When it comes to crime shows, British television is a powerhouse. They’ve consistently produced high-level crime dramas known for their talented casts, clever dialogue, and multi-dimensional plots.
British Crime Dramas
British crime dramas usually range from tight, single-season storylines to sprawling epics you can binge on. Some are slow burners, while others are heart-pounding narratives. It’s safe to say that whatever flavor of crime you’re into, British television has it.
Below is a list of British crime dramas that have consistently awed audiences and critics alike.
1. The Stranger
A mysterious woman approaches a married man and reveals a secret that sends him spiraling down a rabbit hole as he seeks the truth. He’s not the only victim, though: the stranger knows other secrets, and leaves murder and destruction in her wake.
Based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name, The Stranger is a miniseries with only eight episodes. That doesn’t stop it from delivering an explosive plot that keeps you guessing until the end.
Watch it on Netflix.
2. Line of Duty
Line of Duty steps into the shoes of the Anti-Corruption Unit 12 within the police department. Corruption is pervasive, so those in the AC12 investigate and put to justice the bad cops who take advantage of the system.
It’s one of the most popular British crime dramas, consistently winning awards and with a steady increase in viewership. It’s also known for its many shocking twists, which leave the audience unsure of what or who to trust.
Police Sergeant David Budd works for the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch in London’s Metropolitan Police Service. When he’s tasked to protect a politician he despises, he must struggle to separate his beliefs from his ability to get the job done.
While the series focuses on politics and terrorism, Budd’s PTSD and issues that stem from it are also explored. There’s currently only one season available, but a second season is being developed.
4. Happy Valley
Don’t expect much happiness in Happy Valley. Catherine Cawood juggles the care of her grandson (a product of rape) and sister (a recovering drug addict and alcoholic) while still coming to terms with her daughter’s suicide. Added to this are the murders, drugs, and human trafficking she must deal with as a police sergeant.
The series has been lauded for the way it tackles sensitive issues such as addiction and sexual violence. There are two seasons already available and a third on the way.
A world-weary detective joins forces with a local investigator when a child’s body is found on the beach. The murder sends shockwaves through the close-knit community, pushing residents down a hole of fear and suspicion.
The series has met critical acclaim since its first season. The third season concludes the whole series so you can definitely binge it to the end.
John Luther’s dedication, unorthodox methods, and occasional violence have made him a legendary figure in the police force. But that dedication has a price of being consumed by the crimes he investigates. Part of his worries is his peculiar relationship with a serial killer.
This award-winning show has five seasons in total that you can binge. And though a sixth season is unlikely, there’s an upcoming film that will serve as a continuation for the series.
Tokyo detective Kenzo Mori travels to London in search of his brother, who is accused of murdering a Yakuza’s nephew. He must discover if his brother is guilty—or even alive—before a gang war erupts back home. In the course of his investigation, he comes in contact with London’s criminal underworld.
Giri/Haji means Duty/Shame in Japanese, and the show delivers a new brand of crime drama. Unfortunately, it was canceled after just one season despite receiving critical acclaim. The eight-episode series remains a must-watch for crime drama lovers though.
Watch it on Netflix.
Back from Afghanistan, Dr. John Watson rooms with Sherlock Holmes, a man with exceptional intellect and powers of observation. Before long, the two find themselves solving mysteries that the police can’t handle.
This series’ modern approach has been met with much praise and might have caused a revival of shows based on the character of Sherlock Holmes. Four seasons are available, each with three hour-long episodes. A potential fifth is still up in the air.
9. Peaky Blinders
Set in the years after WW1 and based on a real-life gang of the same name, Peaky Blinders follows the Shelby family as they establish a criminal empire. But with Britain in the midst of economic upheaval, other gangs are looking to carve out their own place.
It’s consistently earned awards through its six-season run. It’s also one of those shows that go down in pop culture history, with its influence on hairstyle and fashion.
10. Criminal: UK
This hit series gives a fresh new take on the police procedural. Each standalone episode is confined to a police interrogation room, where a specialized interrogative unit mentally spars with suspects to find answers to cases.
The show is part of Netflix’s anthological series, Criminal. There are currently three other shows, each set in different countries but with the same premise. Two seasons are already available for the UK version.
Watch it on Netflix.
11. The Fall
Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson is sent to Northern Island to help out with a case that’s been open for more than 28 days. When it becomes clear a serial killer’s on the loose, she and local detectives must work together to find and capture him.
Unlike most crime series, the identity of the killer is revealed right from the start. This turns the series into a cat-and-mouse game as both sides work to outsmart the other. There are three seasons in all, but the creators are open to a continuation.
After an abrupt divorce, Marcella Backland decides to go back to active duty as a detective. She resumes her investigation into an open murder case whose unidentified killer has become active again.
The show tackles mental illness along with the usual pursuit of criminals. The series is still ongoing, with three seasons already available for viewing.
British Crime Shows
This is the era of television crime shows. All over the world, you’ll find crime dramas of different blends being produced, and those made in Great Britain are some of the best there are.
There’s just something about crime underlined by snarky, British humor and chilling mind games, which is further intensified by the stark backgrounds they unfold in.
Part of what makes these shows so distinctive is their refusal to wallow in death and darkness—something that most crime shows fall into. You see shootings, beatings, and murder in their most horrible form. Graphic violence becomes the story, instead of being the catalyst.
Instead, British crime dramas move away from the usual action scenes. This gives them space to explore grief, guilt, redemption, and consequences on both sides of the crime. It’s also given them a way to address real-life issues such as sexism, mental illness, and racism, making their shows highly emotional, realistic, and memorable.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!