For years, Anglophiles on this side of the pond clamored for a one-stop streaming service for all our favorite British shows. Anyone can browse the BBC’s iPlayer or the ITV Hub, but due to licensing restrictions, you must be resident of the UK to actually stream the programs. We longed for the day when we, too, might be able to enjoy the best of British telly.
Lucky for us, the BBC and ITV answered our prayers, putting aside their age-old rivalry to launch BritBox, bringing together classic comedies, period dramas, detective dramas, nature shows and timely news programs under one umbrella.
Keeping Up with the Royals
In the wake of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s shocking interview with Oprah Winfrey, many who were too young to remember Diana’s struggles are digging for more insights on the “history” that Harry feared would repeat itself. They need look no further than Diana: The Interview that Shocked the World, which documents the story behind the late Princess of Wales’ own bombshell interview with the BBC’s Marin Bashir. Pulling back to look at the history and cultural significance of the Royals, BritBox has The Monarchy, a docuseries made in 1992 — when William and Harry were young boys — that explores the historic appeal of monarchy, and how it has changed, and not changed, despite “an increasingly classless society.”
Thanks to BritBox, Americans can actually wake up to Good Morning Britain, ITV’s controversial breakfast show. The show has made headlines itself recently due to former presenter Piers Morgan’s resignation following outrage over comments he made about the Duchess of Sussex. Follow it up with the Prime Minister’s Questions to see the leaders of the two main political parties square off against one another.
If political animals are not your cup of tea, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs will warm your heart and show you some of the cutest critters in Battersea, while The Watches—that is, Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch—follow some of Britain’s most beloved flora and fauna through the changing seasons.
BritBox separates its content into easy-to-navigate categories, from “Mysteries” to the “Panel Channel,” which is where you’ll find, as BritBox itself puts it, “celebrity parlor games where comedy is the point and points don’t matter.” Still, with hundreds of hours of both classic British television and modern masterpieces already streaming, and new content added virtually every day, narrowing down what to watch can be challenging. That’s why we’ve created this list of ten must-watch programs streaming on BritBox right now.
For that Famous British Humor
Living the Dream
What happens when a middle-class British family moves from dreary Yorkshire to sunny Florida? Comedy gold, that’s what. When Mal Pemberton (Philip Glenister) decides to buy a trailer park in Kissimmee, Florida, his family is in for the culture shock of their lives. A classic fish-out-of-water comedy, Living the Dream is buoyed by a bevy of eccentric characters played by familiar faces from both sides of the pond, including Brenock O’Connor (Game of Thrones), Leslie Jordan (Will and Grace), Kim Fields (The Facts of Life), and WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Nash.
If you’re looking for a show that stays in the UK, Mum is like a warm cup of tea on a rainy day. A charming character-driven comedy, Mum stars Oscar-nominee Leslie Manville as Cathy, the put-upon titular character. Following the death of her husband, Cathy is forced to tolerate her eccentric relatives with the patience of Job. Despite its billing as a comedy, Mum will tug at your heartstrings as Cathy and her family navigate the months following the death of their beloved patriarch. Never shying away from finding humor in grief, Mum is still one to watch with the tissues at hand.
For the Best in Period Dramas
Including Downton Abbey on a list of “what to watch” seems redundant, because it feels like everyone in the world has already seen the epic story of the Crawley family and their staff. Yet you cannot make a list of British shows worth watching without including what is the definitive period drama of the 21st century. Stretching six seasons, one movie, and a story spanning 15 years, Downton Abbey is a pop-culture phenomenon. With luxurious sets, sumptuous costumes, and richly drawn characters brilliantly acted by an all-star cast (led by none other than Dame Maggie Smith, in an Emmy-winning performance) it’s easy to understand why. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. If you have, you’ll be glad to know that it is just as riveting the second time around.
Christopher and His Kind
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s seminal autobiography about his time in pre-war Berlin, Christopher and His Kind is a tender and achingly beautiful study of homosexuality in the 1930s. Part love story, part biopic, and part history, screenwriter Kevin Elyot managed to stay true to the spirit of the source material, while director Geoffrey Sax manages to palpably evoke the heady uncertainty of a libertine Berlin being turned on its head by the Nazis. With an able cast led by Matt Smith (Doctor Who, The Crown) and a star turn from Imogen Poots as the real-life inspiration for Sally Bowles—the iconic role played by Liza Minelli in Cabaret—you will not regret spending an hour and a half with Christopher and his kind.
For Soapy Drama
Since its debut in 1985, EastEnders has become one of the most iconic shows in British history. Portraying a Britain not often represented on television, it follows the lives and loves, tragedies and triumphs of a close-knit community in London’s historic East End. Far from the wealthy and powerful characters endemic to American soaps, EastEnders is a gritty depiction of working-class Britain. From the mobster Mitchells (based on real-life East End gangsters the Kray Twins) to the feisty Foxes to the close-knit Carters, at its heart EastEnders is a show about family. BritBox offers about three months’ worth of episodes at a time, so in March you can go back to December and work your way to the present day. It’s one of those shows where you can jump right in and figure out what’s going on pretty easily, so novices need not be afraid, and missing an episode isn’t the end of the world—though if you have BritBox, why would you ever need to miss an episode?
For Classic British Telly
Are You Being Served?
The sound of clinking coins and a ringing till—or cash register as we say in the States—immediately brings a smile to my face. Not because I love shopping, but because it means another episode of Are You Being Served? is coming on. The series originally ran from 1972 to 1985, comprising 69 episodes and 5 Christmas specials. One of the all-time great workplace comedies, it follows the exploits of the staff at Grace Brothers department store. Chock-full of wit and double entendres, some of the most memorable characters in British TV history can be found in the clothing department at Grace Brothers, whether it’s camp Mr. Humphries fitting a suit or Mrs. Slocombe telling another story about her “pussy” (that’s her cat). Are You Being Served? still holds up as a classic British farce with some of the best slapstick comedy this side of Lucille Ball.
While many viewers are familiar with the current iteration of Doctor Who—which was rebooted in 2005—BritBox has more than 500 episodes of the classic sci-fi series’ original run from 1963 to 1989. Perhaps the most iconic show ever produced by the BBC, Doctor Who centers on an alien Time Lord known only as the Doctor, who travels through space and time with his plucky companions. Due to the long-running nature of the show, the cast has changed several times—the Doctor regenerates into a different actor every few years, and his companions come and go just as frequently. Regardless of what the Doctor looks like or who he travels with in his TARDIS—part time machine, part spaceship, the acronym stands for “time and relative dimension in space”—adventure is always guaranteed. While some of the special effects can look hopelessly (or charmingly) dated to modern audiences, the stories themselves are as enthralling as they must have been 50 years ago. Plus, it’s a real treat to delve into the history of a show that changed both science fiction and television, and left an indelible mark on pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic.
Keeping Up Appearances
Few shows have more adeptly commented on the absurdities of the British class structure than Keeping Up Appearances. Focusing on the exploits of middle-class Hyacinth Bucket (which she insists is pronounced “Bouquet”), the show frequently pokes fun at its heroine’s attempts to, well, keep up appearances and put on the airs and graces she believes a lady of her station ought to put on. This is frequently complicated by her working-class family and exasperated but loving husband, who tries his best to indulge Hyacinth’s snobbery while smoothing over the very real damage it often causes. Patricia Routledge gives a star turn as haughty Hyacinth, cementing her place in the pantheon of great British actresses. It’s no wonder she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for services to entertainment.
For Education and Information
If you want to understand British politics or current events, Question Time is where to get your answers. A British institution, the BBC’s flagship political show features a panel taking questions from the audience in a sort of mashup of Prime Minister’s Questions (also on BritBox) and a presidential town hall. With a mix of government ministers, members of parliament, religious leaders, titans of art and industry, journalists, and occasionally celebrities such as comedian Russell Brand or controversial actor Laurence Fox, it gives the general public a chance to interrogate their leaders in front of a national audience. Airing most Thursdays (with the occasional hiatus), episodes are usually uploaded no later than the next day.
The Up Series
This unscripted series from celebrated British director Michael Apted (who passed away in early 2021) follows the lives of a group of Brits from childhood into middle age. It may seem hardly groundbreaking now, in a world filled with reality television, but when it first premiered in 1964, Seven Up! was considered revolutionary for putting real people front and center. The premise from the very beginning was to check in with the participants every seven years, to see how they were getting on. The result is a documentary series which, through the lives of its subjects, tracks the history of modern Britain. The most recent installment, 63 Up, was recently added, joining all the previous series from the original Seven Up! onward. Together, they provide a time-capsule view of Britain from the swinging ‘60s all the way up to the present day.
BritBox is currently available as a standalone app you can subscribe to directly for $6.99 a month. Or it can be added on to your Apple TV or Prime Video service for the same price. A yearly subscription is also offered at $69.99, which basically amounts to getting two months for free.