The best BBC films to watch on iPlayer right now

John Boyega Small Axe
John Boyega in 'Red, White and Blue', just one of the great films you can find on BBC iPlayer. (Image credit: BBC)

Looking for the best BBC films available on BBC iPlayer?

BBC streaming service iPlayer is at the forefront of the revolution in how we watch television. Some of the best BBC dramas and shows are released in their entirety on iPlayer so viewers can binge their favorite shows long before they air.

It's the same with movies, meaning BBC productions are no longer blink-and-you-miss-em moments. If you didn’t catch Small Axe or Horrible Histories: The Movie on TV, then you've still got months to watch them at your own leisure. 

There's plenty of great movies on iPlayer right now, from oldies like Top Hat to horror (The Conjuring), documentary (Whitney: Can I Be Me?), comedy (Game Night) and drama (Sliding Doors).

But which are the top BBC-produced films currently on offer?

The best BBC films available right now in iPlayer

'Together (2021)' 

Best BBC Films - Together

(Image credit: BBC Films)

A dream cast of Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy unite to star in this lockdown comedy-drama about a husband and wife forced to evaluate their relationship when the COVID-19 pandemic forces them into a confined space for what seems like an infinite amount of time.

“I hate your face,” says James’s ‘He’ to ‘She’ and that sets the template for a clever, witty situation comedy which feels a little like a stage play —in the best way— about how our lives and relationships have been strained and changed forever by coronavirus. 

Directed by the esteemed Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), viewers be warned: for some couples this may be too close to home. 

Duration: 87 minutes

Certificate: G (strong language throughout)

What the critics say: The Independent “Sometimes Together is very funny. I expect many viewers will relate to its vision of the realities of life in lockdown.” 

'Horrible Histories: The Movie (2019)' 

Best BBC Films - Horrible Histories: The Movie

(Image credit: Altitude Film)

The concept of Horrible Histories needs no introduction (if it does, think history told through the eyes of a toilet-obsessed six-year-old) and the popular CBBC kids' show reaches the big-screen with ‘Rotten Romans’. This film documents how the Romans invaded Britain, quelled a Celt rebellion, and introduced public sanitation.

The cast is spectacular, with everyone from a comically evil Kim Cattrall to Kate Nash as warrior queen Boudicca, plus Lee Mack, Sir Derek Jacobi, Alexander Armstrong, and Sanjeev Bhaskar popping up in all manner of roles. 

We particularly enjoyed Craig Roberts as Emperor Nero and Nick Frost as Arghus but if you blink, you’ll miss another British star. Not for refined tastes, but perfect for younger viewers — an entertaining all-rounder with some decent jokes (“We’re going to have to limit your scroll-time!”).

Certificate: PG

Duration: 88 minutes

What the critics say: The Guardian“This is a decent bit of school holiday entertainment, though I felt that some of the purely broad humour did seem to be pitched at a pretty young audience.” 

'Stan & Ollie (2018)' 

Best BBC Films - Stan & Ollie

(Image credit: Entertainment One)

The world’s most popular comedy duo Laurel & Hardy have fallen on hard times towards the end of their career. In Stan & Ollie, they embark on a dismal UK tour in the 1950s, trying to pay off debts and resurrect their film career in this bittersweet portrait of the men’s fragile relationship which is collapsing under the weight of growing resentment, bad health and changing fashions.

Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie absolutely look the part, and the comic actors deliver convincing performances as the Hollywood heroes fallen on hard times. It is pure pathos when Stan throws a bread roll at the back of Ollie’s head  —  what would have once had an audience in stitches is, in context, a sad statement about the end of their friendship.

Duration: 91 minutes

Certificate: PG

What the critics say: The New York Times “Replace flirtation and sex with pratfalls and comic repartee and Stan & Ollie is a heartstrings-yanking Hollywood romance.” 

'Small Axe' (2020) 

Best BBC Films - Small Axe

(Image credit: BBC/McQueen Limited/Will Robson-Scott)

Oscar-winner Steve McQueen turns his focus to race relations in London in the 1970s in Small Axe, an anthology set in the Caribbean community of West London. Each film is jaw-dropping stories that are based on real events.

Education is a case in point: it tells the heartbreaking story of 12-year-old Kingsley, who struggles at school because of his undiagnosed dyslexia. Kingsley is quickly excluded from normal school and sent to a special educational needs school, where it becomes apparent there is a deliberate policy of segregating black children on almost any pretext. 

Another film, Lovers Rock is a pure recreation of a house party on All Saints Road and we’re not sure any do has been captured with such authenticity – the a cappella rendition of Janet Kay’s Silly Games is worth an award all of its own.

Small Axe also includes ‘Alex Wheatle’, ‘Mangrove’ and ‘Red, White and Blue’, starring John Boyega. 

Duration: 63-127 minutes

Certificate: 15

What the critics say: Variety “In any year… Small Axe would be a historic achievement. But in 2020, amid a worldwide reckoning on racial injustice while a pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entertainment industry — blurring the lines between film and TV — this five-part series is an auspicious game-changer.” 

'The Eichmann Show (2015)' 

Best BBC Films - The Eichmann Show

(Image credit: BBC)

Subtitled The Nazi Trial of the Century, this docu-drama revolves around the capture and subsequent trial of one of the infamous principals of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Simultaneously, it shows the battle of TV producer Milton Fruchtman (Martin Freeman) and director Leo Hurwitz (Anthony LaPaglia) to get his trial televised. The men fought to ensure the evil of the Nazis would be shown to the world just as far-right politics once again began to stir.

The film combines real footage from the original trial with the story of the TV production, lending it an authentic feel. With Sherlock star Martin leading the way, and fine support from the likes of Rebecca Front, it is a solid addition to important films about the Nazis that include Schindler’s List and Downfall

Duration: 90 minutes

Certificate: 15

What the critics say: “Here, the interweaving of archive footage took bold effect. It had to. The testimonies are difficult, terrifying and almost beyond comprehension. Recreating them would seem too jarring and they were smartly left as they were presented at the time, leaving the witnesses to speak and letting the audience listen.” 

'Effie Gray (2014)' 

Best BBC films - Effie Gray

(Image credit: Universal)

A Victorian love triangle featuring none other than Strictly Come Dancing 2021 contestant Greg Wise as real-life art critic John Ruskin starring alongside Hollywood star Dakota Fanning. With heartthrob Tom Sturridge, Greg’s wife, Emma Thompson, and legendary actress Julie Walters also in the mix, how could it possibly go wrong?

It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a modest treat of a retelling of a drama that shocked the society of its day. The story, written by Emma, revolves around 50-something Ruskin marrying teenager, Effie Gray (Fanning). As if that wasn't scandalous enough, Effie tires of her unconsummated marriage to Ruskin and life as a pretty appendage in high society and falls for the young rebellious painter, John Everett Millais (Sturridge). As you'd expect, this unleashes all manner of polite scorn in this uptight society.

Duration: 99 minutes

Certificate: 12A

What the critics say: Variety “There’s presumably more heated drama behind the screen than there is upon it in Effie Gray, a literate, lovingly mounted and exceedingly well-behaved historical biopic that has sidled into British theatres after two years of less polite legal conflicts.” 

'The Mother' (2003) 

Best BBC films - The Mother

(Image credit: Momentum Pictures)

Prepare to be stunned by this jaw-dropping family drama in which the wonderful Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax) plays a recently bereaved woman who falls for her daughter’s builder-turned-boyfriend (played by a pre-Bond Daniel Craig).

Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and written by controversial author and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, The Mother will not be to everyone’s taste, as its tale of deceit, duplicity, and betrayal features some scenes of an adult nature. However, the film is expertly acted (Reid won the 2004 London Critics Circle award and was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance) and is certainly a unique take on the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, so has its rewards. Not one to watch with your own mother! 

Duration: 105 minutes

Certificate: 15

What the critics say: The Guardian – “Anne Reid and Daniel Craig are two first-rate performers who submit to their pairing with professionalism and dedication. They deserved a better film than this.” 

'Bill' (2015) 

Best BBC films - Bill

(Image credit: Vertigo Films)

From the team which produces Horrible Histories, Bill stars The Wrong Mans and Ghosts actor and writer Mathew Baynton as a very different version of William Shakespeare. This incarnation sees Bill during his ‘lost years’ as a young, hopeless wannabe lute player who is caught up in a tale of murder and intrigue, a far cry from the famous playwright we know today.

Bill becomes tangled up in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, and the events that follow change him and his priorities; Bill is never really about how he becomes the greatest writer the English language has ever known. A preposterous narrative, of course, but Bill is broadly enjoyable because of the amount of Carry On-level humor and thanks to the film's winning recreation of Elizabethan England. 

Duration: 88 minutes

Certificate: PG

What the critics say: The Telegraph “The tone is almost identical to the Horrible Histories television series, albeit very slightly fruitier, with jokes that should play just as well to intelligent children and immature adults.” 

'Happy New Year, Colin Burstead' (2018) 

Best BBC Films - Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

(Image credit: BBC Films)

The Bursteads are the kind of family that makes us realize how lucky we are not to live among a group of resentful, vindictive, bitter, and vicious relatives like the unholy lot at the center of Ben Wheatley's comedy-drama. In this loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Colin hires a country manor for a New Year's get-together with his dysfunctional extended family.

This lot makes the Machiavelli family seem like the Von Trapps! King Gary actor Neil Maskell stars as Colin, who just wants to gather his family for an old school celebration, but when mischievous sister Gini (Hayley Squires) invites black sheep brother David (Sam Riley), the Dorset manor house turns into open warfare. 

Duration: 89 minutes

Certificate: 15 (very strong language)

What the critics say: Empire “It is all horribly resonant: the petty jealousies sting, while the long-running feuds, manifested in barely repressed hatred, are painful.” 

'Perfect 10' (2019) 

Best BBC films - Perfect 10

(Image credit: BBC Films)

The title might suggest an uplifting Olympic quest, but Perfect 10 is a downbeat story of a teenage Brighton girl. Eva Riley's film follows Leigh, a 15-year-old with a gift for gymnastics who has zero love in her life due a recently deceased mother and a vagabond father.

Into her difficult life walks a young man, Joe, who tells her he’s the half-brother she never knew she had. Desperate for affection, Leigh becomes besotted with him and embarks on a journey into petty crime and high-jinks that feels certain to end in tears. Does it? That would be spoiling an engrossing drama, which features stand-out performances from young stars Frankie Box and Alfie Deegan.

Duration: 83 minutes

Certificate: 15

What the critics say: Empire – “…a film that doesn’t break ground in terms of narrative, but instead presents a tender character study that pokes deep into the corners of neglect and yet still manages to summon hope”. 

Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.