The 10 Best British Detective TV Shows and Series
With the legacies of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle influencing much of Britain’s modern storytelling, how can we not make a list of some of the best British detective shows and series? While the gentler cozy British murder mystery has become a staple of the detective genre, it’s the grittier, character-driven narratives that have dominated British television for years, from shows like Silent Witness to Vera to Endeavour. These are the shows with feature-length episodes and the ones that really get to the heart of a crime and a character’s psyche.
We’ve collated 10 of the best British detective shows to get your heart racing, mind thinking, and soul aching. Brace yourselves.
10. Endeavour (2013-2023)
A period piece set in Oxford and its surroundings between the 1960s and 1970s, Endeavour is one of the most beautifully shot, well-written and performed shows on this list. A prequel to the long-running and ever-popular Inspector Morse, Endeavour follows the lives of Detective Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) and DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) as they juggle their personal lives and solve some of Oxford’s most tragic murders. Endeavour just finished its ninth and sadly final season on ITV in the U.K., but this show is well worth a watch. For those of you in the U.S., Endeavour can be found on Masterpiece PBS.
9. Vera (2011-present)
Vera follows DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) and her team as they solve various harrowing murders across the stunning yet desolate Northumberland landscape. Vera‘s stories are soulful, touching, and memorable, intertwining well with Vera’s loneliness and workaholic nature. The series’ 90-minute runtime really allows the stories to go deeper into the crime, too. Vera is available in the U.K. on ITVX and on Amazon Video and BritBox in the U.S.
8. Shetland (2013-present)
Heading even further north, Shetland takes place on the remote Shetland islands above Scotland and follows DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) and his team as they investigate various crimes and murders across the islands. Given Shetland takes place within a small island community, the stakes are always high and personal—it’s often the case that Perez and his colleagues are forced to investigate people they’ve known their entire lives, making for incredibly compelling drama and character work. Shetland is available on BBC iPlayer and ITVX in the U.K. and available to buy or rent on various streaming services in the U.S.
7. Vienna Blood (2019-present)
One of the newest shows on this list, Vienna Blood is a darkly interesting period piece set in early 1900s Vienna and follows Dr. Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) and Detective Oskar Rheinhardt (Juergen Maurer) as they solve various crimes throughout the city. The twist here is the psychological profiling of the killers, with Liebermann’s particular skills as a professional psychoanalyst playing a major role in every story. Vienna Blood is based on the Liebermann novels by English author Frank Tallis.
Though this is the only show on this list that doesn’t take place in the U.K., it is produced by the BBC (and thus available on BBC iPlayer). It felt like a necessary addition to this list, a break from the norm while still encapsulating the darker, character-driven work of all the other shows we name here. Vienna Blood is available to buy or rent on various streaming services in the U.S. such as Amazon Prime and Google Play.
6. Waking the Dead (2000-2011)
One of the darker, faster-paced shows on this list, Waking the Dead follows a team of detectives, psychologists, and forensic scientists as they uncover various London-based cold cases and try to solve previously unsolved murders using modern methods and technology. The acting is top notch and the stories are always intense and gripping, making Waking the Dead one to put on the watch list, for sure. Waking the Dead can be found on BBC iPlayer in the U.K. and on BritBox, Amazon, and Apple TV+ in the U.S.
5. Inspector George Gently (2007-2017)
Another period piece, Inspector George Gently follows DCI George Gently (Martin Shaw) and DS John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) in the 1960s in the north of England. Shaw delivers a compelling performance as the titular character, as the show not only features a new murder mystery every episode, but also deals with the murder of his wife. George Gently ran for 8 seasons in total and can be found on UKTV play in the U.K., as well as Amazon Prime Video in both the U.K. and the U.S.
4. Foyle’s War (2002-2015)
The final period piece on this list, Foyle’s War follows DCS Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) as he investigates various crimes and murders on the southern coast of England during World War II, with later series following Foyle as a retired detective turned MI5 agent in the aftermath of the war. Honeysuckle Weeks plays his assistant/driver Samantha Stewart with the utmost sincerity, lending some levity to stories that deal with the darkness of the looming conflict and the pain of various crimes. Foyle’s War can be found to buy or rent on various streaming services and Acorn TV in both the U.S. and the U.K.
3. Silent Witness (1996-present)
The longest-running show on this list, Silent Witness recently finished airings its 26th season and has no intention of slowing down any time soon. Though it’s had a rotating cast of characters, Silent Witness‘ core premise has always remained the same, following the forensic investigations of pathologists and scientists based in London. Silent Witness‘ stories are always intricate, clever, intense, and sometimes downright creepy, making this one of the most popular British shows on TV to this day. Silent Witness is available on BBC iPlayer in the U.K. and it is available to buy or rent on various streaming platforms like Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play in the U.S.
2. Broadchurch (2013-2017)
Broadchurch contains a wealth of talent including David Tennant, Olivia Colman, and Jodie Whittaker, captivating everyone when it first aired on ITV in the U.K. Instead of introducing and solving a new crime in every episode, Broadchurch featured a new investigation per season, each one as harrowing and devastating as the next. Broadchurch is widely considered one of ITV’s best dramas, and if you missed it the first time around, definitely give it a try now. It can be found on ITVX in the U.K. and is available to buy or rent on various streaming services in the U.S.
1. The Fall (2013-2016)
The final and perhaps creepiest option on this list, The Fall stars acting heavyweights Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in this procedural which follows DSU Stella Gibson as she tries to track down a serial killer in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Fall is tense and haunting and will stick with you long after you’ve finished, but is certainly worth the watch. The Fall can be found on BBC iPlayer in the U.K. and on Amazon, Google Play, NBC, Pluto, Tubi, and Peacock in the U.S. A subscription may be required for some of those services.
Additional shout-outs for shows like Luther, Line of Duty, Happy Valley and more, all of which are equally captivating in their own ways, but are more recent and widely known. Enjoy being emotionally compromised and somewhat terrified!
(Featured Image: ITV)
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