15 Best Historical Movies on Netflix UK

15 Best Historical Movies on Netflix UK

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Whether you’re a proud Brit or more critical of the UK, it’s hard to deny that history and tradition—and the discourse surrounding all of it—play an especially important part in the country’s culture. So if you’re interested in seeing how historical events in Britain and around the world are packaged and discussed in movies, look no further than the slate of historical films available on Netflix UK. Here you can find not only straightforward retellings, but historical fiction and original stories using their respective time periods to emphasize different themes. Remember: you can never demand 100% accuracy from historical movies, but you can always gain a fuller picture of how people revere, contest, or continue to ask questions about history.

1. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

9.1

Country

India, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Aaron Sorkin

Actors

Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg, Ben Shenkman, Blair Lewin

From Aaron Sorkin, the creator of every liberal’s favorite 2000s political drama, The West Wing, The Social Network, and the master of the “walk and talk”, comes the dramatization of a sadly true American story from the mid-last century. In 1968, different groups from all over the country travelled to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention. The Chicago police greeted them in full riot gear, purposely attacking the peaceful protesters. Five months later, eight of them (charges against Black Panther leader Bobby Seale were dismissed) were arrested for inciting riot. As the title suggests, the film details the trials that followed, which highlight the still ongoing battles within American society and politics: racism, ineptness, corruption, complacency, you name it. On a lighter note, while you wouldn’t necessarily call this an ensemble cast, the number of unlikely familiar faces in this film is off the charts: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sascha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne. It also features some of the greatest supporting actors in American TV history like John Carrol Lynch, Frank Langella, and the amazing John Doman aka Bill Rawls from The Wire.

2. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Shaka King

Actors

Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King’s exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren’t fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton’s words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O’Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he’s been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya’s performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O’Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

3. Munich (2005)

best

8.8

Country

Canada, France, Germany

Director

Steven Spielberg

Actors

Abdelhafid Metalsi, Alexander Beyer, Ami Weinberg, Amos Lavi

Moods

Dramatic, Instructive, Suspenseful

From Steven Spielberg, Munich is the sharp and thrilling depiction of Mossad agents on a mission to avenge the Munich Massacre, the killing of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite being based on real events, it’s a work of fiction. This allows the film to stand on clear yet nuanced grounds, focusing on the moral dilemmas that may rise for the secret agents and the perpetrators, now targets. The ensemble cast including Daniel Craig and Eric Bana allow Spielberg to deliver the film you can tell he wanted to make. A personal and striking effort.

4. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

best

8.7

Country

Czech Republic, Germany, United Kingdom

Director

Edward Berger

Actors

Aaron Hilmer, Adrian Grünewald, Albrecht Schuch, André Marcon

Moods

Action-packed, Challenging, Dark

All Quiet on the Western Front is a period epic that unflinchingly shows us the savagery and senselessness of war. Set at the tail end of World War I, it follows two main stories: that of German soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), whose boyish eagerness for warfare is diminished with each bloody step he takes towards the frontline, and that of Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl), the real-life German politician tasked to negotiate a ceasefire between the French and German forces.

Grim and sobering, the movie will leave you nothing less than stunned after viewing. Like 1917 before it, All Quiet on the Western Front relies on the juxtaposition of raw brutality and peaceful quiet to effectively forward its anti-war message. The film is Germany’s official entry for the 2023 Academy Awards.

5. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

best

8.5

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Mark Herman

Actors

Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Emotional

You’ve probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father’s concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno’s eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

best

8.2

Country

France

Director

Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Actors

Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras

Moods

Heart-warming, Romantic, Well-acted

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn’t approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

7. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

8. The Death of Stalin (2017)

best

8.1

Country

Belgium, Canada, France

Director

Armando Iannucci

Actors

Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Funny

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin’s death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they’re really smart, but what’s actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

9. Official Secrets (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Canada, China, Switzerland

Director

Gavin Hood

Actors

Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen

Moods

Instructive, Suspenseful, True-story-based

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

10. Dark Waters (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Todd Haynes

Actors

Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner

Moods

Dramatic, Thought-provoking, True-story-based

Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins star in this well-executed and eye-opening drama based on a true story. Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is a successful corporate lawyer in New York. He is visited by a distressed farmer from his hometown in Cincinnati whose cows have been developing strange behaviors and diseases. Robert decides to take on this case in what will become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in the country: the use of cancerous chemicals by the company that commercializes Teflon (the stuff in pans). Excellent acting in an incredibly frustrating but necessary story that will trouble you more than any other legal thriller you have watched in the past: prepare to be outraged (and throw away your pans).

Curated by humans, not algorithms.

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