From old classics to culture-shifting works of art, these are the best dramas from the BBC to keep you going all year round.
While the world outside our doorstep remains an overwhelming place to be, there is one way to get through it: nestling on the sofa and getting thoroughly lost in a BBC drama. But with so much to choose from, where do we start? Well, we’ve curated the ultimate selection of the best BBC dramas available to binge right now.
From the criminal goings on in Luther
Go forth and binge-watch to your heart’s content.
I May Destroy You, 2020
The brainchild of actor, writer and producer Michaela Coel, this groundbreaking show follows Arabella, a woman who was sexually assaulted in a nightclub and is grappling with the after effects.
Based on Coel’s own experience, it’s a clever, powerful exploration into consent in the modern age. “What I’m doing is shining a torch on the grey areas and suddenly they’re not that grey,” she told
Helen Bownass . “Somebody took the condom off in the middle of having sex with you. When you talk about it as an idea: why did they do it? Oh they said they felt uncomfortable… But when you actually see it, that’s different. That is transparency.”
As nominations for the Golden Globes were announced last year, those in and out of the industry were horrified when the show didn’t receive any. At all.
Adele is also a fan. She took to Instagram saying it’s “the best thing I’ve seen on British TV for yeaaaarssss!! It’s wholesome, uncomfortable, hilarious but terribly sad and then awkward…and then it makes you cough a bit for no reason and also makes you go put the kettle on, for no reason.” You’ll want to put this one at the top of your to watch list.
Normal People, 2020
Set in Sligo and later in Dublin, Ireland, Normal People explores the passionate, complex, and at times awkward relationship between Marianne (played by Daisy Edgar Jones) and Connell Waldron (played by Paul Mescal) from secondary school through to their university years. Based on the book by Sally Rooney, it’s the show that got us through the first lockdown.
And for the super fans, let us introduce you to Connell’s Chain – the Instagram fan page created by Stylist’s very own
fashion features editor, Billie Bhatia, that you’ll want to follow alongside your Normal People journey.
Small Axe, 2020
Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen brings us five beautiful hour-length films intended as love letters to Black resilience and triumph in London’s West Indian community from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Each film centres on a different story. There’s Mangrove
, starring Letitia Wright, the true story of the clash between the Mangrove Nine and the police which led to a landmark trial at the Old Bailey. While Education is inspired by McQueen’s own secondary school experience, where he realised that the educational structure was fraught with racial bias.
Killing Eve, 2018-2020
Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve
follows the tumultuous relationship between MI5 agent Eve Polastri (played by Sandra Oh) and trained assassin Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer). Throughout the show, Eve is constantly on the hunt for Villanelle and her journey takes her all over Europe. Packed with stunning fashion from the likes of Molly Goddard, Halpern and Gucci, it’s a treat for the eyes.
We aren’t the only ones who think it’s great by the way; it’s won countless BAFTA and Emmy awards too. While the fourth and final season was delayed due to Covid-19, it’ll be coming to our screens this year.
Line of Duty, 2012-2021
Line of Duty is one of the BBC’s biggest dramas with nine million viewers watching the finale of series six. Written by Jed Mercurio, it’s all about the inner workings of an intra-police anti-corruption unit, AC-12, led by DS Steve Arnott (played by Martin Compston) with Vicky McClure starring as Detective Inspector Kate Fleming. While the sixth season was supposed to be its last, there have been rumours of a seventh – could it be a case of wishful thinking? Perhaps but either way, you’ll want to tune into this captivating drama.
Noughts + Crosses, 2020
An adaptation of the original Malorie Blackman books, we follow a developing romance between teenagers Callum McGregor (played by Jack Rowan) and Persephone Hadley (played by Masali Baduza) in a world where their different races cause constant threat. It’s a tale of families clashing, wider social fragmentation and ultimately how love wins.
Set in a dystopian London, it’s a world that’s very different from the one we know. As a second series has just been announced, we guarantee that you’ll want to catch up with the first intriguing series as soon as possible.
Set to the background of London’s booze-filled, sexually-charged finance scene, Industry
tracks the lives of five young graduates as they compete for permanent positions at an investment bank; Harper Stern (played by Myha’la Herrold) is trying to keep a secret that got her this graduate job from getting out, Yasmin Kara-Hanani (Marisa Abela) is the resident ‘coffee getting’ graduate looking to prove herself, Robert Spearing (played by Harry Lawtey) is trying to shake his working class roots to fit into this world and Gus Sackey (played by David Jonsson) is made for this world, but his laser focus for a permanent position is shifted after a tragic accident.
The show’s been praised for the way it represents female desire so it’s a pretty empowering watch. “It’s important for viewers, especially women, to feel comforted and to know how important female desire is, and really going after what it is that you want,” Marissa Abela who plays Yasmin told
Helen Bownass .
Doctor Foster, 2015-2017
You’ll be on edge in the best way with this one, as we’re let into the life of Dr Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones). From the outside it looks like she has the perfect life with her handsome husband, beautiful house and great job but when she suspects her husband is having an affair with Kate (Jodie Comer) her life begins to unravel. Suranne Jones won a Bafta for this compelling revenge drama that sadly finished after series two.
Dark psychological criminal drama Luther – which has racked up five series so far – is as suspenseful as it gets. Idris Elba plays self-destructive detective John Luther who’s more like those he’s trying to catch than he’d probably like to think. So much so, he ends up befriending murderer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) in series one, with the aim of solving crimes together.
While the series drew to a close after five seasons, Luther fans are in luck: a Luther film is on its way.
In a story as old as time, detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) works with his right hand man, John H. Watson (Martin Freeman), to solve the most curious of crimes together. It’s a really refreshing and compelling take on a classic story. With four seasons to binge, each episode is guaranteed to make you want to figure out how these crimes happened and how the people committed them. If you’re feeling in a puzzle-solving mood, this one will keep your mind occupied.
The Split, 2018-2020
At its core, the slickly shot show is about the messy lives of sisters that work in divorce law. The eldest of the Defoe family, Hannah (Nicola Walker) left the firm founded by their parents – and headed by their mother, Ruth (Deborah Findlay) – while the others remained.
Packed with affairs and a few mysteries along the way, there’s a lot going on. For something that feels relatable, The Split
perfectly captures the highs and lows of family relationships. If you fly through the two series on iPlayer, have no fear – the hotly anticipated third (and final) season is coming out this year.
Back in 18th century London, sex was the biggest commercial activity. Inspired by the stories of real women and inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s book
, The Covent Garden Ladies, the series follows Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) trying to juggle being a brothel owner and mother to two daughters, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Lucy (played by Eloise Smyth), as they fight to protect their business being taken from a rising rival brothel.
Call The Midwife, 2012-2021
Expect laughter, tears and everything in between when you step into the lives of midwives living in the East End of London in the 1950s. Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, we follow a group of nurses from their first days as midwives to mastering it. With a 10th series on the way, there’s plenty to watch. Although it explores topics including racism and alcohol addiction, at the heart, it’s a show about sisterhood that’ll leave you with a warm feeling.
Pride and Prejudice, 1995
Everyone knows this regency romance and the 1995 TV adaptation is the best take on the beloved Jane Austen novel. It stars Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, a wealthy young man who develops a complex relationship with a strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle). It’s perfect for those times where you’re in need of a little nostalgia.
Years and Years, 2019
The uncertainty of the future is on all our minds right now, and the other-worldly six-part series
released in 2019 explores this very idea. Created by Russel T Davies, we follow an ordinary British family – the Lyons – as they grapple with the future, who they’ll be and how they’ll change. Literally. They’re thrust 15 years into the future.
All the while, an MP by the name of Vivienne Rook (played by Emma Thompson) undergoes a transformation into one of the most controversial political figures in the UK. It’s fiction that feels all too real.
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Happy Valley, 2014-2016
In Happy Valley, life
is anything but happy. This brilliantly dark drama by Sally Wainwright is set in a small village in West Yorkshire, and centres on a strong-willed police sergeant, Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) eight years after her teenage daughter, Becky, was raped and killed.
Cawood is trying to come to terms with this just as her daughter’s rapist, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), is released from prison after serving time for drug charges, leading to her obsessively trying to find and catch him. A third series is on the way.
The Missing, 2014-2016
This is a compelling mystery thriller focused on a missing boy. In 2006, Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) and wife Emily (played by Frances O’Connor) go on holiday to northern France with their son, Oliver. While they’re watching the world cup, Oliver goes missing.
The boy’s father enlists a French detective, Julien Baptiste, to work on finding his son after the police close the case. The journey to find Oliver is riddled with mystery after mystery that you’ll find yourself investing in with them.
Prime Suspect, 1991-2006
When this first came out in 1991, people couldn’t stop talking about the show. It became pretty revolutionary for being one of the first to centre a drama on a female senior detective. Dame Helen Mirren stars as detective chief inspector Jane Tennison working at the Metropolitan Police. We see her grapple with the weight of proving herself in a male-dominated police force, while of course doing what she does best: solving crimes.
With seven seasons, there’s enough to keep you occupied for a long while. If not to watch the masterful Mirren at work, the mysteries of each crime will leave you trying to piece the puzzles together at home.
When 26-year-0ld Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) resurfaces after being captured and missing for 13 years, the police and her family have lot of questions. As she tries to adjust to her freedom, the police notice there’s something about her story that doesn’t seem to add up. Filled with intrigue, the six episodes will keep you guessing until the end.
The Fall, 2013-2016
Another dark psychological thriller – this time based in Belfast, Northern Ireland – The Fall lets us into the life and mental state of serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and the female detective brought in to catch him, Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson). You’ll be mesmerised by the parallels between the two.
If you’re a fan of The Missing, chances are that you’ll love (and lap up) Baptiste. Following French detective Julien Baptiste (played by Tchéky Karyo), the two series follow Baptiste in a more personal, eye-opening manner compared to The Missing. We follow his personal struggles, his past and his bleak-looking future as he battles crime cases that appear to be much closer to home than first realised.
You Don't Know Me, 2021
This hard-hitting drama had us scratching our head all throughout (in the best possible way) and will likely leave you second guessing everything.
Based on the bestselling novel by Imran Mahmood, the four-part drama follows Hero (played by The Last Tree’s Samuel Adewunmi), a young man who stands accused of murder. It sounds like a simple enough premise, right? Well, here’s where things start to get a little more convoluted: although all the evidence points at Hero being the prime suspect, he maintains that he is innocent.
While it can be a bit of a slow burner in places, we still aren’t quite over that finale. It’ll leave you reeling and wanting more, trust us.
From the producers of beloved dramas Line Of Duty, Bodyguard and Vigil, Showtrial is the twisted drama forcing us to question ‘who did it?’ and ‘who can we trust?’. You know, just the usual stuff we love from a British crime drama.
Showtrial follows the high-profile fictional court case of millionaire heiress Talitha Campbell (Bridgerton’s Celine Buckens) and her solicitor Cleo Roberts (The Originals’ Tracy Ifeachor). Set in the present day, Talitha stands accused of the conspiracy to commit murder. Rather than rely on her father’s fortunes and flashy legal team, she opts for the on-duty solicitor provided by the courts, Cleo. What transpires is a media frenzy, a lot of questions and an ending full of questions.
Vigil is high-octane and equally as addictive to watch. But we could expect nothing less from a drama that comes from the same producers as Line Of Duty, right?
“The deeper you go, the darker it gets,” the synopsis reads. “When a sailor is found dead on submarine HMS Vigil, DCI Silva uncovers a conspiracy.” Starring Suranne Jones – one of our favourite actors – she is on a mission to uncover what actually went on underwater but with closed doors seemingly at every turn of her investigation, it proves harder (and more sinister) to uncover the truth.
A Very British Scandal, 2021
We can’t quite believe this stellar drama is only three episodes long but time flies when you’re having fun, right? The historical drama is anything but stuffy and boring – instead, it provides crucial context on one of Britain’s most vilified women, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.
Boasting a subtle sex-positive message and displaying the unfair double standards of the time, Claire Foy delivers an ace performance as Margaret while Paul Bettany (WandaVision) is utterly convincing as the Duke. You’ll likely scoff and get annoyed while watching – that’s how engrossing it is.
Four Lives, 2022
This factual drama is based on the real-life victims of Stephen Port, also known as the ‘Grindr serial killer’ and has completely engrossed viewers since it aired. Most notably, though, its finale packs a powerful message regarding police incompetence.
The series, which is written by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay (The Moorside, Appropriate Adult) goes “beneath the headlines to shed new light on this story by telling it from the point of view of the families and friends of the four young men – Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor - who were murdered by Stephen Port.
“Four Lives focuses on the fight to uncover the truth about what had happened to their lost sons, brothers and loved ones in the face of a now widely condemned police investigation.”
Going to university with your childhood best friend, you’d think, would be a wonderful thing. But as Holly (Synnøve Karlsen) and Georgia (Aisling Franciosi) soon find out in this BBC series, it’s anything but.
Living in the same halls, taking the same classes and frequenting the same haunts, the girls meet the enigmatic ‘clique’ with Professor Jude McDermid at its helm. The clique is all about parties and living a fast-paced, social life with money never being a problem. It all seems fun – until it really isn’t. Prepare for dark twists and not to trust anyone in the first series with Clique’s second season providing thought-provoking discussions on patriarchy, rape and university ‘lad culture’.
Peaky Blinders, 2013-2019
The gritty family drama has captivated viewers since it initially premiered back in 2013. Since then, we’ve seen the Birmingham-based drama go from strength to strength, along with treating us to its fair share of blood, violence and surprise twists.
Cillian Murphy is utterly endearing as Tommy Shelby and as he battles rival gangs, PTSD from the war and his own life problems, he also racks up an impressive amount of enemies as figurehead of the Shelby clan. If you like edge-of-your-seat dramas, this one’s for you.
The Girl Before, 2021
The BBC know how to do a good psychological thriller and The Girl Before will certainly have you second guessing certain characters – in the best way possible.
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jane, Selma’s David Oyelowo as enigmatic architect Edward Monkford and Eastenders’ Jessica Plummer as Emma, the lives of these three individuals collide in the most eerily of ways. As Monkford rents out his minimalist home to Jane, we start to understand that the rules she has to adhere to on arrival are not just a quirk of his but rather, an insight into his controlling personality.
There’s mystery and drama in great supply with this four-part series – and a swoony-worthy house – so you’ll lap this one up in no time.
While there are crime dramas aplenty to choose from BBC’s back catalogue, prison dramas are few and far between. This gritty three-part series may seem like a short one to get through but we recommend spacing out this stellar performance over a few watches.
It follows the story of inmate Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) and prison officer Eric McNally (Graham) in a British prison. Sympathy and suspicion swirls throughout this series but most of all, the stark (and bleak) reality of UK prisons provides much of the underlying tension of this show. As well as some truly superb acting, this drama will leave you rethinking everything you thought you knew about the prison system.
Images: Courtesy of BBC