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BBC History of England -- Learn by Watching BBC Movies and Shows

Updated on August 19, 2013

British History as Told by BBC Movies and Series Shows

If your knowledge of England's history is lacking but you're not interested in cracking a dull history book, watch BBC movies and series shows.

Learn about Great Britain from the numerous BBC hits that are based in fact. The variety of BBC television shows and movies that deal with British history is vast. The actors convincingly portray how people lived during the time which brings the stories to life.

Many BBC movies and shows are based on fiction books that were well read making the screen version an immediate hit as well.

Photo of Masterpiece Classic: Any Human Heart courtesy of Amazon. Click the link to check out this fabulous movie.

Wives and Daughters - 1830s

Wives and Daughters was first a novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell. At the time of her death, the novel was incomplete (the final scene wasn't written) but was finished by Frederick Greenwood.

Novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1865

Historical Events: Societal rather than major historical changes took place in one sheltered girl's life in Wives and Daughters.

Aired in the UK in 1999

Stars: Justine Waddell, Bill Paterson, Francesca Annis, Keeley Hawes, Tom Hollander

North and South - 1850s

The novel North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is set mainly in the north of England in a fictional mill town that was based on Manchester. The title refers to the differences in England from the industrial north and the agricultural south in the mid 1800s.

One Amazon reviewer said that it was the best British period drama ever made.

Novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1855

Historical Events: Cotton mill workers' strikes for fair wages, shorter hours, better conditions is central to the theme of this miniseries.

Aired in the UK in 2004

Stars: Daniela Denby-ashe, Richard Armitage, Sinead Cusack, Tim Pigott-Smith

Lark Rise to Candelford - Mid 1890s

Lark Rise to Candleford was first a book before it became a BBC series. Flora Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel was first published in 1939. The BBC series ran for four seasons, from 2008 to 2011.

Historical Events: Many changes started occurring during this time regarding mechanization of farming and movement from a rural to more urban life. A bicycle is introduced as a newfangled contraption for the postal workers to use.

Aired in the UK from 2008 to 2011.

Stars: Olivia Hallanan, Julia Sawalha, Claudie Blakely, Brendan Coyle, Mark Heap, John Dagleish

Any Human Heart - 1900s (Spans the Entire 20th Century)

"Never say you know the last word about any human heart...", quote from the book and movie.

William Boyd, who wrote the novel and the screenplay for this spectacular PBS production, asks and answers this question: How did a boy adrift on a placid river in Uruguay become a grizzled old man sorting through piles of boxes and books in an old country house in France? It's a fascinating ride!

Novel and screenplay written by William Boyd

Historical Events: Since this series spanned the whole of the 1900s, many major events were covered, notably World War II.

Aired 2010 in the UK, three-part TV series

Stars: Matthew MacFadyen, Jim Broadbent

The House of Eliott - 1910s and 1920s

The House of Eliott is a BBC drama featuring two sisters in stylish 1920s London. Beatrice and Evangaline Eliott, two beautiful sisters, struggle to the top of the fashion world.

Created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins of Upstairs, Downstairs fame

Set in London, England

Historical Events: The 9-day coal miners strike of 1926 impacted some characters on The House of Eliott. The infancy of the moving picture business is featured as one of the careers of Jack Maddox. He also has a career with the Labour Party.

Aired in the UK from 1991 to 1994.

Stars: Louise Lombard, Stella Gonet, Aden Gillett

Downton Abbey - 1910s and 1920s

Downton Abbey is the popular British drama that has just stared airing its third season here in the United States (Winter 2013). To say the show is popular is like saying Bates should be freed. (It's a given.)

Historical Events: Downton Abbey takes advantage of all of the big historical events of its time opening the series with the sinking of the Titantic in 1912. Other major events include women suffragettes and World War I.

Aired: in UK from 2010 to 2011. Season 3 has aired in Britain and is now airing in the U.S.

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Jim Carter, Dan Stevens, Michelle Docker, Laura Carmichael, Brendan Coyle

Lilies - 1920

Lilies is an original movie written by Heidi Thomas. The show's tagline was "Liverpool, 1920. Three girls on the edge of womanhood, a world on the brink of change."

Screenplay written by Heidi Thomas

Set in Liverpool, England

Historical Events: Post World War II Garston, a poor area of Liverpool, is portrayed realistically. Scarlet fever reared its ugly head. Immigration was touched upon (the local butcher was from Austria), as well as issues of eugenics, female emancipation, and homosexuality, which was then illegal.

Aired in the UK in 2007

Stars: Eithne Browne, Marie Critchley, Curtis Rivers, Barry McCormick, Georgia Taylor

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

Do you like watching BBC movies & shows? - Do you learn about British history or just veg out while watching?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I like English novels. Don't watch too much drama on TV or go to many movies. I'm fortunate in that my next-door neighbor and my main source of "All Things England" is an elderly (late 80's) widow/warbride. While no longer spry her mind and recollections of te old country are still top notch.

    • Tiffany3 profile image


      5 years ago

      I love several of these. Great suggestions!

    • click2CYtoday profile image


      6 years ago

      I love watching BBC movies and always learn a ton about British history. A&E or A&E paired with BBC does a great job too. Some of my favorites are Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Wives and Daughters, Little Dorrit and Larkrise to Candelford.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      6 years ago

      Not me, but my sister does. She is the Anglophile in the family.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      We watch Dr. Who, does that count? I am going to have to keep these in mind once my daughter gets home from her trip to England. We've been all about England for months preparing for her trip.......and I'm sure she will still want to be all about it once she gets home.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 

      6 years ago

      Haven't yet ... I find the British accent a bit rough to comprehend ... LOL ... Good link though for those who are interested in History and England. Been to Bath and seen the old Roman structures ... I brought my own soap and towel but they wouldn't let me have a bath ...


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