We review the best TV shows and films currently available on BBC iPlayer. (Click here to skip to our reviews of the best movies on BBC iPlayer.)
For BBC Three recommendations, click here.
Pick of the Week: Animation 2018
A showcase of top animations from the UK’s finest new talents. In collaboration with the BFI, these 15 shorts from up-and-coming filmmakers span a dizzying range of styles and subjects, from puppets to CG, from science-fiction to documentary, from penguins to a couple who obsessively shave themselves.
Available until: 1st January 2019
Pick of the Week: Death and Nightingales
Based on Eugene McCabe’s novel of the same name, this three-part tale whisks us back to 19th century Ireland for a tale of rural romance and inevitably betrayal. Ann Skelly stars as Beth Winters, who lives on a farm with his Protestant step-father, Billy (Matthew Rhys). The duo share a chemistry that’s at once convincing and chilling, with more to their disturbing relationship that meets the eye. And so when she meets Liam (Jamie Dornan), and as she turns 25, she decides she wants out. Out from her dad. Out from her closed community. Set over 24 hours, this opening chapter sets the tone firmly to portentous, as the stage is set by The Fall’s Allan Cubitt for dark deeds – but beneath the surface of unhappiness, temptation and a determination to seize back one’s own destiny lies uneasiness on a wider, national level, as the knowledge that Beth’s mother was a Catholic lingers in the air, threatening to spark tensions to life. Beautifully shot and wonderfully performed, this atmospheric drama is slow to start, but when that spark catches, expect to be enthralled.
Available until: January 2019
Pick of the Week: Mrs. Wilson
Ruth Wilson is one of this country’s brightest and best, so it’s a delight to see her not only star in this three-part drama, but also provide the inspiration for the story, as she brings to the life the tale of her own grandmother, Alison. Married to Alec (Iain Glen) for many happy years, his sudden death in the opening minute put us firmly in the same boat as her: shocked, saddened and still reeling. But Alec’s unexpected heart attack opens up a whole can of festering worms, as out from his past crawls a number of secrets that only heighten the shock further. An intelligence officer in WWII when they met, his double (or triple, or quadruple?) life left him away from home and doing all kinds of things that continue to ripple through the heart-wrenching aftermath decades later. The result is a back and forth that gradually reveals more truths every cycle, with Wilson impeccably capturing the tragic strength of Alice, a woman determined to uncover more yet unable to face its very tangible consequences. She’s surrounded by an excellent ensemble, including Fiona Shaw and Keeley Hawes, while Glen plays each new side of Alex with shade, nuance and, perhaps, even sympathy. After one hour, you won’t have a clue where things are headed, and that (plus the fact that this is based on real history) only makes it all the more gripping. What a fantastic, tiny big-hitter to close out the year with.
Available until: January 2019
Pick of the Week: Nadiya’s Asian Odyssey
Nadiya Hussain once again proves a winning screen presence, as she enjoys what food does best: offer windows onto other cultures and bring together countries and people. Here, she travels to Thailand and Cambodia, as she searches for her own connections in these countries, taking her from the temples of Angkor Wat to to a Muslim island in the deep south of Thailand. Fish paste, a French patisserie school, the process of making the essential ingredient of palm sugar, all of them get time in the spotlight, combining both a hunt for ancestors with an understanding of the origins of favourite food and recipes. It’s all held together by Nadiya’s passion for both reaching out to people and cooking (and eating) food. Asher kids and partner look at her journey on a globe, it’s clear to see her enthusiasm is infectious – and the same applies to us at home. Curry pastes, DNA and a family holiday? What more could you want?
Available until: 2nd January 2019
Pick of the Week: Gun No 6
Statistics have an unfortunate way of dehumanising some of the worst things in the world. This docudrama finds a tragic power behind the number 6, as it charts the path of Britain’s deadliest illegal gun. Changing hands repeatedly over 10 years, it has been used in 11 shootings and three murders, and this film captures both the impact of the gun’s history, through testimonies from loved ones, and explores the motives behind those who carry out shootings. An essential insight into modern gun crime in all its horrible, dangerous realities.
Available until: 1st January 2019
Pick of the Week: Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out
Vic Reeves. Bob Mortimer. Their names alone tell you what to expect from their unexpected reunion, as Big Night One sees them burst back onto our screens for more of the same surreal, silly and impossibly sprightly comedy. And that’s no bad thing, as the duo prove they’ve still got it. What they’ve got is familiarity for fans, in the form of Novelty Island and some heavy frying page usage, but what’s remarkable about the unwavering weirdness of the Shooting Stars duo is that they never stop coming up with something new and surprising: whether it’s coming up with their own take on conversation during a dinner date or needing to pee halfway through the episode, you simply don’t know what either of them is about to do next, and you get the sense that neither do they. Combine that energy and imagination with a friendship that has gone back decades, and you get two comedians so at home with each other that they’re here to make each other laugh as much as us, pinging back and forth kitchen utensils and nonsensical banter (they turn non-sequiturs into one-liners like Monty Python in their heyday) with infectious glee. The good news? There are four episodes in total, which guarantees ridiculous fun throughout the festive season.
Available until: June 2019
Pick of the Week: Dynasties
David Attenborough promises more intensity than ever in his latest nature documentary for BBC One, and he isn’t kidding – an introduction from him (while riding along in a jeep) introduces us to the brutal battle for survival facing endangered species, kicking off with David, a chimp in Senegal who is facing threats to his leadership. Those threats, it turns out, ain’t pretty, with nasty battles between alphas leaving our chimp for dead, only to rise from the ground three days later and try to retake his place. Following the animals for such a long period of time pays off with a handsome, moving, jaw-dropping portrait of wildlife in every sense of the word. There may only be four parts in total for this series, but that’s four hours of intense, stunning, impeccably crafted TV. Watch it in 4K on BBC iPlayer where you can.
Available until: 2019
Pick of the Week: People Just Do Nothing: Season 5
Kurupt FM goes from strength to strength with every new season of BBC Three’s laugh-out-loud mockumentary. Except, of course, Season 5 picks up as the pirate radio station is far from strength of any kind, as the station’s HQ has been raided, leaving the boys with no way to broadcast. And so they turn to a last resort: a car boot sale. It’s an old-fashioned sight in a modern age, but it’s perfectly fitting for BBC Three’s comedy, as the whole thing becomes an opportunity for Chabuddy (Asim Chaudry, stealing every scene he’s in) to use his equally old-school entrepreneur skills to bag them the best stall possible – while Steves (Steve Stamp) is hilarious as he attempts to use his very limited number of brain cells to outsmart the people running the event. It’s testament to the show’s depth of talent that both supporting characters can step into the spotlight so effectively, without taking away from our leads Grindah (Allan Mustafa) and Beats (Hugo Chegwin). With each one at their understated, tragically sincere best, the opportunity to catch up with Kurupt FM one more time is an absolute treat. What a shame it is that this final season is our last chance to do so.
Available until: May 2019
Louis Theroux: Altered States
Any series from Louis Theroux is worth watching, and his latest doesn’t disappoint, kicking off with a look at the growing variety of open relationships that exist in modern society. Diving into Portland, Oregon – the US capital of polyamory – he embeds himself with families who conduct their relationships openly in a number of ways. There are those who invite others into existing relationships or those who allow their partners to seek romance elsewhere. Does having more partners having more love and happiness? Inevitably, there’s no one-size-fits-all rulebook, with relationships working differently for each individual, but Theroux picks apart the joys, jealousy and emotions that go with human entanglements with his trademark blend of wry humour, sensitive respect and gently provocative questioning.
Available until: 24th May 2019
The Little Drummer Girl
“We’re putting on a production…” says Marty Kurtz (Michael Shannon) to young actress Charlie (Florence Pugh) at the start of The Little Drummer Girl. He proceeds to offer her a part in a show that promises intrigue, style and unpredictable shocks – it’s no coincidence that he could easily be talking about the show itself. Since AMC and BBC One partnered on The Night Manager, expectations have been high for their next John le Carré adaptation, and The Little Drummer Girl doesn’t disappoint. This slow-burn spy thriller is a sumptuous piece of television with an irresistible number of layers. Read our full review
Available until: 1st January 2019
Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack
With exclusive access to the Salisbury investigation, this Panorama special is a grimly informative insight into the story that unfolded across our screens this year, as Russia not only had the horrible confidence to poison a former spy on British soil, but then had the absurd audacity to deny the whole thing and claim its agents were tourists visiting the cathedral. Reporter Jane Corbin speaks to police officers, a government scientist and intelligence figures to unpick how it old went down, as well as speaking to friends and family of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Also providing the history of Novichok (“newcomer”), this is a grippingly told and disturbingly eye-opening look behind a story that risked contaminating a worryingly large part of the population.
Available until: October 2019
The BBC’s remarkable documentary series gives us an on-the-ground look at the very real struggles that are facing our NHS. Particularly pointed is the seventh episode of its third season, which gives us a glimpse of just how difficult it is to provide care in the winter, as the volume of patients in Stoke dramatically escalates. Across the West Midlands, we see such horrifying incidents such as a stabbing, a moving encounter with a victim of domestic abuse who has taken an overdose, a heart-stopping dispatch to help a four-day-old baby who has stopped breathing (babies, we’re informed, automatically take highest priority), and, sweetest of all, two paramedics taking time to listen to a 65-year-old widower who thinks he’s had a heart attack. All the while, everyone ends up stacking up in beds in hospital corridors, as there’s simply no room to accommodate everyone. The staff manage to get through the shift, but the question of whether to declare a major incident (shutting doors to ambulance crews and new patients alike) looms in the air constantly. After cuts in funding from the government, this is just an alarming glimpse of some of the challenges the NHS is having to overcome in a single 12-hour period – what a miracle it is that the health service continues to function.
Available until: 22nd December 2018 (Episode 7)
Fresh off the latest round of scare-mongering headlines about the purported risk of the contraceptive pill, all praise to BBC’s Horizon, which dedicates a fantastic, sensible hour to evaluating those claims – and, on top of it all, going into the science and statistics behind the pill itself. From blood clots to cancer, the documentary highlights the relative risk of the pill, putting it into perspective against other dangers and probabilities in life, as well as the benefits of the pill in treating some of those. From the fact that there are multiple variants of the pill to choose between to an update on the welcome development of a male contraceptive pill, there’s a lot of information to digest, all of it essential, interesting and useful – and Dr. Zoe Williams serves it up by the spoonful with a light touch, accessible explanations and a reassuringly positive stance.
Available until: 21st December 2018
Michael McIntyre’s Big Show
After several years of over-saturation, Michael McIntyre has been away from our screens long enough to make his return to BBC One a likeable reminder of his harmless style of family-friendly humour, which is on full display (and feeling fresher than previous seasons) in the fourth run of his Big Show. The quality of celebrity guests have risen with the series’ profile, with the latest season including Kylie Minogue and, as he impresses in Doctor Who, Bradley Walsh participates in the show’s best idea – Send To All, which sees Michael text everyone in a celebrity’s phonebook with a surprise message.
Available until: 17th December 2018 (Episode 1)
Inside the Foreign Office
Foreign policy has never been more important than now, an age that sees the UK on the edge of crashing out of the EU and Donald Trump tearing up the presidential and ethical rulebook across the Atlantic. It’s a perfect time, then for us to get a peek behind the scenes, and BBC Two’s Inside the Foreign Office doesn’t disappoint. Filmmaker Michael Waldman makes the most of his unprecedented access to create a companion series to Channel 4’s similar show exploring America’s mew British Embassy, one that highlights just how much chaos is being wrangled into surface-level order – and shines a light on the British diplomats who secretively do so in the background. Think Yes Minister, but serious, as we see Boris Johnson meet with Russian representatives, but only after he’s been given a briefing in the actual facts seconds before, as the Whitehall workers hope to steer him away from blundering into something uninformed or inappropriate. Can the UK maintain its influence on the world stage? Forget the politicians: the people we see on our screens are the best ones to ask.
Available until: 15th December 2018
WWI: The Final Hours
This weekend, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. But how was Armistice reached? This remarkable, gripping documentary sheds light on the decisive agreement, taking us back to 8th November 1918, when an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German gathered in secret on on a train in a forest near Paris. Their meeting aimed to broker peace across Europe after four years of conflict. Britain sent Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, keen to maintain Britain’s rule of the waves. France sent Marshall Ferdinand Foch, determined to stop his homeland being invaded or decimated again. Germany sent Matthias Erzberger, a politician with his back to the wall. With even a ceasefire during talks impossible to agree, though, and with communications back to their respective nations taking time, their meeting was fraught with political tension and burdened with the weight of lives at stake – talks went on for three days and, as we know, signalled the end of one World War, and effectively set the stage for another. As global tensions flare up in the modern world, and the need for communication and compromise greater than ever, this is essential viewing.
Available until: 8th December 2018
“Perhaps they’re all blind.” “No, we’re just invisible.” That’s the bleak truth for a young Romanian woman, who has been snatched in broad daylight and used as sex slave in a pop-up brothel. Based on a true story, this docudrama is an eye-opening, horrifying watch, as it highlights just how easy it is for slavery, even in 2018, to hide in plain sight in everyday society, disguising itself just under the surface and exploiting people with ruthless calculation, physical abuse and dehumanising psychological torment. There’s hope among the grim reality, as we see how someone’s experiences, once given a voice, can help to change rules and improve scrutiny to uncover, stop and prevent slavery – but this is just one person’s story out of a disturbingly unknown number.
Available until: 3rd February 2019
Doctor Who: Season 11
As grounded as its opening episode’s title (The Woman Who Fell to Earth) suggests, Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker arrive in the TARDIS with a winning departure from formula. Read our full reviews of each episode here.
Available until: 9th June 2019 (Episode 1)
Inside No. 9 Live: Dead Line
“Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC two now?” Inside No. 9 serves up its most post-modern, formally audacious episode yet with this special Halloween event. Reece and Steve appear as themselves at one point during the 30 minutes as part of some pre-recorded footage, in which they admit on The One Show they don’t believe in ghosts. This episode’s risky, bold and surprising gambit, rather, is to play on the biggest fear all performers have: a live broadcast going wrong. And so we’re put immediately on edge, dreading the worst, as we see Steve play a man arriving home, after discovering a phone in a graveyard, and Reese pop round as the local parish priest – only for gremlins to briefly mess things up. Ghosts in the machines? Reese bravely laughs off any technophobia – “You’re thinking of Black Mirror. This is Inside No. 9, more dark jokes and twists.” – but that’s all we need for the nightmare to threaten to come true, and what ensues is a brilliantly nerve-racking ordeal as we witness the cast and crew try to minimise any mistakes, which leaves us unsure what’s intentional, what’s accidental and what might (were one superstitious) be fate doing its best to ruin everything. The editing is remarkable, and the use of archive video to stitch any gaps together is inspired, resulting in a brave piece of TV that has you peeking through your fingers, before staring, in one masterful scene, at a cycle of screens within screens stretching into infinity, creating a broadcasting abyss – a timeless limbo in the middle of an old studio, where memories of all those past productions gone wrong are exorcised by the thrill of modern imagination. The rest of Inside No. 9 is also available as a box set.
Available until: April 2019
There She Goes
Raising a child isn’t easy. Raising a child with learning difficulties is even harder. There She Goes is a bravely honest look at the challenges involved in looking after, encouraging and educating a daughter when communication is painfully restricted – a comedy drama that bristles with the huge pain, tiny victories and (more frequently) challenging lows of Simon (David Tennant) and Emily’s (Jessica Hynes) life. Shaun Pye’s script is stuffed with angry one-liners, delivered with relish by the cast. Tennant is wonderfully depressed but in denial (and halfway up a wine bottle) a defeated dad Simon, while Hynes (who recently made her directorial debut with the moving drama The Fight) balances deadpan coming timing with a blank unhappiness that rings powerfully true. They clash with bitterness, or just don’t communicate at all, and the challenge of them reconciling their love for each other and their daughter with the reality of their situation is one that repeatedly delivers heart and humour aplenty. In between them, seven-year-old Rosie is performed wit frustrating, charming and innocent energy by the marvellous Miley Locke.
Available until: October 2019
Strictly Come Dancing
Back for its 16th season, the BBC’s dancing reality contest may have expanded across two nights to snap up the highest ratings possible, but Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly have more than settled into their groove as they host the weekly tournament, while the variety of ballroom and latin dances (and the backing music played by the in-house band) continues to impress.
Available until: December 2018 (Various)
Recommended Box Set: Informer
Just when you’ve got one BBC drama’s claws out of you, another comes along to steal six hours of your life. Nabhaan Rizwan delivers a starmaking debut turn in this gripping thriller about Raza, a young British-Pakistani man from East London, who finds himself arrested. Held by the police with no apparent good reason, he’s actually being lined up for Gabe, a Counter-Terrorism Office who wants to turn him into an informer. The always-excellent Paddy Considine brings a gruff determination to Gabe, who has his own dark past thanks to his undercover exploits, and is nicely contrasted by Bel Powley as Holly, his new partner. As their paths intersect and deceitful motivations come to light, and the stakes get inevitably higher, you’ll be drawn into a web that keeps you hooked. Fortunately, the whole box set is on BBC iPlayer, so you don’t have to wait to get your next fix.
Available until: 20th December 2018
Recommended Box Set: The Cry
How do you fill the Bodyguard-shaped hole left in our Sunday nights? BBC One has a compelling answer with The Cry, a drama that switches security conspiracies for the equally gut-churning angst of parents who have to face the unthinkable. Jenna Coleman is brilliant as the anchor around which the show pivots, and she’s sensational in the role of Joanna, a young woman who has found herself a mother and faces all the unromanticised struggles that entails – the pressure felt as she has to try and quiet her child on an airplane is unbearable, only alleviated by the intrigue elsewhere, as her husband, Alistair (Ewen Leslie), takes her to Australia for a custody battle over his teenage daughter with his ex, Alexandra (Asher Keddie). Everyone has their own angst and ambiguities, but what’s impressive about The Cry is that it’s less a mystery thriller and more a nuanced exploration of all the taboos and expectations that face new parents, before they’ve even got to the agonising cliffhanger of the opening episode. Impeccably painful telly.
Available until: 20th December 2018 (Episode 1)
Recommended Box Set: Louis Theroux
With Louis Theroux returning to our screens this November for a new series, Altered States, get your offbeat non-fiction fix with this mammoth collection of Theroux favourites, taking us from heartbreak to humour, via spiky, insightful and impeccably polite conversations – all reminding us that Louis is one of the best documentary filmmakers working today.
Available until: 5th March 2019
Recommended Box Set: Luther
“I’m with the police.” “Which police?” “The police.” That’s the sound of Idris Elba remaining as tough, gruff and willing to rough people up as ever over four seasons of Luther. The BBC drama, which co-stars Ruth Wilson and a fantastic coat, dives into grimy police work with a glowering swagger that only adds to the hard-hitting appeal of the concise storytelling, curt dialogue and did we mention Idris Elba? Before Luther returns for Season 5, don’t miss the chance to catch up with show’s gripping back catalogue.
Available until: 18th April 2019
Recommended Box Set: Bodyguard
Jed Mercurio, the mastermind behind the nail-biting Line of Duty, is back on BBC One with his latest thriller, Bodyguard, and the result is the most nail-biting piece of TV since, well, Line of Duty – and that’s just the opening 10 minutes. Mercurio’s script, helmed by Thomas Vincent (The Tunnel), gets off to a blinding start, as we see copper and war veteran David Budd (Richard Madden) sniff out a possible bomb threat on a train. Is he correct or just suffering from PTSD? That’s the question set up to drive the whole series, and Mercurio doesn’t tip his hat either way, giving Madden plenty of ambiguity to play with, as Budd is assigned security guard duties for PM Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). She has her own enigmatic stance to decipher, as she pushes through a controversial new counterterrorism bill, and the line between duty of care and political resentment is already blurring after only an hour. Hawes is wonderfully ruthless and cool, while Madden clearly relishes the chance to take a lead role, his bodyguard perched on a knife edge between calm and total collapse. With corruption, bitter former employees and rebellious movements in the wings, prepare to get hooked all over again.
Available until: 23rd March 2019 (Episode 1)
Recommended Box Set: Killing Eve
“You’re brilliant. Just don’t tell them everything, or you’ll sound like a nutter.” That’s the advice given to Eve (Sandra Oh) early on in Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s twistedly brilliant and brilliantly twisted new series. Part serial killer thriller, and part buddy comedy, this is dark, violent, and endlessly witty – a funny, female-led treat that’s one of the best shows of the year. Read our full review
Available until: 31st August 2022
Recommended Box Set: Trust
Months after All the Money in the World, Danny Boyle’s take on the John Paul Getty III kidnapping finally makes its way to UK TV screens, courtesy of the BBC. As you’d expect from Boyle, it’s a consummate piece of style: his camera whisks us through this world of wealth that is about to be lopsided by Getty’s disappearance. The cast, meanwhile, are relishing every second they get to sink their teeth into these rich, obnoxious people, from Donald Sutherland as the calculated Getty Senior to Hilary Swank as his daughter, and concerned mother to a stolen son. Brendan Fraser as the family’s fixer, though, is the best of the bunch, as he saunters through scenes with fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, swaggering confidence and a cowboy hat. Whether there’s much substance beneath all this surface will become clear soon enough – the whole box set is available on BBC iPlayer, and judging by the first highly entertaining couple of episodes, will likely prove hard to resist.
Available until: 14th January 2019 (Episode 1)
Recommended Box Set: Wanderlust
Netflix and BBC One team up for this accomplished adult drama, which teases titillation on the surface, as husband and wife Joy and Alan look elsewhere to get a boost for their flatlining sex life. But beneath the steamy scenes that have dominated headlines about the show lies a fantastically written drama from playwright Nick Payne, who balances spiky humour with a deceptively nuanced exploration of infidelity and marital commitment. The always-brilliant Toni Colette and Steven Mackintosh sell the shifts in tone, supported by a scene-stealing Zawe Ashton as Alan’s colleague, a teacher who finds herself in an embarrassing, inappropriate situation at school. Expect communication, consent and chemistry to reel you in over the coming six episodes, which promises a refreshingly frank attitude towards what goes on in the bedroom.
Available until: 9th April 2019 (Episode 1)
This Country: The Aftermath
BBC Three’s hilarious mockumentary returns for a one-off special that continues to balance understated laughs and unexpected character beats. The Aftermath picks up after Season 2, which saw the unwitting Kerry become embroiled in a criminal enterprise, thanks to her wayward father, and investigates the fallout and the impact on the village.
Available until: 8th April 2019
Now in its 14th season, this annual search for a new partner to work with Lord Sugar is bordering on tedium, with its unlikeable contestants each competing to be the most self-centred, egotistical person in the room. Amid the mediocre car crash telly, there’s still some amusement to be found in the opening of the new season, as each wannabe suited victor trumpets their own brand. “Mumpreneur.” “The Beyonce of business.” “A human cash machine.” Someone who “doesn’t just grab the bull by the horns, but gets him in headlock and squeezes”. At least there are some new buzzwords to put in your dictionary of idiotic words.
Available until: 15th January 2019 (Episode 1)
After Motherland, the news that Anna Maxwell Martin will be in another BBC Two programme with the word “mother” in the title might make you prepare for a similarly spiky comedy. This one-off drama, though, is as far away from that as you could imagine, as it takes us back to 1993, when a terrorist attack by the IRA in Warrington killed a young boy called Tim. Colin and Wendy, his parents, struggle to cope, while Sue, in Dublin, is spurred into action to form a movement calling for peace. Maxwell Martin is remarkable, leading a nuanced cast that includes a heartbreaking Daniel Mays, a moving Vicky McLure and a understated David Wilmot. Nick Leather’s sensitively written script gives them each a huge amount of grief and tragedy to shoulder. The result is a powerful portrait of determination and unity, as a quest for hope and tolerance emerges out of violence and despair.
Available until: 2nd March 2019
It goes without saying that Press, BBC One’s new drama about newspapers, gets journalism wrong in all the ways that Spotlight and The Post got it right. But it also goes without saying that, as the series is written by Mike “Doctor Foster” Bartlett, the whole thing is utterly gripping anyway. It introduces us to The Herald and The Post, two rival newspapers in northern England that stand on opposite sides of the same town square. One’s a well-meaning broadsheet, the other a tittle-tattle tabloid, and their contrasting attitudes towards what counts as news is the main source of tension. That’s driven by Ben Chaplin, who’s on brilliantly foul form as The Post’s sleazy, witty editor, and Charlotte Riley, who’s wonderful as the wounded Holly, The Herald’s Deputy News Editor whose interest in a hit and run steers a little too close to home than she’ll admit. In an age of clickbait, fake news and celebrity gossip, there’s never been a better time for a drama salaciously poring over the workings of the media. Whether this will tackle such important topics is yet to be seen, but the reporters are rounded characters, the cast have cracking chemistry and you’ll be grabbing your copy of the next issue as soon as it hits the stands.
Available until: 11th April 2019 (Episode 1)
The Mighty Redcar
The Mighty Redcar sounds like a spoof comedy, but BBC Two’s quietly surprising series is actually a real-life soap opera. Filmed over a year in the North Yorkshire town, the resulting portrait of a seaside community largely forgotten by the wider world is a vibrant, engrossing snapshot of modern Britain. The cast of people we meet already rivals that of Albert Square, from mum and daughter Kat and Kaitlyn saving up for Kaitlyn’s prom night dress, 19 year old James trying to stay on the straight and narrow, wannabe musician Dylan whose dreams are endearingly grounded, and the 17 year old Madison Cooper, who narrates the whole thing with an upbeat, charming tone that leaves you rooting for everyone on screen as they struggle to get through the mundane day to day. EastEnders has got nothing on this.
Available until: 31st October 2018 (Episode 1)
A Ben Elton comedy set in Elizabethan times, complete with ruffs, dead bodies and cunning plans? It’s easy to dismiss Upstart Crow, the writer’s new comedy about Shakespeare, as a budget Blackadder – or spend the whole time comparing it to that legendary comedy. Doing so, though, would miss out on what makes the show really quite good.
In its third season, David Mitchell remains, as you’d expect, suitably scathing as the burgeoning playwright. He’s a smart piece of casting, capable of giving the archetypal scowling antihero a hint of likeable charisma but also a dab hand at reciting long-winded passages of dialogue that are deliberately wordy with just enough disdain to make their awkwardness amusing. It’s partly so Ben Elton can poke fun at Shakespeare’s blank verse, which can be intimidating, but also so he can poke fun at his own determination to squeeze in as many play references as possible. Season 1 and 2 are also available as box sets.
Available until: April 2019
World’s Most Dangerous Cities
After BBC Three’s Ben Zand in Dictatorland and R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes, journalist Zands returns for what might his most striking documentary series yet. It does exactly what it says on the tin, taking us into the world’s most dangerous cities, but this is no light-hearted travelogue: Caracas currently boasts the world’s highest murder rate, and Zand and his team have to go undercover as tourists just to be allowed inside. Once there, they surreptitiously film the state of the Venezuelan city, including a scarily tense interview with the members of a local gang, who talk with resentment about the fact that they have no other option in life but to resort to crime.
Available until: 5th March 2019 (Episode 1)
Ancient Invisible Cities
While Ben Rand is uncovering violent, dangerous metropolises, Dr Michael Scott is having a much better time playing with a new 3D-scanning kit. The gizmo allows him to reveal the secrets of Cairo and Egypt, as he explores the first pyramid ever built at Saqqara. If you like history, technology or the idea of an Indiana Jones VR headset, you’ll be in heaven with this infectiously enthusiastic series.
Available until: 23rd March 2019 (Episode 1)>
Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema
Veteran of the BBC’s flagship film show, Wittertainment, Mark Kermode is a critic who needs little introduction, from his bequiffed head and large hands to even larger opinions and even more pointed rants. Here, he presents a guide to cinema one genre at a time, kicking off with the romantic comedy. From When Harry Met Sally to The Shape of Water, his insight is only rivalled by his enthusiasm, not only drawing the influences on Guillermo del Toro’s fishy fling through back to classic fantasy and horror, but also engaging happily with Richard Curtis’ modern version of the genre – by way of the effervescent writing of Nora Ephron. Structure, stereotypes and their subtle subversions are all scrutinised with detail without becoming dry, and the clips are neatly edited together to provide an enjoyable highlights reel over the pacy 60 minutes. The result is film criticism as it should be: accessible, informative and entertaining. There’s even a reference to Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.
Available until: 15th August 2019 (Episode 1)
Box Set: Pride and Prejudice
Oh, Mr. Darcy! Any chance to rewatch the BBC’s definitive take on Jane Austen’s novel, starring Colin Firth as you know who, is never to be missed.
Available until: 25th July 2019
Box Set: War and Peace
Andrew Davies begins the almost Herculean task of abridging Tolstoy’s literary classic into six hours of television with an impressively zippy first opening, which introduces us to 19th century Russia, as the country is drawn into war with France – and young idealist (and illegitimate son) Pierre Bezukhov finds himself the unexpected heir to his father’s wealth. Paul Dano is excellent as the hot-headed male, a nervy counterpart to the suave Prince Andrei, who wants to use the war to escape his wife. and a potential partner for the equally earnest Natasha Rostova (Lily James). The English-speaking cast and period costumes feel more like Jane Austen than Russia, but the successful juggling of subplots in itself is an achievement.
Available until: 11th January 2019
Box Set: Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle: Season 1 to 4
Stewart Lee is the death of stand-up comedy. His smug tirades and educated, middle-class opinions ruin it for everyone. For those who don’t like his intellectual concerns and patronising tone, he’s impossible to tolerate. For those who do, he makes it impossible to tolerate any other comedian. That’s the brilliance of Stewart Lee’s stand-up: either way, everyone ends up miserable.
Available until: 12th January 2019
The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan
Australia? Dara Ó Briain did a show there. Vietnam? Jack Whitehall went there with his dad. Cuba? Michael Palin. Brazil? Michael Palin. That’s Romesh Ranganathan going through the options for his new BBC travel series, which dispatches him to the world’s unlikeliest places for a holiday. Comedian travelogues are far from original, but Romesh Ranganathan has good form in the genre, with his travel series for BBC Three (Asian Provocateur) bringing a highly personal angle to a homecoming journey – it even brought his mum along in Season 2, setting a trend for comics bringing parents on travel shows with them. Fortunately, this new show finds another novel hook for Romesh’s travels, taking him to destinations that are deemed hostile or dangerous. He kicks off with a trip to Haiti to see if his preconceptions about the voodoo-loving culture is correct. He spends a week in Port au Prince, guided by journalist Jeremy Dupin, and there’s much mileage to be had in the unseen sights the programme unearths, from cathedrals destroyed by the earthquake to slums and a rapping session with a local musician – and, yes, a voodoo ceremony. Romesh is characteristically frank and entertainingly sceptical. “If it’s shit, I’ll tell you it’s shit,” he promises. The result is a likeable showcase for a charming TV presenter. “Is your mum coming?” his cameraman asks him at the start. “No,” comes the amusingly blunt reply. “Why would my mum be coming? Is your mum coming?”
Available until: 2nd July 2019 (Episode 1)
After the smash hit success of Keeping Faith, it’s a pleasure to BBC One Wales mystery Hidden get a proper airing on BBC Four in its Saturday night subtitled slot. That means you’ve got a psychological thriller stacking up on BBC iPlayer that’s just begging to binge-watched, and it doesn’t disappoint. The eight-part thriller follows DI Cadi John and DS Owen Vaughan, as they investigate the discovery of a body in Snowdonia National Park – the body of a woman missing since 2011. The discovery opens old wounds in the community, not to mention family tensions and anger at police incompetence. It looks early on like we’ve already got a clear handle on who’s responsible, but with classy visuals and a solid cast teasing some intriguing characters studies yet to unfold, there promises to more than enough meat on these bones to chew over. The occasional Welsh subtitles are a cool bonus.
Available until: 2nd June 2019 (Episode 1)
Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing
The Trip, but with fishing instead of food. That’s the premise behind this charmingly low-key chat between Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer, who go fishing in Norfolk for little reason other than catch some tench and shoot the breeze about health, childhood and bad Robert De Niro impressions. It’s not shockingly revelatory or a gripping gossip fest – and that’s exactly the point.
Available until: 24th July 2019 (Episode 1)
Our Girl: Nigeria Tour
Michelle Keegan is back as Georgie, everyone’s favourite plucky army medic who throws herself into her work training Nigerian forces, only to find herself pitched headlong into danger. Fighting against Boko Haram is the new element of tension in her latest tour, but it’s the focus on grief and trauma that marks this new season out, as the BBC military drama doesn’t shy away from exploring the emotional conflict that faces troops away from the frontline. With its soldier banter and occasionally broad characterisations, it would be easy to turn one’s nose up at Our Girl, but with Love Island on our screens, the reminder that women can have professions that have historically been associated with men is something worth celebrating, not least because of Keegan’s superbly charismatic central performance.
Available until: 23rd January 2019
This charming collection of comedy shorts balance sharp observations and witty writing with infectious imagination. Read our full review
Available for over a year
It’s been five decades since Kenneth Clark’s 1960s series Civilisation was first broadcast – you can catch up with the whole thing from the archives on BBC iPlayer. Now, BBC Two is rebooting the programme, and the extra ‘s’ on the end of the title is hugely promising stuff. From its opening hour, Simon Schama is thinking as big as it gets, trying to pin down the rise of creativity across the globe, from the first signs of scratches on pots for decorative purposes to paint swilled in mouths and blown out against cave walls. It may not have the fantastic beasts of Blue Planet II, but this is stunning stuff, with visuals that match the epic scope of what the Beeb is attempting to achieve. Whether there’s too much packed into an hour or not, the good news is that the show is available on BBC iPlayer for over a year for everyone to catch up with.
Available on BBC iPlayer
“I have written and directed a film about veganism,” says Simon Amstell. “I’m sorry.” If you laughed at that, you’ll love this. Set in 2067, when the human race has apparently converted entirely to veganism – an alternate universe to rival The Man in the High Castle and SS-GB for unnerving chills – Amstell’s mockumentary looks back at the years when people slowly began to realise the horror of consuming meat, eggs and other produce sourced or derived from animals. The film purports to explore the strange, alien idea that humans and animals aren’t equal, aiming to break the taboo surrounding Britain’s carnivorous past. It’s a neat way to tackle an oft-derided concept, by deliberately presenting what’s considered normal as the absurd – but Amstell, crucially, doesn’t lose sight of the ridiculousness of his own concept. The result is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and unsettling – and, most of unsettling of all, is the knowledge that, deep down, you may even feel yourself being won over by Amstell’s viewpoint. A thought-provoking, rib-tickling, stomach-churning satire. Read our full review.
Available until: March 2019
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season. (Read our full review.)
Available until: June 2020
Original Drama Shorts
BBC iPlayer continues to prove a platform for new talent with its latest bunch of shorts. From a moving demonstration of isolation and connection in an online age to a darkly funny – and unpredictable – story of female love and family loyalty, this is an impressively versatile collection of stories that are more than worth spending time with. (Read our full review.)
Available until: June 2020
Cold in July
Michael C Hall stars as a man who shoots a low-life burglar in 1989 Texas. He’s hailed as a hero by the town, but his father is soon out for revenge…
Available until: 24th December 2018
Testament of Youth
The always-excellent Alicia Vikander stars in this moving film based on the memoir of Vera Brittain, which depicts her fight to carry on living amid a seemingly endless wave of loss, as her brother and friends go off to fight in World War I.
Available until: 11th December
Minnie Driver leads a charming ensemble cast (including Aneurin Barnard) in this comedy drama about a school production of The Tempest in the 1970s – with contemporary music. A period Shakespearean high-school rock musical? This is hunky dory, indeed.
Available until: 15th December 2018
Hurt Locker Hero (The Deminer)
The heart-stopping story of ‘Crazy Fakhir’, a Kurdish colonel in the Iraqi army and legendary bomb disposal expert who single-handedly disarmed thousands of landmines across the country with just a pocket knife and a pair of wire clippers. (Read our full review)
Available until: 26th December
Tobey Maguire and Michael Douglas are on charming form in this comedy drama about a professor suffering from writer’s block while trying to deal with his complex love life and his troubled students’ assorted problems.
Available until: 3rd January 2019
Man on the Moon
Jim Carrey is remarkable in this biopic of controversial comedian Andy Kaufman. Star of Taxi and Saturday Night Live, Kaufman’s unorthodox humour was often misunderstood.
Available until: 3rd January 2019
Nuts in May
Director Mike Leigh’s iconic tale of camping holidays and all the hazards involved. Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman play Keith and Candice-Marie, who arrive at a Dorset campground for 10 nights of idyllic bliss, only for things to go inevitably awry…
Available until: 25th July 2019
I Walked with a Zombie
A nurse tending a paralysed woman on a Caribbean island discovers that her charge hides a terrifying secret. Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 classic stars Frances Dee and Tom Conway.
Available until: 23rd October 2023
Night of the Living Dead
George A Romero’s 1967 classc, which sees a group of people barricaded in a farmhouse to survive the reawakening of the dead, remains as chillingly relevant as ever.
Available until: 23rd October 2023
The Rack Pack
BBC iPlayer’s first scripted original drama follows the rise of snooker in the 1980s, as a young Steve Davis faces a heated rivalry with Alex “Hurricane” Higgins. Snooker may not be the most exciting or mainstream sport, but the film understands that it’s about people as much as potting – and Will Merrick as Davis and Luke Treadaway as Higgins are uncannily good, one hilariously awkward and the other tragically self-destructive. Together with business guru Barry Hearn (a brilliant Kevin Bishop) crafting a new, professional era for the sport, The Rack Pack is a moving tribute to a bygone sporting age and a legend who simply wouldn’t exist today. The result is something everyone should go snooker loopy over, whether they’re fans of the sport or not. Read our full review.
Photo: BBC / Zeppotron / Keiron McCarron
Adam Curtis’ latest documentary is perfectly at home on BBC iPlayer, freed from broadcasting constraints to ramble through the last three decades of global history to try and work out how we got to today’s world of Donald Trump and Brexit. The result is typically simplified and willfully obtuse, but there are thought-provoking flashes of inspiration amid the experimental mash-up of polemic and pop culture. Clocking in at almost three hours, no one else is making documentaries like this, and that’s something to be celebrated.
Available until: October 2021
BBC iPlayer’s second original feature is the follow-up to teen documentary Beyond Clueless. Young director Charlie Lyne and the Beeb’s streaming platform prove a scarily perfect match, the lack of constraints giving him the chance to fully embrace the experimental nature of his film essay. The documentary stitches together clips from existing horror movies to explore how and why they scare us, but instead of an explanatory voice-over critiquing and giving context, we’re given a whispered narration from an anonymous woman who is working through her own fears. Contrasting cuts and eerie echoes arise during the hypnotic 80-minute montage, quietly raising questions while offering a fresh insight into films that have, in some cases, become all too familiar. As interesting as it is creepy. (Read our full review.)
Available until: October 2020