Every night before bed, Anglophiles have closed their eyes and prayed to the gods of the BBC for a streaming service available in the U.S. Sure, we have BBC America, but aside from Doctor Who and (now shitty) episodes of Top Gear, there’s not much offered in the way of actual British shows. PBS Masterpiece (and even better, PBS UK) offer a wider range of detective stories, and the big hits: Downton Abbey, The Great British
Bake Off Baking Show, Sherlock and now Victoria.
Of course these are nothing to scoff at, and most of them are also available on streaming services. Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime hold their own to an extent, but do little to dig into the BBC or ITV’s back catalogue. There’s no good place to go when you just want sink into a cup of tea, a nice Victoria sandwich and bask in an endless supply of British TV.
Until now. Yes, the BBC and ITV have heard our prayers and have debuted Britbox specifically for U.S. audiences. Its offerings are wide and diverse, and admittedly lack the big hits most Americans are already familiar with. But that was intentional. Their goal is to introduce a whole catalogue of shows to the U.S. that have never aired here before, along with some classics that cannot be found anywhere else.
For those like me, who have been using every trick in the book to be able to watch the geo-blocked BBC iPlayer, it’s a fantastic new option. As wonderful as iPlayer may be, the shows generally expire within 30 days, so if you don’t manage to watch that new BBC period drama shortly after it airs, that’s it, it’s gone. BritBox puts an end to that with constantly updating shows. There’s even a “Now” selection for a limited offering of currently airing shows that become available 24 hours after airing. So for any Eastenders or Emmerdale fans, or in my case, Papers or Prime Minister’s Questions, you can stay up to date.
The service offers a number of categories, with standards like Comedy featuring classics Fry & Laurie and Blackadder, as well as James Corden’s Gavin & Stacey. The Drama selection is impressive, and the Lifestyle category is complete with favorites like Countryfile, This Farming Life, and a number of British iterations of House Hunters. However the real highlights are the subcats in which it’s finally possible to just select from period pieces (Charles II: The Power and Passion, Upstairs, Downstairs, Emma, Lark Rise to Candleford, Desperate Romantics) detective stories (Rosemary & Thyme, Inspector Morse, Cambridge Spies, Miss Marple), and literary adaptions (Bleak House, Brideshead Revisited, . If you’re anything like me and have already exhausted all those offered on standard streaming services, this is a godsend. Many of them include early debuts from now famous Brits – Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Emily Blunt, Gillian Anderson, Daniel Radcliffe, and more. Charles Dance shows up more often than you can fathom and Dame Judy Dench shows there’s no end to the number of strong willed matriarchs in corsets she can play.
I signed up for a free trial, and even after a few short days, I’ve already found over 40 shows to add to my watchlist, and can already tell I’ll be neglecting Netflix for a while. The service is just $6.99 a month and can be downloaded onto Apple TV or Roku, or watched online at the site. The biggest drawbacks that I’ve found are the lack of autoplay options while binging and the watchlist will not hold that many shows. It’s also annoying if you primarily stream on the FireStick or from smart TV options, as you have to hook your laptop to your TV. I suspect it’s a very new app and will have some growing pains for a while, but it’s definitely worth giving it a go.
Now if you excuse me, The Great Chelsea Gardening Challenge is playing, my tea is just brewed, and there’s a scone calling my name.