14 of the best British series to stream in South Africa
Period dramas, police procedurals, espionage, murder, kidnapping, and sex and drug addiction…they are all here in our list of some of the best British dramas to stream.
The Capture (Showmax)
In this riveting eight-episode BBC crime thriller, a former soldier is accused of kidnapping – with damning CCTV footage to prove the crime. But as Detective Inspector Rachel Carey digs deeper, she begins to uncover a conspiracy that calls everything about the case into question.
The Bay (Showmax)
When detective sergeant, family liaison officer and mother of two Lisa Armstrong ends up having sex in an alleyway with a man she meets on a night out, she isn’t expecting to see him again… until he turns up as the prime suspect in the disappearance of his own kids on the very night Lisa was with him.
Beecham House (Showmax)
Tom Bateman drives this period drama that follows the enigmatic, soulful John Beecham during his time in Delhi, India in the 19th century.
Police Sergeant David Budd is a British Army war veteran suffering from PTSD; he despises Montague’s politics, so that’s not a very good start for them. As the series unravels, the series comments on many issues regarding the controversy around government monitoring of private information and its regulation, and also on PTSD.
Bodyguard has numerous award nominations to its credit, and Madden won the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Television Series Drama. At the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards the series was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.
Fleabag (Amazon Prime)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge did a one-woman stage show in 2013, and later turned it into this series in which she stars as, well, Fleabag. It’s not quite as dark as the stage production but it will definitely have you gazing inward to wonder why you are laughing at the situations she finds herself in.
Maybe because if we don’t laugh, we cry. And cry we did at the end. Fleabag is described as “a free-spirited and sexually active but angry and confused young woman in London.” Which is one way of putting it; there’s a lot more than that going on under the surface.
In the words of The Guardian, it is quite simply “the most electrifying, devastating TV in years”. All the awards people agreed, as Fleabag swept up multiple wins in several categories.
Fun fact: Waller-Bridge also wrote and executive-produced Killing Eve.
Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster) plays landowner and industrialist Anne Lister; the series is set in 1832 in Yorkshire, and is based on Lister’s collected diaries of Lister, which contain over four million words written largely in secret code, documenting a lifetime of lesbian relationships.
“Gentleman Jack is a true TV marvel – romantic, raw and totally radical…the wonder of this lesbian period drama is the way it mixed the traditional with the groundbreaking – all while pulling in millions of fans,” said The Guardian.
Set in 18th-Century London, the series focuses on brothel-keeper Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton), her daughters, and her arch rival Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), who will do anything to bring her enemy down.
While the harlots are a fairly accepted part of society – gaining wealthy patrons and attending posh parties – there is the counterpoint of religious evangelists who wish to shut down the business. Expect lots of backstabbing, literally and figuratively, in this visually lavish series. Liv Tyler joined the cast in Season 2, and in Season 3, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) came on board.
“Harlots attracts heavyweight talent that enter into this bawdy world seamlessly and with gusto. [Allen] brings competition and a surprising new dynamic to the series,” said Indiewire.
Line of Duty (Netflix)
Line of Duty is a British BBC police procedural television series created by Jed Mercurio (Bodyguard). Following DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), an authorised firearms officer, who is transferred to Anti-Corruption Unit 12 after refusing to agree to cover up an unlawful shooting by his own team, it was BBC 2’s best-performing drama series in 10 years when it premiered in 2012.
Arnott is partnered with DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), a highly commended undercover officer with a keen investigative instinct.
“If you don’t know anything about Line of Duty, here’s the thing — it still holds up as a compelling story, even if you’re missing the myriad call-back references from the first four seasons that creator and writer Jed Mercurio is known for, as his insanely twisted plots tear through story and drop red herrings galore,” said The Hollywood Reporter.
Fun fact: Although the police refused to co-operate with the programme’s producers, the production team was advised anonymously by both serving officers and retired police officers, and made use of anonymous police blogs.
In an unusual odd number of episodes – five – this is based on the series of semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the eponymous role, and each episode is set in a different time of his life, ranging from the 1960s to 2000s.
There are some darkly funny moments but ultimately this is a story about an abusive father, negligent mother, and a child who grows up to be a psychologically damaged drug addict. Cumberbatch’s performance is outstanding.
Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
This period gangster drama is set in Birmingham, directly after the Great War (which we later came to know as World War I). Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy with cheekbones of steel and piercing blue eyes leads a stellar cast) made it back from that but it has a lasting effect on him.
The Shelby family and their crew are the Peaky Blinders, and they run the underworld while dealing with their own personal crises – much like any family.
The theme song is Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, and recurs throughout the series in different versions. The late Leonard Cohen and David Bowie were great fans of the show, with the former contributing a song to the soundtrack shortly before his death in 2016.
Michael C Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter) puts on his best British accent to play Tom Delaney, a pediatric surgeon and widowed father of two teenage daughters. He is struggling to connect with them as they are still grieving the death of his wife from cancer a year ago. After his 16-year-old daughter Jenny goes missing, Tom uncovers a web of secrets as he frantically searches for her.
“In its first two episodes, it delivers on what it promises in its taut opening scenes. It’s a slick portrait of one man’s descent into a nightmare, one that threatens to damage the fragile connections within several families. It’s essentially a propulsive nighttime soap opera littered with crimes, well-appointed kitchens, and surveillance cameras everywhere,” said Variety.
Benedict Cumberbatch again, this time as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Fargo) plays wingman Dr Watson, in a modern-day London setting. The show has a slew of awards and nominations.
As they go about solving mysteries, Metropolitan Police Service Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and others are suspicious of Holmes at first, but over time, his exceptional intellect and bold powers of observation win them over.
As he’s operating in a contemporary setting, with Watson writing a blog about their investigations, Holmes achieves notoriety and becomes a reluctant celebrity as the media dig into his cases and whacky personal life.
Downton Abbey (Showmax)
No list of the best of British television would be complete without this wonderful quintessentially English series. It ran for six seasons (and a full-length cinema-release movie which brought the saga to a close). The story begins in 1912, the day after the sinking of RMS Titanic; lord of Downton, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), reads about the disaster in the newspaper at breakfast.
The ensuing seasons find story arcs in historical events all the way through to 1926, but at the heart is the family – Lord and Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), the older Lady Grantham (a delectable Maggie Smith who gets all the best, most scathing lines throughout), and the three daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Findlay). Their below-stairs counterparts are equally critical to the stories, with their own affairs balancing out those of their employers, in a commentary on the class system.
The Crown (Netflix)
Three seasons in, this utterly glorious jewel in Netflix’s own crown has thus far covered the period from Queen Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s marriage in 1947 to the disintegration of her sister Princess Margaret’s engagement to Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955; and the period from the Suez Crisis in 1956 to the retirement of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1963 and the birth of Prince Edward in 1964.
Up till this point, the Queen is played by Claire Foy. Olivia Colman (also in Fleabag) took over in Season 3, which spans the period between 1964 and 1977, including Harold Wilson’s two periods as Prime Minister, and introduces Camilla Shand.
Colman stays for the upcoming fourth season, which will include Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and introduce Lady Diana Spencer. The fifth and final season will cover the Queen’s reign into the 21st Century, and Imelda Staunton – best known for playing Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series as well as her Oscar-nominated role in Vera Drake – will be on the throne.