15 Best Historical Movies on Netflix UK

Updated May 17, 2024 • Staff

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.

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15.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama, Family, History
Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bruno Chitsulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Eddie Mbugua, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo, Fredrick Lukhere, Grace Msiska, Hope Chisano, Joseph Marcell, Kelvin Chimpokoser, Khalani Makunje, Latifa Tambala, Lemogang Tsipa, Lily Banda, Lomuthi Jere, Maxwell Simba, Noma Dumezweni, Owen Chikanken, Philbert Falakeza, Raymond Ofula
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rating: TV-PG
14.

The Wind Rises (2013)

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, History, Romance, War
Actor: Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura, Kaichi Kaburagi, Keiko Takeshita, Mansai Nomura, Martin Short, Masahiko Nishimura, Miori Takimoto, Mirai Shida, Morio Kazama, Sascha, Shinobu Otake, Stephen Alpert
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: PG-13
13.

Official Secrets (2019)

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.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton
Director: Gavin Hood
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch Official Secrets (2019) on Hulu for free
12.

Dark Waters (2019)

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).

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner, Angel Kerns, Anita Farmer Bergman, Anne Hathaway, Barry G. Bernson, Barry Mulholland, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Bret Aaron Knower, Brian Gallagher, Buz Davis, Caleb Dwayne Tucker, Carly Tamborski, Chaney Morrow, Clara Harris, Courtney DeCosky, Daniel R. Hill, David Fultz, David Myers Gregory, Denise Dal Vera, Elizabeth Marvel, Geoff Falk, Glen Yrigoyen, Greg Violand, Jason M. Griggs, Jeffrey Grover, Jim Laprelle, Joanne Popolin, John Newberg, John W. Harden, Jon Osbeck, Karen Koester, Kathleen Ellerman, Keating P. Sharp, Kelly Mengelkoch, Kevin Crowley, Lea Hutton Beasmore, Louisa Krause, Lyman Chen, Marcia Dangerfield, Mare Winningham, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Hudson, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Michael King, Mike Seely, Ming Wang, Ramona Schwalbach, Richard Hagerman, Robert Gerding, Scarlett Hicks, Sheryl Annette Colley, Steven Schraub, Teri Clark, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William "Bucky" Bailey, William Jackson Harper, Wynn Reichert
Director: Todd Haynes
Rating: PG-13
11.

Descendant (2022)

Although Descendant is built around the finding of the Clotilda—the last ship to bring African slaves to the United States—this documentary knows that there's so much more potent drama in the stories of the ordinary people of Africatown, Alabama. As this painful reminder of the roots of their community is salvaged from the water, their view of history itself begins to change. Now they face the responsibility of making sure that the Clotilda doesn't just become a tourist attraction, and that their call for reparations unites the Mobile region of Alabama more than anything else. Its a gripping, complex documentary that feels like reading a great novel.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, History
Actor: Cleon Jones
Director: Margaret Brown
10.

The Swimmers (2022)

The Swimmers tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini (played by fellow sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa), Syrian swimmers trained to compete at the Olympics. When their athletic goals and overall safety are threatened by the increasing presence of war, the girls decide to take a chance and migrate to Europe, where they hope to live out their dreams and reunite with their family someday.

The Swimmers is a touching family drama that does right to center on the love and tension between the siblings. Yusra and Sara’s relationship perfectly encapsulates the envy and resentment but also the deep love and loyalty that are present in every sister bond. It’s tender in these moments, but it can also be equally searing—as a refugee drama, it chillingly tracks the complicated and inhumane processes of fleeing one’s country for a safer future.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Ahmed Malek, Alfredo Tavares, Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Daniel Eghan, Dritan Kastrati, Elmi Rashid Elmi, Giorgio Spiegelfeld, James Floyd, Kinda Alloush, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nahel Tzegai, Nathalie Issa, Roderick Hill
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Rating: PG-13
9.

Farha (2021)

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, War
Actor: Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom, Sultan Alkhail
Director: Darin J. Sallam
Rating: TV-14
8.

The Death of Stalin (2017)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, History
Actor: Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Alla Binieieva, Andrea Riseborough, Andrey Korzhenevskiy, Andy Gathergood, Cara Horgan, Dan Mersh, Daniel Booroff, Daniel Chapple, Daniel Fearn, Daniel Smith, Daniel Tatarsky, Daniel Tuite, Dave Wong, David Crow, Dermot Crowley, Diana Quick, Elaine Caxton, Ellen Evans, Emilio Iannucci, Eva Sayer, Ewan Bailey, George Potts, Gerald Lepkowski, Henry Helm, James Barriscale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Limb, Jonathan Aris, Jonny Phillips, June Watson, Justin Edwards, Karl Johnson, Leeroy Murray, Luke D'Silva, Michael Ballard, Michael Palin, Nicholas Sidi, Nicholas Woodeson, Oleg Drach, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Paul Ready, Paul Whitehouse, Phil Deguara, Richard Brake, Ricky Gabriellini, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rupert Friend, Sebastian Anton, Sheng-Chien Tsai, Simon Russell Beale, Steve Buscemi, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Tim Steed, Tom Brooke, Yulya Muhrygina
Director: Armando Iannucci
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Death of Stalin (2017) on Hulu for free
7.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

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.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Alan Metoskie, Alex Henderson, Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg, Ben Kass, Ben Shenkman, Blair Lewin, Brady Jenness, Brandon Fierro, Brendan Burke, C.J. Wilson, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Christian Litke, Damian Young, Danny Flaherty, David Fierro, Ed Flynn, Eddie Redmayne, Edward Fletcher, Frank Langella, Gavin Haag, J. C. MacKenzie, James Pravasilis, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, John Doman, John F. Carpenter, John Quilty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juliette Angelo, Kate Miller, Kathleen Garrett, Keeley Morris, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Kevin O'Donnell, Larry Mitchell, Lex Elle, Mark Rylance, Max Adler, Meghan Rafferty, Michael A. Dean, Michael Keaton, Michelle Hurst, Mike Brunlieb, Noah Robbins, Sacha Baron Cohen, Shawn Parsons, Steve Routman, Tah von Allmen, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Wayne Duvall, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Rating: R
6.

Belfast (2021)

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Chris McCurry, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Drew Dillon, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, James O'Donnell, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Kit Rakusen, Lara McDonnell, Leonard Buckley, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli
Director: Kenneth Branagh

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