5 reasons watching non-English dramas is a great lockdown activity and my top 10 recommendations

One of the great things about streaming services such as Netflix is that it has opened up the international world of television. For a couple of years now I’ve been really enjoying watching non-English dramas on tv.

Picture of me (Bryony) sitting in front of the Netflix menu on my tv.

Here are five reasons why I think this is a great activity during lockdown:

1. It gives you a chance to go travelling without leaving your home

I’ve seen places I’ve never even heard of watching these dramas and a lot of crime dramas these days make liberal use of overhead drone cameras to get some breathtaking shots.

2. It stops you ‘double screening’

If you watch with subtitles (which I always do as hearing the original language is part of the fun) you have to concentrate on the programme. You can’t keep checking your phone.

3. It challenges your prejudices

It is easy to have stereotypes in mind when you think of particular countries. I’ve realised in watching these dramas that my prejudices have been challenged.

4. You can delight in hearing other languages spoken

I love hearing other languages, it’s quite fun spotting words that you know from English or other languages crop up and of course you quickly learn how to swear in other languages!

5. It challenges British exceptionalism

We tend to think that we are the best at everything. We are taught this from a young age, that the Brits are best at drama, music etc. Watching all these dramas I’ve realised how unhelpful it is to always assume things from your country are better than everywhere else!

Here are 10 dramas that I’ve really enjoyed. If you’re watching on Netflix you can choose whether you want dubbing or subtitles in the settings.

  1. The Barrier – Spanish https://www.netflix.com/title/81073507 This is a dystopian fiction set in the near future where a virus (I know!) has decimated the population and the rich people live behind a barrier. A fascistic regime is in power. Lots of echoes of the Franco regime in Spain and very relevant viewing for now. It is a fantastic saga and I felt very close to the characters by the end of it.
  2. The Gift – Turkish https://www.netflix.com/watch/81037848 I loved this unusual drama (the first series is better than the second) set in Turkey. It is a combination of real archaeology (the action is centred around a real ancient temple site which I now want to visit!) and fantasy. It is a little like the drama/book Outlander. A young female artist keeps drawing the same symbol in her abstract paintings – this same symbol is then unearthed by archaeologists working at the temple site.
  3. Better than Us – Russian https://www.netflix.com/title/81026915 This is a really good sci-fi drama about a sentient robot that escapes from the man who has bought her on the black market and makes friends with an ordinary family in Moscow. It reminded me a little of the fab series Humans (Channel 4) as it explores what makes us human.
  4. Biohackers – German https://www.netflix.com/watch/81011660 This is quite a playful drama set in the near future when human bodies can be modified with technology. I particularly enjoyed its location in beautiful Freiburg (a city I had never seen pictures of before – now I want to visit!)
  5. Capitani – Luxembourgish https://www.netflix.com/watch/81277858 I had never heard the Luxembourgish language until watching this crime drama. The Luxembourgian countryside is beautiful in this police drama set in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.
  6. Lupin – French https://www.netflix.com/watch/80994082 This is easily the most stylish of my recommendations here. Lupin is a modern adaptation of the stories of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief. It updates a French classic in the same way Sherlock did on the BBC. It includes an interesting commentary on race and immigration in France. It looks amazing and the lead, Omar Sy is very easy on the eye!
  7. 3% – Brazilian https://www.netflix.com/watch/80074220 This is a dystopian drama set in a world where resources are scarce and most of the population live in a shanty town and at the age of 20 are given an opportunity to take a series of tests (like escape rooms) to become one of the 3% who live on a paradise island. It is a clever commentary on inequality and the lie of meritocracy. If you like The Hunger Games you’ll enjoy this.
  8. Alice in Borderland – Japanese https://www.netflix.com/watch/80200575 This is a horror fantasy based on a comic book series (I think). A group of slacker friends suddenly find themselves in a different Tokyo, a world where, to survive, they have to play a series of escape room type games. It is violent and scary and creeped me out!
  9. Sweet Home – Korean https://www.netflix.com/watch/81061734 Another scary one, this is like a zombie apocalypse drama but instead of zombies, people turn into hideous monsters that reflect the worst aspects of their character. A group of people are holed up in an apartment block that has a mall at the bottom and are trying to survive together. It has characteristic Korean black humour but it’s not for the faint-hearted!
  10. The Rain – Danish https://www.netflix.com/watch/80154610 Another post-apocalyptic drama, this one follows the survivors of a deadly rain that was caused by genetic modification. Like many of these things, the first series is the best, a great concept with good performances.

There are a few more that I can recommend too: All the Sins (Finnish) – find on All4, Dark (German) – on Netflix, The Valhalla Murders (Icelandic) – BBC iPlayer and Netflix.

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