9 of the best binge-worthy British crime dramas

By Ashley Nolan

Broadchurch Season 3 stars David Tennant and Olivia Colman as local detectives
Broadchurch Season 3 stars David Tennant and Olivia Colman as local detectives
Even if crime dramas exacerbate your fear of being murdered, it's hard to deny that they are pretty damn addictive.

And when it comes to the genre, we have to say the Brits have it down pat. If you haven’t watched these binge-worthy drama series yet, put them on your to-watch list ASAP.

Luther

Luther is scary and will make you never want to leave the house again. But it’s manageable – I refuse to watch horror films yet Luther is one of my favourite shows of all time. Each episode sees DCI John Luther hunt down an evil killer who is terrorising the streets of London. There are five seasons – season one is the longest with six episodes, so it’s easy to binge over one rainy weekend. Not recommended if you live home alone, however. I would suggest skipping the 2023 film Luther: The Fallen Sun. British shows tend to be better at not overstaying their welcome than American series, but unfortunately Luther was an exception – Luther’s plots have never been close to real life but they strayed way too far with The Fallen Sun, IMHO.

The Fall

Prepare to be conflicted – the seriously handsome Jamie Dornan will make you feel simultaneously scared and seduced in his role as serial killer Paul Spector in The Fall. This series sees Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (played by the ever-amazing Gillian Anderson) work to find and capture Spector, who has been murdering young professional women around Belfast. It’s a plot that calls to mind Ted Bundy in its consideration of how good looks can lure people into a false sense of security. I also find Northern Irish accents fascinating and The Fall has them in spades.

Happy Valley

This show about a police sergeant pursuing the man who assaulted her late daughter is a harrowing and adrenaline-filled watch that is truly excellent. It’s made especially worth watching thanks to Sarah Lancashire’s incredible performance as Sergeant Catherine Cawood. Even though Cawood has a lot of bad things happen to her, she is so badass it made me really want to quit my day job and become a cop so that I can be her.

Sherlock

We’ve all heard of Sherlock Holmes, but this is the story brought up to date and set in modern day London (save one episode that takes place in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Victorian setting). Sherlock’s impressive writing and acting, as well as some much-appreciated humour, make this series particularly special. It stars fan favourites Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as the faithful Watson, but Fleabag fans will also enjoy the presence of one ‘Hot Priest’, with Andrew Scott in the villain role as Jim Moriarty.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a classic ‘whodunit’, with season one following DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) as they figure out who is behind the death of 11-year-old Danny Latimer. Season two strays into more of a court drama (with Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a serious role), while season three is also a bit disjointed from earlier storylines, but it’s still a gripping series overall. Once again, it’s made all the more enjoyable thanks to fantastic performances from top-notch actors Tennant and Colman.

Marcella

Many of the best cop dramas include a deeply-flawed protagonist and Marcella is definitely one of them. In fact, to say Marcella Backland is ‘deeply flawed’ could be an understatement, with the former detective having to battle her own dramatic emotional outbursts and blackouts as she tries to solve horrific murders. Season three gets a bit random but new characters that were introduced were strong enough to keep me engaged. And I must praise the lead actor in this series too. Anna Friel is awesome, and she has great hair that will make you want to get a fringe.

Blue Lights

Take a break from murder investigations and delve into the world of response policing with Blue Lights. Set in Northern Ireland, this show weaves the underlying post-Troubles tensions into the action without becoming political. There’s one plot point in Season 2 which is a bit far-fetched for my liking – but hey, that’s the playbook for TV these days. It’s an always entertaining watch that will make you consider what constitutes effective police work and the wider dynamics playing into that.

The Responder

If the gritty action of response policing is your jam, make sure to watch The Responder starring Martin Freeman. Written by former police officer Tony Schumacher, the storyline is fictional but draws upon the struggles he faced in the job. Freeman plays troubled Liverpool cop Chris Carson, working as a night-response officer after being demoted from inspector. Carson navigates the challenges of his high-pressure job and personal life, striving to make the right choices amidst mounting chaos.

Time

From the streets to the slammer, our next must-watch crime drama is Time by name but not by nature, at only three episodes long. The series follows Mark Cobden (Sean Bean), a teacher who is jailed for killing a cyclist while drink-driving; and Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) a prison officer forced to make a difficult decision when a dangerous inmate identifies his weakness. It’s a gripping storyline, but the highlight for me was undoubtedly the acting. Sean Bean, in particular, delivers one of the most moving and memorable performances I have ever seen.

There’s a second season too which I’m yet to watch. It’s set in a women’s prison and features an exciting cast that includes Jodie Whittaker, Tamara Lawrance and Bella Ramsey.

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