a twisted, sophisticated Twilight Zone, each episode presents a different scenario — usually involving the dark side of technology or the dark side of modern humanity in general — in a world that’s recognizably similar to- yet crucially different from- our own, holding up a ‘black mirror’ to our society. Creator Charlie Brooker explains, “The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” Genius, right?

The series has achieved near-universal critical acclaim, but having only recently been made available outside of Britain, is still a cult favorite rather than a smash hit. That won’t last long, since Robert Downey Jr.’s production company recently optioned the feature film rights to one of the episodes (“The Entire History of You”) — so start this Netflix spiral stat. There are only seven episodes, and all of them will blow your mind.

You’ll recognize a lot of the actors, from Jon Hamm (Mad Men) to Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) to Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) to Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter), and you might even recognize yourself… though it isn’t a particularly flattering mirror.


Programme Name: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL), Arabella (CHARLOTTE RILEY) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt SquireImage Credits: BBC

Where You Can Watch: BBC America

Why You Need to Watch:

You’re forgiven if you’ve never read the 800+ page book that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is adapted from — but not giving the series a try is practically unforgivable. Sleek, clever, equal parts dark and whimsical, and unlike any show you’ve seen before, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of the best new series of the year. Its entertaining blend of intellectualism and irony has been described as “Jane Austen, but with magic”, with a little gothic horror thrown in, and if all of that’s your thing, this is the show for you.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate reality England where magic once existed but does no longer (or does it?), Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows the two titular magicians from rivalry to friendship, and the end result is enchanting. Take a look at the trailer to get a feel for the show’s unique tone and striking visuals.


Programme Name: Wolf Hall - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep3 (No. 3) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Anne Boleyn (CLAIRE FOY), King Henry VIII (DAMIAN LEWIS) - (C) Company Productions Ltd - Photographer: Ed MillerImage Credits: PBS

Where You Can Watch: PBS

Why You Need to Watch:

Think period pieces are all either stuffy and boring or ridiculous and historically inaccurate? Think again. Wolf Hall is a gripping, emotionally-charged historical drama that embodies all the good parts of Game of Thrones and The Tudors (political scheming, gorgeous production design, stunning performances, Natalie Dormer — okay, she’s not in Wolf Hall, but she has a worthy successor in Claire Foy, who manages to deliver an interesting new portrayal of Anne Boleyn, making a character we’ve seen performed a dozen times feel fresh and exciting) while eliminating all of the bad (gratuitous sexual assaults and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are nowhere to be found).

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name (and its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies) by Hilary Mantel, the series is a masterclass in adaptation: take notes, HBO, because this is how you skillfully adapt a dense, complex book series for the screen. Wolf Hall doesn’t dumb itself down for a second, fully expecting the audience to be able to read between the lines.

History newbies and Tudor snobs alike will be riveted by this version of Thomas Cromwell (played with magnificent subtlety by Mark Rylance) and his behind-the-throne machinations in the court of Henry VIII (Damian Lewis, also perfectly cast).

Plus — curious about the new Spider-Man? See if you can spot Tom Holland, our next Peter Parker, as Cromwell’s young son.


Stella-Paul-the-fall-tv-series-37562069-1920-1250Image Credits: Netflix

Where You Can Watch: Netflix

Why You Need to Watch:

Between Hannibal’s glorious (presumably) final season and the long-awaited return of The X-Files, Gillian Anderson is killing it on TV right now. And The Fall is perhaps the best available showcase for her skills as an actress. Anderson stars as the brilliant, relentless, and unabashedly feminist detective Stella Gibson, who never misses an opportunity to call out sexist double standards or critique misogyny — often in a very meta way, as the show frequently deconstructs media portrayals of women — while on the hunt for a serial killer targeting young women (played with psychopathic intensity by Jamie Dornan, seemingly prepping for the creepiness of Christian Grey long before Fifty Shades of Grey).

The Fall is more than just another show about a detective obsessed with taking down a murderer; it’s an incisive, nuanced examination of violence against women. A disturbing but important watch, this is a must-see for anyone seeking a complicated and compelling female lead.

What did we leave out? Recommend your favorite British TV shows in the comments!

Feature Image Credit: BBC

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