The BEST Episodes of Storyville
Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!
Last Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Network: BBC Four
Series showcasing the best in international documentaries on BBC Four. Storyville has developed an enviable reputation since its inception more than a decade ago. Screening over 340 films, from some 70 different countries, the strand has garnered a staggering array of awards: five Oscars, 15 Griersons, three Peabodys and two International Emmys. In true, unique, Storyville style, the new series promises to deliver the strand's usual eclectic mix of compelling stories from across the globe.
#1 - The Real Great Escape
Season 2012 - Episode 13 - Aired Apr 19, 2012
For the first time, the true story of the mastermind behind World War II's Great Escape is told by his niece, Lindy Wilson. Squadron Leader Roger Bushell was a young London barrister, an auxiliary pilot and a champion skier when he was shot down and captured early in the war. He escaped three times and in spite of the Gestapo's threat to shoot him if he ever escaped again, Bushell accepted the role of 'Big X' on his return to the top-security POW camp, Stalag Luft 111. After 18 months of preparation, one of the greatest escapes of the war took place. Their aim to distract the enemy succeeded, as it was estimated that five million Germans were deployed to recapture the 76 escapees. However, Hitler's rage was uncontainable and he personally ordered a terrible reckoning.
#2 - Hitler, Stalin, and Mr Jones
Season 2012 - Episode 17 - Aired Jul 5, 2012
An investigation into who killed Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. Jones's greatest scoop was to reveal the starvation to death of millions in 1930s Ukraine, caused by Stalin's policies. A portrait emerges of a fiercely bright young man who preferred a journalist's life of courage and danger which took him from smalltown Wales to even hitching a lift in Hitler's private plane. However, in a 1930s world of competing ideologies, there existed a fine line between journalism and spying. This film explores to what extent this dual role, and taking on Stalin, may have contributed to his early death on the plains of Mongolia.
#3 - Man on Wire
Season 2009 - Episode 27 - Aired Aug 2, 2009
Documentary based on Philippe Petit's autobiographical book To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers. In August 1974, French wire-walker Philippe Petit spent nearly an hour walking, dancing, kneeling and lying on a wire which he and his friends had strung in secret between the rooftops of New York's Twin Towers. Six years of intense planning, dreaming and physical training fell into place that morning. Already an accomplished wire-walker, Petit had caught sight of an article about the planned construction of the Twin Towers while in a dentist's waiting room in 1968, and at that moment an obsession was born. He spent every waking moment since that day plotting the details of his walk (which he called 'le coup') and gathered a team of people around him to assist in the planning. Petit's preparation was expert, thorough and top secret: he took precise measurements and even aerial photographs to help him construct models of the rigging; learned about the physical effects of the wind on the swaying of the buildings; even created fake ID cards and spied on office workers to plan how best to gain access to the towers without arousing suspicion. On that August morning, his dream was realised. Using contemporary interviews, archival footage and dramatic reconstructions, the film tells the story of this extraordinary feat, and also of Petit's previous walks between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, and of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
#4 - From the Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film
Season 2012 - Episode 24 - Aired Nov 18, 2012
Made from over 100 years of BFI archive footage, From the Sea to the Land Beyond offers a poetic meditation on Britain's unique coastline and the role it plays in our lives. With a soundtrack specially created by Brighton-based band British Sea Power, award-winning director Penny Woolcock's film offers moving testimony to our relationship to the coast - during wartime, on our holidays and as a hive of activity during the industrial age.
#5 - Muscle Shoals: The Greatest Recording Studio in the World
Season 2014 - Episode 9 - Aired Mar 7, 2014
Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals in Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of America's most creative and defiant music. Under the spiritual influence of the 'Singing River', as Native Americans called it, the music of Muscle Shoals has helped create some of the most important and resonant songs of all time. At its heart is Rick Hall, who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming poverty and tragedy, Hall brought black and white together in Alabama's cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations. Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals's magnetism, mystery and why it remains influential today.
#6 - Arms Dealer: The Notorious Mr. Bout
Season 2014 - Episode 20 - Aired Sep 29, 2014
Storyville follows Viktor Bout, Russian entrepreneur, arms smuggler and, strangest of all, amateur film-maker. Until three days prior to his 2008 arrest on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, Bout kept his camcorder running. He documented a life spent in the grey areas of the arms industry, crossing the line morally, if not legally, many times over before he was eventually undone by a post-9/11 crackdown. Dubbed by some the Merchant of Death and portrayed by Nicolas Cage in Hollywood's Lord of War, Viktor Bout gained notoriety as the world's most famous arms dealer. With unprecedented access to Bout's home movies and US surveillance material gathered during the sting operation to bring him down, this film is a portrait of a garrulous, adventurous individual, intent on exploiting the murky loopholes of the arms industry. Interviews with his wife, family and former business partners describe moments both comical and harrowing in a career which ended in a 25-year prison sentence.
#7 - Weiner - Sexts, Scandals and Politics
Season 2016 - Episode 16 - Aired Nov 6, 2016
Documentary about American politician Anthony Weiner, renowned for scandals relating to sexting. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after his sexting exploits were made public. He attempted a political comeback by running for mayor of New York City, but his ambitions were thwarted once more as he was foreced to admit to fresh allegations. The programme also traces the personal cost to Weiner, his family and campaign team and the unrelenting media scrutiny on him.
#8 - This Was My Dad: The Rise and Fall of Geoffrey Matthews
Season 2017 - Episode 16 - Aired Jul 10, 2017
A profoundly intimate documentary filmed by Bafta-winning director Morgan Matthews over a period of more than ten years in the life of Morgan's father Geoff and his wonderfully eccentric partner Anna. In an attempt to reconnect with his dad after becoming estranged, Morgan uses the camera as both a facilitator and a filter that enables him to stay close during challenging times. The film follows Geoff and Anna through a financial crisis that sees them losing their home, it captures the challenges of their relationship, and documents the decline in Geoff's health as a result of emphysema and cancer. With the warmth, love and humour that is so often mixed up in family dramas, this is a documentary made from the inside by a film-maker who is used to turning his camera towards other people's families - but never his own. The result is deeply personal, but the themes of a challenging paternal dynamic, a relationship under pressure, and death in the family, are widespread and universal.
#9 - This is Congo
Season 2018 - Episode 4 - Aired Jun 27, 2018
A Storyville documentary. A raw and unfiltered insight into the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. Over the last two decades, the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo has witnessed over five million conflict-related deaths, multiple regime changes and the impoverishment of its people. Following the lives of four diverse characters - a government whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer and a displaced tailor - this programme offers a visceral, yet intimate insight into a nation caught between the foreign-backed M23 rebels and the government ruled by president Joseph Kabila, who cancels elections and refuses to relinquish power. As the conflict resonates through their lives, the film reveals the insidious legacy of colonialism, resource exploitation and the genocidal wars that has created a never-ending cycle of violence.
#10 - The Internet's Dirtiest Secrets: The Cleaners
Season 2019 - Episode 5 - Aired Mar 19, 2019
7,000 miles from Silicon Valley in downtown Manila, a secret team of content moderators have a target of 25,000 Facebook, Google and Twitter posts to delete each day. Trawling through the world’s most violent, disturbing and highly contentious online material - in the form of terrorist videos, child pornography, self-harm material and political propaganda - 'the cleaners' are individually responsible for deciding what stays online and what gets removed. This film explores the hidden and complex world of digital content moderation where undesirable material is 'cleaned' from the internet by a hidden army of nameless people. The Cleaners raises important questions for all of us who use these platforms daily without knowing what goes on behind the scenes: Who are these people that 'clean up' social media and what criteria do they operate by? Where does content moderation end and censorship begin? And what happens when their split-second decisions affect the lives of people in political hotspots like Myanmar or Istanbul?
#11 - A German Life: Goebbels' Secretary Remembers
Season 2019 - Episode 10 - Aired May 13, 2019
The extraordinary story of Brunhilde Pomsel, secretary and stenographer to the Nazi proganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.
#12 - The PM, the Playboy and the Wolf of Wall Street
Season 2019 - Episode 13 - Aired Oct 21, 2019
A Malaysian wealth fund is robbed of US$3.5 billion. It is the world’s biggest white-collar heist involving government corruption at the highest level, an abuse of power and international money laundering. With little to go on, dogged investigative reporters from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Hollywood Reporter retrace the dirty money - via real estate deals and movie financing including ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ - back to the top echelons of the Malaysian government. Malaysia’s prime minister and his inner circle are implicated, assets are frozen, money is seized, but the Malaysian people fight back.
#13 - Inside Lehman Brothers: The Whistleblowers
Season 2019 - Episode 15 - Aired Oct 28, 2019
How one man's refusal to overlook its financial irregularities led to the exposure of the subprime mortgage scandal that engulfed Lehman Brothers.
#14 - The Gene Revolution: Changing Human Nature
Season 2020 - Episode 3 - Aired Jan 27, 2020
The biggest tech revolution of the 21st century isn't digital, it's biological. A breakthrough called CRISPR has given us unprecedented control over the basic building blocks of life. It opens the door to curing diseases, reshaping the biosphere and designing our own children. This Storyville documentary is a provocative exploration of CRISPR's far-reaching implications, through the eyes of the scientists who discovered it, the families it’s affecting and the bio-engineers who are testing its limits. How will this new power change our relationship with nature? What will it mean for human evolution? To begin to answer these questions, we must look back billions of years and peer into an uncertain future.
#15 - India's Daughter
Season 2015 - Episode 10 - Aired Mar 4, 2015
India's Daughter tells the story of the brutal gang rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012, and the unprecedented protests and riots which this horrific event ignited throughout India, leading to the demand for changes in attitudes towards women. The film examines the values and mindsets of the rapists, and interviews the two lawyers who defended the men convicted of Jyoti's rape and murder.
#16 - Poisoning America: The Devil We Know
Season 2018 - Episode 12 - Aired Nov 19, 2018
A Storyville documentary following a group of citizens in West Virginia who take on a corporation after they discover it has been dumping a toxic chemical into the water supply.
#17 - Love Hotel
Season 2015 - Episode 5 - Aired Feb 16, 2015
Through remarkable access, this documentary explores daily life inside a Japanese 'love hotel'. In this intimate portrait, we meet the everyday people who frequent the fantasy-themed rooms for refuge, privacy and play - a married couple visit to keep a spark alive in their relationship, two gay lawyers have nowhere else to stay and a popular dominatrix runs a thriving business. Pay by the hour or the night and order sexy underwear, condoms or anything else imaginable. Anything goes at the Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka, run by manager Ozawa and his efficient staff. Small living spaces, long work hours and the need for privacy drive 2.8 million Japanese a day to visit 'love hotels'. But now, these unique establishments are fighting to stay afloat against the 'entertainment police' who are shutting them down for what conservative groups deem to be overly risqué elements. A rare glimpse into a world destined to disappear.
#18 - Silk Road: Drugs, Death and the Dark Web
Season 2017 - Episode 21 - Aired Aug 21, 2017
Documentary looking at the black market website known as the Silk Road, which emerged on the darknet in 2011. This 'Amazon of illegal drugs' was the brainchild of a mysterious, libertarian intellectual operating under the avatar The Dread Pirate Roberts. Promising its users complete anonymity and total freedom from government regulation or scrutiny, Silk Road became a million-dollar digital drugs cartel.
#19 - Barca: The Inside Story (2004)
Season 2005 - Episode 4 - Aired Jun 12, 2005
Documentary following the fortunes of Barcelona Football Club over a year of crisis. With poor performances and spiralling debts, reform of the club is urgently needed. The new board, under the leadership of the charismatic Joan Laporta, attempt to turn an old fashioned Catalan family affair into a global football business.
#20 - Prostitution Behind the Veil
Season 2006 - Episode 1 - Aired Oct 26, 2006
Prostitution Behind the Veil explores a side of Iran rarely seen or talked about. For over a year, director Nahid Persson filmed the everyday lives of two young female prostitutes in Iran as they eked out a living in a country where the profession is banned. The filmmaker often took great risks to follow Minna and Fariba as they sought out customers-men who would often marry them briefly, so as not to violate the laws of Islam by having extramarital sex. The two women are good friends and neighbor, who have experienced the widespread mistreatment of women and the double standards that permeate Iranian society today.
#21 - Leaving the Cult
Season 2010 - Episode 16 - Aired Jul 5, 2010
Documentary about three teenage boys who escape a polygamist Mormon cult in Utah. Powerfully emotional and compelling, a fascinating insight to a community it's hard to believe exists.
#22 - Kings of Pastry
Season 2010 - Episode 8 - Aired Mar 18, 2010
Imagine a scene never before witnessed - 16 French pastry chefs gathered in Lyon for three intense days of mixing, piping and sculpting everything from delicate chocolates to six-foot sugar sculptures in hope of being declared one of the best by the country's President. This is the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France). The blue, white and red striped collar worn on the jackets of the winners is more than the ultimate recognition for every pastry chef - it is a dream and an obsession. The finalists, France's culinary elite, risk their reputations as well as sacrifice family and finances in pursuit of this lifelong distinction of excellence. Similar to the Olympics, the three-day contest takes place every four years and it requires that the chefs not only have extraordinary skill and nerves of steel but also a lot of luck.
#23 - Hitler's Secretary
Season 2008 - Episode 5 - Aired Jan 30, 2008
Acclaimed film comprising an extended interview with 81-year-old Traudl Junge, who recalls her role as Adolf Hitler's personal secretary during his final years.
#24 - Tabloid: Sex in Chains
Season 2012 - Episode 11 - Aired Mar 26, 2012
Documentary which follows the stranger-than-fiction account of a former beauty queen whose single-minded devotion to the man of her dreams became a tabloid sensation. Allegations that Joyce McKinney had kidnapped her estranged lover and held him captive, handcuffed to a bed in a remote cottage, became the stuff of headlines. Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris, Joyce's crusade for love and personal vindication takes her through a surreal world of gunpoint abduction, manacled Mormons, oddball accomplices, bondage modelling, magic underwear and dreams of celestial unions.
#25 - My Mother the Secret Baby
Season 2015 - Episode 14 - Aired Mar 30, 2015
In this funny and moving documentary, acclaimed film-maker Daisy Asquith tells the very personal story of her mother's conception after a dance in the 1940s on the remote west coast of Ireland. By exploring the repercussions of this act, Daisy and her mother embark on a fascinating and emotional adventure in social and sexual morality. Her grandmother, compelled to run away to have her baby in secret, handed the child over to 'the nuns'. Daisy's mum was eventually adopted by English Catholics from Stoke-on-Trent. Her grandmother returned to Ireland and told no-one. The father remained a mystery for another 60 years, until Daisy and her mum decided it was time to find out who he was. Their attempts to find the truth make raw the fear and shame that Catholicism has wrought on the Irish psyche for centuries. It leads Daisy and her mum to connect with a brand new family living an extraordinarily different life.