Best Sky Documentaries - from Branson to The Princess, the most fascinating real-life tales ever told

Sky Documentaries is a treasure trove of real-life stories covering everything from music and sport to crime and nature. We take a look at the best ones.

By James Descombes Updated: 2 December 2022 - 12.28pm
Branson

Branson is streaming on Sky Documentaries with NOW from Sunday 4 December.

Sports, music, crime, food, the weird and wonderful… when it comes to real-life stories, you’ll find them all on Sky Documentaries.

Now, with new documentary Branson - chronicling the many ventures and adventures of entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson - arriving on Sky and streaming service NOW, we take a look at the best Sky Documentaries has to offer.

There really is something for everyone.

You can watch everything below on Sky Documentaries with NOW

Branson

Branson is a four-part HBO original documentary series chronicling the many ventures and adventures of entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

As well as interviews with Branson himself, the documentary series has added insight from family members, business associates, and journalists, and is illustrated by decades of archival and home video footage.

Branson reveals the ups and downs of a man driven by risk-taking in both his business and personal life, reflecting on the costs and rewards of his lifelong, relentless optimism and boundary-pushing.

Branson is streaming on Sky Documentaries with NOW from Sunday 4 December.

The Princess

From their fairytale wedding to her tragic death 16 years later, the story of the relationship between Princess Diana and Prince Charles has been told many times, but new documentary The Princess presents a fresh and bold account of Diana's life and death by using exclusively contemporaneous footage.

The Princess reframes her story by taking an entirely immersive approach, drawing solely from audio and video footage from the time to take audiences back to these era-defining events as they happened, and in doing so, allows the narrative to unfold as if it were in the present.

The Princess is directed by the Oscar-nominated Ed Perkins (Tell Me Who I Am) and produced by Oscar-winner Simon Chinn (Man on Wire) and Emmy-winner Jonathan Chinn (Tina).

Mother Teresa: For the Love of God?

Over three episodes, Mother Teresa: For the Love of God? takes viewers on a remarkable ride through the twists and turns of an improbable life, revealing the extraordinary truth about one of the most recognised yet enigmatic, controversial, and complex figures in contemporary history.

Told through the multiple viewpoints from those who knew her best, as well as her critics and detractors, and drawing on archive and personal letters where we hear from Mother Teresa in her own words, this series tells the astonishing story of a latter-day saint whose legacy - for better or worse - continues to be reflected in the behaviour of today's political and religious leaders.

Once Upon a Time in Londongrad

The timely six-part series explores 14 mysterious deaths in the UK with alleged connections to Russia. It delves into the hidden underworld of Russian exiles in London to link some of the most internationally significant cases in living memory - including the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the suspicious death of oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

Set across Vladimir Putin’s two decades in power, Once Upon a Time in Londongrad charts how the UK became reliant on Russian money and missed opportunities to contain the Kremlin as it set off on a path to eventually invade Ukraine.

Devil’s Advocate

Giovanni Di Stefano Getty

Giovanni Di Stefano, above, legally represented or claimed to represent some of the world’s most infamous dictators and crime figures, including Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Charles Manson and Slobodan Milosevic.

But in truth, the man referred to as ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ was masquerading as a lawyer, with no formal legal qualifications, resulting in lengthy jail sentences for fraud, deception and money laundering. Devil’s Advocate is a fascinating three-part biography of Di Stefano as told by his son Michael. 

15 Minutes of Shame

Monica Lewinsky and Catfish’s Max Joseph dive into the subject of public shaming and cancel culture, and how it operates through social media, in this documentary that’s relevant to our time.

Lewinsky knows better than most the impact of public shaming and since the scandal of her affair with Bill Clinton that broke in the late 90s, Lewinsky has become and anti-bullying advocate. 15 Minutes of Shame speaks to people who’ve been there and puts forward ways to make things better. 

Tiger 

There’s a treasure trove of sporting documentaries available to watch on Sky Documentaries, but Tiger is one of the best. Firstly, it focuses on the greatest golfer of all time and one of the greatest sportsmen… an icon that transcends sports.

But it’s all the elements of Woods’s life that really makes this two-part mini-series so special. The God-given golfing talent, overcoming racial prejudice, the fall from grace and the journey to redemption. With insight and interviews from those who know him best, the Times commented that Tiger is “funny, insightful, heartbreaking, inspiring… a must-see”.

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali

Another icon and sportsman that transcends sport is legendary heavyweight World Champion Muhammad Ali. There’s been many films and documentaries about The Greatest, including the Will Smith biopic Ali and the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings, which both won Oscars. But this film takes a different approach to the man.

What makes What’s My Name so special is that it allows Ali himself to speak on his life and legacy. As film critic Roger Ebert commented, the documentary “offers something even for those of us who know a great deal about the legendary athlete and civil rights leader by doing something incredibly simple: letting Ali tell his own story”.

Man on Wire

Man On Wire Documentary

Some have called what Philippe Petit did on 7 August 1974, the ‘artistic crime of the century’. On that day, the 24-year-old high-wire performer snuck his way to the top of New York's World Trade Centre and tight-rope walked, without a harness, between the Twin Towers a total of eight times. Those below looked up in amazement.

Using interviews with Petit and his crew, photos and reconstructions, Man on Wire tells the story of the preparation and the act itself. It might not be for you if you’re scared of heights, but the Guardian gave the documentary five stars.

The Crime of the Century

The Crime of the Century focuses on the origins and the fall out of the opioid crisis in America and how big pharma, corporate greed and the mis-marketing of prescription drugs led to the death of nearly 500,000 people between 2000 and 2019.

Alex Gibney’s two-part documentary is harrowing and eye-opening. Gibney himself told the Guardian, “What happened here is that big companies recklessly distributed dangerous drugs because it was profitable, not because it was good for the nation’s healthcare”. 

The Donut King

Ted Ngoy Getty/Los Angeles Times

The Donut King is a sweet treat of a documentary that tells the story of Ted Ngoy, above, a Cambodian refugee who fled the country and came to America in 1975 and built a multi-million-dollar donut empire. Ngoy’s donut shops then employed and were run by fellow Cambodian immigrants in Southern California.

Alice Gu’s documentary, which counts Ridley Scott as an executive producer, looks closely at themes of immigration, family and community, while telling the story of Ngoy and his pursuit of the American Dream and the effects of his empire-crumbling gambling addiction. 

McMillions

The Evening Standard said McMillions is a “great true-crime story, with plenty of twists, and parcelled out beautifully with silent re-enactments and witness accounts”.

This six-part series, executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, is based on the true story of a man who stole $24 million dollars’ worth of prize money from the popular McDonald’s Monopoly game during the 90s. An FBI investigation, undercover sting operations, shady ex-cons, mafia ties, unsuspecting prize-winners and corporate execs are all ingredients in this fast-food-fraud epic. 

Honeyland

Honeyland documentary

Honeyland looks and feels very different from your average documentary. On the face of it, a story about one of Europe’s last wild beekeepers may seem like a very niche subject matter, but Honeyland is about so much more.

We follow Hatidze Muratova, a woman in her mid-50s, living a very simple life in North Macedonia while harvesting honey in a traditional and sustainable way from wild hives. But then comes the sting in the tale. New neighbours move in and their way to earn money and support their family is at odds with Hatidze’s. What unfolds is an examination of capitalism and how natural resources are often exploited.

Rolling Stone called Honeyland an “experiential wonder, a cutting critique on capitalism and a genuine must-see.”

Andre the Giant

Andre the Giant documentary

Andre the Giant helped change the world of wrestling before his death in 1993. In what is a sport all about spectacle, Andre the Giant was a sight to behold.

Andre Roussimoff lived a larger-than-life existence too, moving from a small town outside Paris to America, so he could be somebody. His size was perfectly suited to the WWF, where he became known as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. His career culminated in a showdown with WWF champion Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3 in 1987.

The documentary looks at his battles inside and outside the ring, and features interviews with Vince McMahon, Ric Flair and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

100 Foot Wave

100 Foot Wave chronicles the story of big wave American surfer Garrett McNamara, as he’s invited to Nazare, Portugal to witness waves as big as buildings. When McNamara witnesses them himself, he makes it his mission to conquer a 100ft wave, taking the sport to new heights and transforming the tiny fishing village into a mecca for big-wave surfers all over the world.

The six-part series bears witness to the ups and downs McNamara goes through in his pursuit to conquer the ocean’s Everest. 

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo

Danny Trejo documentary Inmate #1

Danny Tejo has featured in a huge array of films and TV shows, including Heat, Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Book of Boba Fett. He’s worked with esteemed directors such as Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, but his journey to the top wasn’t easy.

This documentary chronicles his life from a tough childhood in LA to drug addiction, violent crime and prison, where he earned a reputation as a hard-man boxer. Upon release Trejo rebuilt his life and secured non-speaking extra roles in films, where he’d often be billed as Inmate #1. The Guardian said, “You would need a heart of stone not to enjoy this documentary about actor Danny Trejo”.

Hitsville: The Making of Motown

Motown documentary Hitsville

Hitsville: The Making of Motown tells of the story of one of America’s most iconic music labels. With rare performances, interviews and footage from Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, plus input from fans such as Dr. Dre, Jamie Foxx and Oprah Winfrey, this is a must-see for music fans of all ages.

The documentary is the first to have been approved by Motown founder Berry Gordy and he appears throughout, giving great insight into the origins, popularity and issues that faced the label as it moved from Detroit to LA and set the soulful soundtrack for the 60s and 70s.

Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men

Wu-Tang Clan documentary Of Mics of Men

Wu-Tang Clan burst onto the scene in the 90s, with a raw and rugged sound and brashness that transformed hip-hop. Of Mics and Men sees the original members (except ODB, who is fondly remembered throughout) reunite at Staten Island’s St. George Theatre to reminisce over the good and bad times, going back to their formation and the release of their game-changing debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

Wu-Tang Clan members also revisit their old haunts, including the Park Hill projects and the restaurant near the Statue of Liberty where Method Man and U-God used to work. So, if you’re a fan of hip-hop and The Wu-Tang Clan (RZA, GZA, ODB, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon the Chef, Masta Killa and Cappadonna), this four-episode series is a must see.