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The best drama series to watch on BBC iPlayer

Posted by
Lucy Robson
Published
Ruth Wilson in Mrs Wilson

The BBC has released some of its best ever period dramas, crime dramas & historical dramas on BBC iPlayer for you to stream now, or download and watch on your commute.

The BBC has released over 100 of its best ever TV series on streaming platform BBC iPlayer. What’s more, these excellent TV dramas come perfectly packaged as full box sets, available to watch online or download, for your binge-watching pleasure.

The archive available to watch on iPlayer of course features the best of BBC TV in many different genres, but we wanted to narrow it down and focus on what the BBC surely does best, a bloody good drama series. Examples include intense political thrillers (Bodyguard, Informer), historical dramas (A Very English Scandal, Mrs Wilson), period dramas based on classic novels (Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace) and family dramas (The Cry, Wanderlust), to name but a mere few. 

Without further ado, here is the Stylist guide to the best drama series the BBC has ever produced, old and new, to watch in full on BBC iPlayer now, or to download and watch on your commute. Go forth and binge watch!

Period Dramas based on a book

Pride and Prejudice TV Series 1995

Pride and Prejudice TV series still 1995

The Bennett Sisters in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

Who is in the Pride and Prejudice BBC TV adaption?

Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Alison Steadman.

Where can I watch the BBC Pride and Prejudice TV series? 

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Pride and Prejudice about and what else do I need to know about it?

This TV adaption of Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, follows literary heroine Elizabeth Bennett, as she reluctantly navigates the social scene of early 19th century Britain, where the highest ambition for a woman was to marry a man “in possession of a good fortune.” Enter a grumpy, brooding and jodhpur clad Mr Darcy (Colin Firth), who after initially making a terrible impression on Miss Bennett, manages to redeem himself and evolve into the romantic hero we all know and love.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest love stories of all time, there have been many attempts over the years to capture the passion between Mr Darcy and Miss Bennet on screen, with lukewarm success. 

Then came along this six-part TV adaption from genius screenwriter Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Vanity Fair, War and Peace). The hugely popular period drama first aired in 1995 to critical acclaim, and since then has gone on to achieve classic status in itself, becoming one of the most popular BBC dramas of all time. Not only that, The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice was the inspiration for Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary (also starring Colin Firth as, erm, Mr Darcy).

Watch Pride and Prejudice (complete series) on BBC iPlayer here.

War and Peace TV Series 2016

Lily James and James Norton War and Peace cast 2016

Lily James and James Norton, cast of the BBC’s War and Peace

Who is in BBC TV adaption of War and Peace? 

Lily James, Paul Dano, James Norton, Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson.

Where and when can I watch the War and Peace BBC TV series? 

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is War and Peace about and what else do I need to know about it? 

Another classic book to screen transformation from screenwriter Andrew Davies, this time adapted from the, quite literally, epic 1867 novel by Leo Tolstoy. You may recognise War and Peace as that high brow Russian classic of intimidating length, which follows the lives of friends Pierre, Natasha and Andrei as they are affected in different ways by Napoleon’s invasion of early 19th century Russia.

In 2016, the BBC made War and Peace into an easily digestible, not to mention incredibly chic period drama, with a stellar cast of British talent to boot, including Lily James, James Norton and Jim Broadbent. Also, in the main role (and the one that steals the show, we might add) as Pierre Bezukhov, we have the brilliant American actor and director Paul Dano (Wildlife, Ruby Sparks).  

Watch the BBC’s War and Peace (complete series) on BBC iPlayer here.

Little Dorrit TV Series

Who is in Little Dorrit? 

Claire Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Judy Parfitt, Russell Tovey.

When and where can I watch Little Dorrit?

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Little Dorrit about and what else do I need to know about it?

This Emmy award-winning period drama from the BBC is based on a series of mystery novels by Charles Dickens. As is often the case with Dicken’s stories, this is a rags to riches tale, following the life of Amy Dorrit, the youngest of the Dorrit siblings (hence ‘little’). Born and raised in Marshalsea prison for debtors in London, where her father has been imprisoned for twenty years, The Crown’s Claire Foy stars in an early role as Little Dorrit. 

This 2008 TV version of the lesser known Charles Dickens novels was extremely well received, going on to win the Primetime Emmy Award for ‘outstanding Limited Series’ as well as ‘outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special.’

Watch Little Dorrit (complete TV series) on BBC iPlayer here.

Best Detective & Crime Dramas on the BBC

Bodyguard Series 1

Richard Madden and Keely Hawes in Bodyguard

Richard Madden and Keely Hawkes in Bodyguard

Who is in the Bodyguard TV series? 

Richard Madden, Keely Hawkes, Anjli Mohindra, Sophie Rundle, Gina McKee.

When and where can I watch Bodyguard? 

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Bodyguard about and what else do I need to know about it?

Created by legendary, king of crime Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty), Bodyguard is the story of troubled war veteran David Budd (Madden). Forced to navigate his new life as appointed Bodyguard for the controversial home secretary Julia Montague (Hawkes), while suffering from crippling PTSD following his time serving in Afghanistan, which has also contributed to the breakdown of his marriage. 

When the series began in the autumn of 2018, everyone was talking about it. A recent report from the BBC has revealed that, astoundingly, not only is Bodyguard the most watched series of 2018, it is in fact the most watched UK drama since records began. With a staggering 17 million people tuning into watch the season finale alone, it’s clear that this tense political thriller really captured the public imagination.

Viewing figures aside, Bodyguard has been widely praised by critics, with the first twenty minutes of the first episode (which have to be some of the most tense scenes ever shown in a TV drama), going on to win the 2018 Unmissable Award for ‘TV Moment of the Year.’

Watch Bodyguard series 1 (complete Series) on BBC iPlayer here.

Luther

Idris Elba and Wunmi Mosaku in Luther

Idris Elba and Wunmi Mosaku in Luther Series 5

Who is in Luther? 

Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Rose Leslie, Wunmi Mosaku, Hermione Norris, Dermot Crowley.

When and where can I watch Luther? 

Series 1- 4 available now in full, on BBC iPlayer. Series 5 will be available to watch from the New Year on iPlayer.

What is Luther about and what else do I need to know about it?

Another of the BBC’s most gripping and original detective dramas Luther, follows detective DCI John Luther in his now famous coat, as he takes down some of the most twisted and violent criminals in London, while struggling with anger issues that threaten to wreck both his career and personal life. 

One of the more intriguing elements of Luther is his relationship with psychopathic on-off lover Alice Morgan, played excellently by Ruth Wilson. At the end of series 4 Wilson’s character was believed to have died ‘off screen,’ but if we are honest, we all know what it means when there is no body in a TV series - and Alice Morgan has already shown herself to be shockingly resilient. 

So far, four series of Luther have aired on the BBC. On New Year’s Day, Luther will be back with series five. As soon as the full fifth season of Luther has aired in full on the BBC, all five series will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer. 

Watch series 1-4 of Luther on BBC iPlayer here

Watch the latest trailer for Luther series 5 trailer here.

Killing Eve

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve

Who is in Killing Eve?

Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw, Kim Bodnia, 

When and where can I watch Killing Eve

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Killing Eve about and what else do I need to know about it?

Bodyguard may be the most watched BBC drama of 2018 or, ever, according to British viewing figures, but detective drama Killing Eve is the real winner of our hearts at Stylist.  

This is a cat and mouse detective story like no other, which has already reached iconic status, due to intricately drawn, complex female characters, brought expertly to life by leads Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer - and supporting actor Fiona Shaw. 

Created by the incredible Phoebe Waller Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve is based on a series of detective novels, Codename Villanelle by British author Luke Jennings. The story follows ruthless Russian serial killer, Villanelle (Comer) and eccentric MI5 operative Eve Polastri (Oh) as they try to outwit one another. The chemistry between the hunter and the hunted is electrifying. 

Watch Killing Eve (complete series) on BBC iPlayer here

Informer TV Series

Nabhaan Rizwan in BBC drama Informer

Nabhaan Rizwan as Raza in Informer

Who is in Informer?

Nabhaan Rizwan, Paddy Considine, Jessica Raine, Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, Sunetra Sarker.

When and where can I watch Informer

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Informer about and what else do I need to know about it?

Another 2018 BBC series that really got people talking this year was brilliant counter terror drama Informer. The story follows second-generation Pakistani, Raza Shar (Rizwan) who, after being arrested for a petty crime, is coerced into becoming a police informer for the Counter-Terrorism Special Unit, specifically reporting to tough DS Gabe Waters (Consadine), who has a dark history of his own.

Informer is gritty, sharp and well observed, with grim scenes from the start - yet this intriguing show is also cleverly offset with humour. Amazing breakthrough performances from, in particular, 21-year-old Nabhaan Rizwan as street-wise Raza, and Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, who plays Raza’s at times scary sidekick, Dadir, whose developing relationship from cell mates to partners in crime, absolutely steals the show.

There are six episodes in the first series of Informer, each named after a song chosen by the writers, such as The Rolling’s Stones’ Ruby Tuesday for episode 2 and Oasis’s The Master Plan for episode 6. 

Watch Informer (complete series) on BBC iPlayer here.

Best Political & Historical Dramas on the BBC  

Mrs Wilson TV Series

Ruth Wilson in Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson stars as Mrs Wilson

Who is in Mrs Wilson?

Ruth Wilson, Keely Hawkes, Fiona shaw, Iain Glen. 

When and where can I watch Mrs Wilson

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is Mrs Wilson about and what else do I need to know about it?

This historical drama is based on the extraordinary true story of Alison Wilson, who discovers that her late husband, a spy for MI6, was in fact a serial bigamist with a total of four wives and seven children across the marriages. 

Ruth Wilson stars as Alison Wilson, who astonishingly, was her real life grandmother. Ahead of the TV series release, Wilson revealed that she knew nothing about her grandparents twenty-year relationship, up until reading her paternal grandmothers two-part memoir. In accordance with her Grandmothers wishes, the first part was to be read by her grandchildren shortly before she died, the second part just after her death, which occurred in 2005. 

Whats most fascinating is how Wilson’s grandfather ‘Alec’ Wilson was able to get away with having four separate families for so long, not to mention what his motives really were in marrying four different women. Thanks to his career in MI6, his record are shrouded in secrecy to this day. Speaking about the new TV dramatisation of her grandmothers plight, Wilson said, “we don’t know if the marriages were partly – were they for work? Were they for love? We still don’t have clarity on that. So he’s a man of mystery.”

Watch Mrs Wilson (complete series) on BBC iPlayer here.

A Very English Scandal TV show

Who is in A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison. 

When and where can I watch A Very English Scandal

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is A Very English Scandal about and what else do I need to know about it?

A Very British Scandal is the true story of one of the most notorious political scandals in Britain ever, ‘the Thorpe affair,’ which resulted in the disgrace of married Lib Dem leader Jeremy Thorpe, after he was accused of trying to murder his alleged young lover, Norman Scott.

This three-part dark comedy from the BBC was adapted for screen by Russell T Davies, based on the non-fiction novel of the same name, by John Preston. Hugh Grant is brilliant, in a career highlight as scheming but charming Jeremy Thorpe, while Ben Whishaw is great as the troubled and equally devious Norman Scott. The Inbetweener’s Blake Harrison is hilarious as the whealer dealer ‘hitman’ who in a drunken haze (reportedly after 16 pints), agrees to kill Scott on behalf of Thorpe. 

Watch the BBC’s A Very British Scandal (complete series) here.

House of Cards 1990 TV series 

Who is in the original House of Cards UK TV series from 1990?

Ian Richardson, Susannah Harker, David Lyon, Diane Fletcher. 

Where and when can I watch House of Cards BBC TV series from 1990?

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is House of Cards UK series about and what else do I need to know about it?

Political thriller novel House of Cards, written by Conservative MP Michael Dobbs, was originally adapted for screen by superstar screenwriter Andrew Davies, in the British version of the series that aired in 1990 on the BBC. 

The series begins in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation as UK prime minister and follows conniving politician Francis Urquhart as he lies and cheats his way to the top of his party. This Shakespearean tale of power and treachery in Westminster was a sensation in the nineties, so much so the British show was adapted for a US audience in 2013. The latest TV adaption of House of Cards is now one of the most watched original series on Netflix, starring Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey. 

Watch the BBC adaption of House of Cards (complete series) here

Family Dramas on the BBC

The Cry

Jenna Colman in The Cry

Jenna Coleman in The Cry

Who is in The Cry?

Jenna Coleman, Ewen Leslie, Asher Keddie, Stella Gonet.

Where and when can I watch The Cry?

Full TV series available now on BBC iPlayer.

What is The Cry about and what else do I need to know about it?

The Cry is a dark, psychological drama series, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Helen Fitzgerald. The plot follows new mum Joanna and her husband, Alister (Leslie), as they travel to Australia to visit his mother and fight for custody of his teenage daughter from a previous marriage. Shortly after their arrival, the unthinkable happens (or does it) and their lives and relationship begin to unravel.

Jenna Colman is on form here as grieving mother Joanna, while Ewan Leslie (Top of the Lake) is terrifying in the role of controlling husband. 

Watch the BBC’s The Cry (complete series) here.

Read next:

The Cry: everything you need to know about the BBC1 show

This article will be updated, so keep checking this page for new BBC dramas released to steam on BBC iPlayer.

Main image: BBC 

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Lucy Robson

Lucy Robson is an SEO writer for Stylist.co.uk, who enjoys chasing trends and writing about books, film, TV and other lifestyle and feminist news.

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