Crime doesn’t pay – but watching crime shows and mystery dramas sure is fun. And here in the UK we love a good crime show!
From Broadchurch to Poirot, and Luther to White House Farm, the UK has produced a wealth of captivating crime dramas. Some are hard-hitting, gritty stories, while others are more light-hearted tales.
But where do you start if you want to get into British crime shows? With this post, of course!
Below is a run-through of the best British crime dramas. These are the must-see shows, guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment for all you would-be detectives and amateur sleuths!
Best British crime series
Below is a collection of British crime shows to add to your ‘watch list’. The collection includes detective shows, psychological thrillers, dramatizations of real-life events, and the odd who dunnit?.
Dive in to the list and see what you’ve missed. You may have overlooked your next TV obsession.
First up is Cracker – a hard-hitting series about criminal psychologist, Dr. Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald. Set in Manchester, and filmed between 1993 and 2006, Cracker stars Robbie Coltrane, Christopher Eccleston, Ricky Tomlinson, and Geraldine Somerville, and ran for 25 episodes.
White House Farm
Next up is, White House Farm – a six-part dramatization based on a real-life collection murders which took place in 1985 in the village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex. The series explores the events leading up to the murders, as well as the aftermath, as the police initially focus on the wrong suspect.
White House Farm is a gripping and fascinating account of an extremely tragic crime. The series stars Freddie Fox, Mark Addy, Stephen Graham, and Alexa Davies.
Life on Mars
Something a little different now – a cop show with a twist.
In Life on Mars, police officer Sam Tyler is knocked unconscious in 2006, but when he wakes up, he suddenly finds himself in 1973. Is he dreaming? Has he travelled back in time? These are just some of the many questions in this mind-bending and very nostalgic series.
Set in Manchester in the 1970s, Life on Mars stars John Simm and Philip Glenister. The show ran for 16 episodes between 2006 and 2007, and spawned a spin-off sequel.
Speaking of which…
Ashes to Ashes
Following a similar format to Life on Mars, and retaining some of the same cast, Ashes to Ashes is another cop show, set in the past. This time it is the 1980s, with the focus placed on police officer, Alex Drake, who has inexplicably found herself in 1981.
Ashes to Ashes ran for 24 episodes between 2008 and 2010 and like its predecessor is filled with plenty of crime, lots of drama, and a huge amount of ‘80s iconography.
A complete change of pace now, with a dark, psychological crime thriller set in Northern Ireland. The Fall stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, and follows the story of Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson, as she investigates the crimes of a serial killer who is preying on young women in Belfast.
The Fall is an incredibly engaging and oft-times disturbing piece of television which gets into the mind of a killer. The critically acclaimed series ran for 17 episodes between 2013 and 2016.
Olivia Coleman and David Tennant take the lead in Broadchurch – a serial crime drama set in a fictional town in Dorset, England. The show focuses on events surrounding the death of a local boy, including the investigation and the aftermath.
Broadchurch ran for 24 episodes, which originally aired between 2013 and 2017.
A firm British favourite now, and one of the UK’s best-loved and longest running detective shows: Inspector Morse. The show – based on a series of novels by Colin Dexter – follows the story of Detective Chief Inspector Morse, as he investigates crimes in Oxford, England.
Inspector Morse ran 33 episodes between 1987 and 2000. John Thaw took on the title role, while Kevin Whately played Morse’s second in command, Sergeant Lewis.
Continuing the Inspector Morse story is Lewis – a spin-off series focusing on Robert Lewis, who has been promoted from Sergeant to Detective Inspector. Kevin Whately reprises the role of DI Lewis, for another a collection of investigations in Oxford.
Just like its predecessor, Lewis ran for 33 episodes, which aired between 2006 and 2015.
Completing the Morse trilogy is Endeavour, a prequel series telling the early adventures of Inspector Morse (or Detective Sergeant Morse as he is known in the show). Shaun Evans takes on the title role, which first hit screens in 2012.
Poirot is a long-running British drama based on the Hercule Poirot stories by celebrated crime author, Agatha Christie. The series – which aired between 1989 and 2013 – comprised 70 episodes, and adapted some of Christie’s most famous stories, including The ABC Murders, Death on the Nile, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Murder on the Orient Express.
Hugely successful, the show is one of the best-loved takes on the Poirot mysteries. Poirot stars David Suchet in the title role, with Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings.
A Touch of Frost
Based on the Frost novels by R. D. Wingfield, A Touch of Frost is a detective series following the story of Detective Inspector William Edward ‘Jack’ Frost, who investigates crimes in the fictional town of Denton, England. David Jason plays the role of DI Frost across 42 episodes, which aired between 1992 and 2010.
In this mystery drama, from writer David Renwick, Alan Davies plays the role of Jonathan Creek – a creative consultant to a stage magician, who uses his quirky talent for understanding illusions to crack seemingly impossible mysteries.
Jonathan Creek is a brilliantly inventive show, filled with madcap characters, and intriguing crimes. If you have never watched a single episode, now is the time to correct this faux pas.
Prime Suspect stars Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison – a no-nonsense Detective Chief Inspector working for the Metropolitan Police force. The show focuses on Tennison’s cases, as well as her never-ending battle to prove herself in a male-dominated profession.
Prime Suspect ran for 15 episodes, airing between 1991 and 2006.
Hitting screens for the first time in 1996, Silent Witness is an incredibly successful show from the BBC. The series places the spotlight on the forensic side of crime, and has already clocked up over 200 episodes.
Silent Witness initially focused on pathologist Sam Ryan (as played by Amanda Burton), but as the series developed the focus switched to an ensemble cast, including Dr. Nikki Alexander, played by Emilia Fox.
Based on the crime novel of the same name by Minette Walters, The Sculptress is a psychological thriller, about a woman who may or may not have been responsible for the murder of her mother and sister. Pauline Quirke takes on the role of Olive Martin (aka the Sculptress) for this four-part drama, which is a hidden gem from the 1990s.
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
This incredible one-off drama, tells the real-life story of a retired school teacher, who becomes a suspect in the disappearance and murder of a landscape architect. The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies explores the way that Jefferies was vilified by the media, even though he was completely innocent of any crime.
Jason Watkins plays the role of Christopher Jefferies – a role which bagged him a British Academy Television Award.
Agatha Christie’s Marple
Based on the beloved Miss Marple novels, Agatha Christie’s Marple is a delightful series which aired from 2004 until 2013. Within this time, two actresses took on the role of the super sleuth, with Geraldine McEwan playing Marple in the first instance, and Julia McKenzie taking over the role mid-way through the show’s run.
Agatha Christie’s Marple ran for 23 episodes and is as fun to watch as you might imagine.
And now onto another long-running murder mystery series, which has become somewhat of a British institution. Midsomer Murders is a crime drama based on the Chief Inspector Barnaby books by Caroline Graham.
Set within the fictional English county of Midsomer (where crimes frequently take place), the show follows two detectives, both called Barnaby. John Nettles played the lead role of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby when the show first hit screens in 1997, while Neil Dudgeon took over as Tom’s cousin, Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby from 2010 onward.
Idris Elba takes the lead in this psychological crime drama about a Detective Chief Inspector working for the Serious Crime Unit. Luther first hit screens in 2010, and became an instant hit with viewers.
And finally, The Missing is a British anthology drama series from 2014. The show stars Tchéky Karyo, James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, David Morrissey and Keeley Hawes.
The first season of The Missing followed the search for a missing boy in France, while the second season focused on a girl who had gone missing in Germany.
I hope you found this collection of British crime dramas and mystery shows useful. To save you scrolling back up, here are all of the shows in one handy list:
- White House Farm
- Life on Mars
- Ashes to Ashes
- The Fall
- Inspector Morse
- A Touch of Frost
- Jonathan Creek
- Prime Suspect
- Silent Witness
- The Sculptress
- The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
- Agatha Christie’s Marple
- Midsomer Murders
- The Missing
If you’re a fan of British crime shows, then you may wish to know that some of these classic series mentioned above are currently available on DVD, including many episodes of Midsomer Murders.
Midsomer Murders: Barnaby’s Casebook is one such release, and contains multiple episodes of the show in one handy boxset.
Thank you for stopping by It’s A Stampede! to check out the best British crime shows. For more crime-related content, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
Disclaimer: I earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.