Choosing staying in over going out and wondering what to watch? Here are 17 of the best British thrillers to catch up on, for an adrenaline rush like no other.
It’s not only that HIIT class that’ll get you breaking a sweat from your living room – a thriller will also do. Some of the best TV shows around right now have an uncanny capacity to send our pulses racing, with murder, mayhem and mystery in the mix.
From new hits (The Serpent) to classics (The Fall), British TV does a fine line in crime shows: blending foolhardy detectives and evasive witnesses with a line-up of spectacularly evil leads. And, of course, it’s all dished up with a healthy dollop of chilling mind games, underwritten by nail-biting suspense.
Here are just 17 of our favourites to catch up from the comfort of your couch.
Can you commit crimes and not remember? Marcella (played by Anna Friel) follows a tortured police detective who, alongside her brutal job, is dealing with her own personal demons, including violent blackouts. Exploring the dark places a person with dissociative identity disorder can be pushed by personal trauma and a taxing work life, if psychological nail-biters are your thing, make sure you don’t miss out.
Expect dark turns and shocking twists as Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) must come to terms with her broken marriage, the suicide of her teenage daughter, Becky, and bringing up the young son that was a product of her rape.
Over two series, she battles keeping her family together, hunting a serial killer and an obsession with bringing the man who abused her daughter to justice.
Written by BAFTA award-winning Sally Wainwright, who also brought Gentleman Jack and Scott & Bailey to our screens, Cawood’s once-happy life is set to unravel even further in a ‘planned’ third series, though it’s not yet confirmed.
Informer questions whether who we really are is made up of our backgrounds, or our choices, past, present and future. In this gripping thriller, Raza, a young second-generation British Pakistani man is coerced into becoming an undercover informant by Gabe (Paddy Considine), a shady counterterrorism officer. When the seemingly casual job begins to compromise not only his own beliefs, but also the welfare of those he loves, Raza struggles to live his own life, as well as that of a police informant.
In every case across Unforgotten’s four series, nothing is black and white. As London detectives DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) attempt to solve cold cases of disappearance and murder, they are confronted with unimaginable truths about the people around them, and themselves. Can we ever really know the people closest to us? Can we even ever really know ourselves?
Just because a stranger is charming and well-dressed, it doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Set in the mid-1970s, The Serpent is based on the crimes of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who murdered young tourists traveling through Thailand. At the height of his crimes, a Dutch diplomat begins investigating the murders and uncovers clues leading to the elusibe Sobhraj. Starring Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman, this epic game of cat and mouse involves switched identities and takes place across the globe.
What really goes on behind the closed doors of family life? That’s the question at the heart of this mesmerising four-part crime drama on Channel 4. When a doctor (David Tennant) loses his wife and three children in a mysterious house fire, no-one is beyond suspicion. As the fractures begin to show in a life that once appeared idyllic, the spotlight turns on Tennant, his late wife and their best-friend neighbours; policeman Steve (Matthew McNulty) and his girlfriend Jess (Cush Jumbo). The darkness that lurks beneath us all takes centrestage in a story that commands edge-of-your-seat viewing.
An unmissable series for those who love the creepier style of drama, The Fall centres on a serial killer (Jamie Dornan) who’s wreaking havoc upon the young women of Belfast – in a particularly horrible string of home murders. But the hunter is also being hunted, as a leading detective (Gillian Anderson) enters the fray, determined to find out who is breaking, entering and killing with intent. What follows is a tantalising chase, with each party ready to outsmart the other; though the killer must also keep up his appearance of an everyday family man.
A show that wins the award for feminist thriller of the decade, Killing Eve will draw you in with its irresistible blend of comedy, courage and unhampered horror. Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a deadly assassin who leaves a trail of mutilated bodies in her wake. But her Achilles Heel is Eve (Sandra Oh), the British intelligence officer charged with tracking her down. The two embark in a bloody game of cat-and-mouse, the boundaries of which are never entirely clear to a legion of captivated viewers. Fiona Shaw co-stars as Eve’s boss in a dark comedy-meets-crime drama that should be top of your watch list.
Season two of this excellent throwback series may have been cancelled – but that doesn’t make us any less addicted to round one of the show. Jumping between a 20-year timeline of Manchester drug raves and Ibizan party culture, the series follows the story of bereaved sister Zoe (Laura Haddock), as she visits the Balearic Island to find out what happened to her sibling Axel (Tom Rhys Harries) – a wannabe DJ who vanished on the island in seriously shady circumstances two decades prior. Cue: hedonism, cocaine and sun-dappled violence aplenty. Plus some excellent retro ‘90s vibes.
A happily married father of two finds his life in turmoil after a stranger tells him a devastating secret about his wife. This adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling thriller relocates the story from the States to suburban Manchester. The stranger in question (played by Hannah John-Kamen) is intent on exposing a series of scandalous lies – but how many people must die as a result? A gripping whodunnit told by an excellent cast, including Downton Abbey’s Siobhan Finneran and Jennifer Saunders in her debut drama role.
Line of Duty
OCG and AFO: you’ll want to get all your police acronyms in a row for this smash-hit BBC police drama from Jed Mercurio. Line of Duty steps inside the murky world of AC-12, an anti-corruption police investigation unit where nothing is as it seems. Martin Compston and Vicky McClure play the detectives responsible for busting crime rings operating from within the police force: a mission that often takes them undercover – with the constant risk of being exposed. Now heading into series six, this is the twisty thriller gift that keeps on giving.
This drama has enjoyed a three-season run on ITV – but most fans would agree that the first series is the best. A world-weary investigator (David Tennant) joins forces with a local detective (Olivia Coleman) when the body of a boy appears on a beach one morning, sending shockwaves through a close-knit coastal community. Who is responsible, and who’s covering their tracks? Each new turn will keep you guessing in this compulsively watchable drama. Season two of Broadchurch continues with the case, while the third series focuses on the aftermath of a disturbing sexual assault.
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An overwhelmed new mother and her apparently perfect husband suffer an awful tragedy as they relocate to Australia from the UK – but suffice to say, all is not as it appears. Jenna Coleman stars in this hard-hitting drama based on the book of the same name by Helen FitzGerald. Expect an insider look at the impact of abuse and coercive control.
Another hit from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio, Bodyguard follows a troubled war veteran (Richard Madden) who is assigned to protect a high-ranking MP (Keeley Hawes) who may be the target of a terror plot. Personal and professional worlds collide in an unbearably tense plot that combines international politics with a side serving of morality and intrigue. Who is being their true self – and who is using a facade?
Luther is the kind of addictive crime series you can watch time and again. Fast-paced and gritty, it delves into the world of workaholic detective John (the brilliant Idris Elba) and his surreal relationship with psychopathic killer Alice (Ruth Wilson) – amid a spate of other dark and disturbing cases that play out in London’s criminal underworld. Running to five series in full, the award-winning drama is shocking, and compulsively watchable.
This critically acclaimed crime series offers a fresh new take on the police procedural – each episode plays out in the confines of a starkly-lit interrogation room, and follows a new narrative each time. Sophie Okonedo stars as a special witness and the wife of a man accused of multiple murders in the new season two of the drama, along with Sharon Horgan and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington. A true psycho-drama, Criminal will get inside your head and stay there for weeks.
An epic period drama that rolls back the clock to 1920s Birmingham, Peaky Blinders revolves around one of the city’s most notorious criminal gangs. Mastermind Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) is the swaggering gangster boss at the heart of a lawless operation designed to build an empire, with sidekicks played by Helen McCrory, Joe Cole and Paul Anderson. A stylish and powerful series with a welcome dash of historical intrigue.
Images: Netflix, Sky Atlantic, BBC, ITV, Amazon Prime
Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.