The United Kingdom is full of sprawling countrysides, bustling cities, and picturesque coastal towns. It’s also rife with murder shows. The U.K. is home to some of the most iconic crime novelists of all time, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that it’s full of wonderful adaptations, including a recent string of deliciously dark Agatha Christie miniseries. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to crime dramas. From big murders in small towns to twisty spy dramas, British TV has no shortage of offerings.
This list is by no means comprehensive—that would take a lifetime, or at least a PhD thesis—but here’s a useful guide to where to find the right crime drama.
Set in the quaint titular coastal town, the series follows the investigation into the shocking murder of 12-year-old Danny Latimer. Surly Scottish DI Alec Hardy teams up with local investigator DS Ellie Miller in a jaw-dropping whodunit, as everyone in their quiet town is a suspect. Written by current Doctor Who scribe Chris Chibnall, the series boasts a star-studded cast including current Doctor Jodie Whitaker, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vicky McClure, Arthur Darvill, Charlotte Rampling. Watch it on Netflix.
Line of Duty
One of the U.K.’s most beloved police series, Line of Duty, follows a team of police officers working in an anti-corruption unit. Each season follows an investigation into a potential act of corruption. Given that the series is written by Jed Mercurio, who created the Netflix sensation Bodyguard, it should come as no surprise that the series is tense, full of twists, and downright addictive. Watch it on Acorn and Hulu (currently housing seasons three and four).
As the title suggests, each season of the series follows a particular case through the criminal justice season. The first season follows a man (Ben Whishaw) accused of murder during a drug-filled night out, though he has no recollection of the crimes. The second is about a woman (Maxine Peake) accused of murdering her husband. If the former sounds familiar, it’s because season one was adapted into HBO’s The Night Of, starring Riz Ahmed and John Turturro. Watch Criminal Justice on Hulu.
London’s most infamous uncaught serial killer has inspired numerous series, including Whitechapel, which follows the investigation into a string of murders eerily reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. The later seasons deviate from the season-long investigative format, opting for a more procedural format. But its early investigations are certainly the series at its most compelling. Watch it on Hulu.
Based on a series of novels by Peter Robinson, DCI Banks follows the titular police officer, played by Stephen Tompkinson, solving crimes in North Yorkshire. Each grisly arc is told over the course of two episodes, making each season feel like a series of movies. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
Helen Mirren in a police procedural? Yes, please! Set between 1991 and 2006, the series follows the career of DCI Jane Tennison as she solves crimes and battles sexism in the male-dominated London Metropolitan Police. With the exception of series four, each season follows a singular arc, completed over the course of two episodes. Watch the series on BritBox and Hulu.
Trial and Retribution
From Lynda La Plante, who also created Prime Suspect, the series follows the investigations of London DCS Mike Walker (David Hayman). Like La Plante’s previous series, each case is told in a two-episode arc, though the final three seasons contain multiple cases. Running from 1997 to 2009, it’s one of those long-running procedurals that is full of appearances from famous faces, including Tom Ellis, Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, and Rhys Ifans. Watch it on Acorn.
One of the most successful tropes in the police procedural subgenre is the unlikely duo solving crimes together. And Grantchester is the perfect example of that. Set in the titular village in the ‘50s, the series follows DI Geordie Keating (Robson Green) and broody Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) as they solve the many crimes plaguing their adorable Cambridgeshire town. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
Based on the novels by Colin Dexter, the beloved series followed the titular Inspector Endeavor Morse (John Thaw) as he solves crimes in Oxford. The series ran from the late ‘80s to 2000, airing seven seasons and five specials. Watch Inspector Morse on BritBox. A prequel series Endeavor, following the inspector’s early days solving crimes has been airing on BBC (PBS in the U.S.) since 2012. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
Based on the novels by Ann Cleeves, the series is centered around a nearly-retired Detective Chief Inspector (Brenda Blethyn) as she solves crimes in Northumberland. A gruff, meticulous detective, Vera also serves a mentor figure to the sergeants working with her. Vera has aired ten seasons to date, with another season set to air in 2021. The series is housed between Acorn and BritBox.
Waking the Dead
For every dozen series investigating new crimes, there’s one looking at cold cases. Waking the Dead, which ran for nine seasons, followed a team of police officers and psychologists as they dig deep into unsolved crimes in London. Watch it on BritBox.
The police series follows DI Martha Bellamy (Fay Ripley) and her team (Damien Molony and Clare-Hope Ashitey) during their investigations into an assortment of crimes across London. While it certainly follows a procedural format—with the exception of the final season, which is largely one arc—the series has a unique feel to it due to its dialogue, which is largely improvised by the actors, and its use of documentary-style filming techniques. Watch it on Acorn.
Also based on the novels by Ann Cleeves (at least initially), the series follows police officers working in the titular archipelago in the Scottish isles. While the first two seasons are based on a series of Ann Cleeves novels, subsequent seasons deviate from the format, with each season covering an unfolding investigation. Shetland has aired five seasons, with at least two more confirmed to air. Watch the series on BritBox.
Dalziel and Pascoe
Another beloved series featuring opposites working together, the series follows the titular detectives (Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan) solving crimes in a fictional village in Yorkshire. Based on the novels by Reginald Hill, the long-running series adapted several of the books into episodes before later abandoning the format for new cases. Watch the series on BritBox.
MI-5 (known as Spooks in the U.K.)
Nothing beats a good spy drama, and the beloved U.K. is perfect for those looking for something unpredictable, dark, and highly dramatic. The series is best known for killing off a truly staggering number of characters and sparing viewers no detail. (Take that Grey’s Anatomy.) Anchored by Peter Firth, the only actor to appear in all 86 episodes across ten seasons, the series also starred David Oyelowo, Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Hugh Simon, Rupert Penry-Jones, Nicola Walker, and many, many others. Watch it on BritBox.
Set in Belfast, this British-Irish series is a tense cat and mouse game between Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and serial killer Paul Specter (Jamie Dornan). The chilling series unfolds as Stella is called over to Belfast to investigate a string of murders as Paul attempts to evade police, posing as a loving family man. Watch seasons one and two on Amazon Prime.
Hopefully everyone has seen the BBC’s globally-revered adaptation featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed fictional detective. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson, the series is updated to the present era, still managing to capture the magic of the author’s beloved stories (even if it does occasionally skew darker). Watch it on Netflix.
A phenomenon in the U.K. and the U.S., the 2018 series follows David Budd ( Richard Madden), a veteran suffering from PTSD working as a police officer in London who is assigned to protect the right-wing Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes) amidst a series of threats. As stated previously, it’s from Line of Duty’s Jed Mercurio, so the six-part series is full of shocking twists. Watch it on Netflix.
This Welsh noir follows a troubled detective Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington), who moves back to Wales after spending a decade in London. Unorthodox and occasionally ruffling feathers of those around him, Mathias does whatever it takes to bring murderers to justice. While the series originally aired in two-part arcs, Netflix presents each case as a single 90-minute episode. Watch it on Netflix.
Set just months after the final Jack the Ripper murders, the series follows the H Division police—DI Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), DS Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), and American Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)—as they solve crimes in the gritty Whitechapel area of London. While the series occasionally follows a “crime of the week” format, each season revolves around a single long-running case the team is slowly investigating. Watch it on Netflix.
Idris Elba stars as DCI John Luther, a dedicated and obsessive officer working in a Serious Crimes division of the London police. At the center of the series, which aired five seasons over the course of a decade, is the dynamic between Luther and killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), a brilliant psychopath he tries to capture but develops an unlikely kinship with. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
Another series from Lynda La Plante, The Commander follows Clare Blake (Amanda Burton), leader of an elite murder unit in London whose personal life often gets in the way—specifically, her complicated relationship with killer James Lampton (Hugh Bonneville), which takes center stage throughout the first few seasons. Watch it on Acorn.
Plummy Murder Shows
The Law and Order: SVU of British crime series, Midsomer Murders has been on for 21 seasons and counting. Based on the Chief Inspector Barnaby novels, the series follows the titular inspector as he solves crimes in the fictional county of Midsomer. Interestingly, in the TV series, the DCI Barnaby refers to two people: Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles for the first 13 seasons; and his younger cousin John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) Tom’s younger cousin who takes over following his retirement. Watch it on BritBox and Acorn.
Death in Paradise
As the title would suggest, the series is about a detective solving crimes on a beautiful island. The series kicks off with DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller) sent to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie to solve a difficult murder. He’s then assigned to head up the local forces, though the long-running series has seen a stream of new detectives in Saint Marie. The series has currently aired nine seasons, with a tenth on the way. Watch it on BritBox.
Loosely based on a series of short stories by G. K. Chesterton, Father Brown stars Mark Williams as the titular crime-solving priest living in ‘50s Cotswolds. Sure it’s a show about murders, but Father Brown is a largely charming and delightful series, perfect for those in need of a break from the gritty drama. It’s the second series based on the Chesterson stories, the first running for a single season in the ‘70s, which can be found here. Watch Father Brown on Netflix and BritBox.
While there have been numerous adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, the character is most synonymous with David Suchet, who played the famed Belgian detective for nearly 15 years—a total of 13 seasons. The series covers just about every Christie novel or short story to feature the character and is a must-see for any British crime fan. Watch it on BritBox.
Miss Marple Adaptations
Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the BBC adapted each of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books with Joan Hickson as the titular character. Like David Suchet’s Poirot, to many, the Hickson Miss Marple is the gold standard. Miss Marple can be watched on BritBox.
In the mid 2000s, ITV adapted Miss Marple books into another series. Geraldine McEwan played the character for three seasons, and Julia McKenzie stepped in as Miss Marple for the remainder of the series. Unlike the BBC adaptations, the latter isn’t a straight adaptation of Christie’s work, making various plot changes or adding new character developments. Agatha Christie’s Marple can be found on Hulu.
The 28(ish) above series are only a smattering of what’s out there on streaming. So don’t fret if I omitted your favorite. But as I am always looking for a grisly new series to dig into, please send suggestions (and streaming links) my way. Happy streaming!
Feature Image: BBC