Crime is universal. However, crime drama, specifically its attitude and tone, differs depending on where you live.
Don’t believe me? Compare the American Elementary to the British Sherlock. Both are excellent, but very different from each other.
With that in mind, here are the best British crime dramas to watch on Netflix.
One of the BBC’s most popular dramas stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, the iconic figures created by Arthur Conan Doyle. The show is as addictive as the original books, but takes differing approaches to the characters and their world.
This is the Great Detective in contemporary London, with cases riffing off famous stories. Sherlock immediately gained a huge following when it debuted in 2010 because the amount of love is evident throughout. It’s most notable for its stunning direction, however: initially spearheaded by Paul McGuigan (Luke Cage), its ideas are heady, immersive, and incredibly distinctive.
Dark. Brooding. Thrilling. Luther is an absolute tour de force.
The idea behind DCI John Luther is a well-worn one: a man with as many terrible demons as the people he’s trying to catch. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to it than that, most notably very affecting narratives, and Idris Elba (The Wire) giving it his all in the lead role.
Created by Neil Cross (Mama), it’s a psychological thriller that pushes limits and delivers genuine scares. It’s not a typical “Whodunnit” by any means—for starters, you know who the killers are. You then get to see their adrenalin-fuelled crimes, following what they do while Luther tries to get into their mindsets.
Its first episode, aired in 2010, also introduces Alice, played by Ruth Wilson (The Affair), a captivating and oddly-charming sparring partner for Luther. It’s a dynamic you simply must see.
3. The Fall
A similar relationship comes to the fore across three seasons of The Fall. It charts Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson’s (Gillian Anderson) hunt for serial killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). He stalks the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and attacks young professionals. Gibson is brought in when the case drags on for too long. It’s the hunter becoming the hunted, but which is which?
Spector’s obsession with Gibson grows, and his secrets threaten his home life, specifically when his daughter starts having nightmares about the murderer.
The gritty drama developed a dedicated following upon its 2013 debut, and won numerous accolades across its three seasons.
4. Father Brown
Based on the books by G. K. Chesterton, Father Brown tells the story of a Catholic priest turned amateur investigator. It’s an unusual premise, and that’s what makes it work—an enjoyable juxtaposition of the cosy and the callous.
This is a quintessentially British crime drama set in the picturesque (but fictional) village of Kembleford. It’s a typically pleasant series, which still takes on challenging concepts. Notably, Father Brown (played by Mark Williams) opposes the death penalty yet is responsible for capturing murderers and must pray for their souls.
Of course, he must also obey the Seal of Confession, making Father Brown an interesting series that explores the gray areas of society.
11-year-old Daniel Latimer is found dead on the beach of the sleepy seaside town of Broadchurch. It quickly becomes obvious that he didn’t jump from the clifftop above. He was murdered. And this tears the close-knit community apart.
Broadchurch was a televisual sensation. It grabbed the headlines and captured the nation as suspicions flew left, right, and center. Who would kill a young boy? And why?
It’s a genuinely affecting piece, driven forward by a stunning cast that includes David Tennant, Olivia Colman, and Arthur Darvill. Season 1, Episode 5 is arguably the most moving instalment, beautifully played by David Bradley (the Harry Potter films).
You might have seen the American adaptation, Gracepoint. Broadchurch is vastly superior.
Very few shows can survive the change of a lead character, but Death in Paradise does so brilliantly because the format is so strong. A British detective is transferred to the Caribbean island of Saint Marie, and must adapt to this new life.
Stunning vistas frame a hugely enjoyable fish-out-of-water tale with an extra helping of humor. (Alternatively, if you want to watch something to make you laugh, there are plenty of great British comedies on Netflix too).
The first two seasons starred Ben Miller (The Armstrong and Miller Show) as DI Richard Poole. Then Kris Marshall (Love Actually) took over as DI Humphrey Goodman. And finally Ardal O’Hanlon (Father Ted) replaced him as DI Jack Mooney. Don’t let that put you off: these changes move the series forward while staying true to its heart.
Writer, Robert Thorogood carried Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House in his back pocket when he was younger, and her influence on him shines through in these imaginative mysteries.
Jack the Ripper had a profound effect on London, especially its police force. This gritty, thought-provoking drama takes place shortly after the serial killer’s last murder, where we find Whitechapel’s H Division fighting to maintain peace.
The show changed considerably across its five seasons, but kept the same contemplative tone. Never shying away from the shocking truths of 1800s culture, the series frequently uncovered the dark truths lurking beneath the propaganda.
It may be foreboding and bloody, but it’s also a surprising tearjerker. Watch “Am I Not Monstrous?” as a prime example of this.
The BBC axed Ripper Street, but its considerable fanbase convinced Amazon Prime Video to revive it as a co-production. Phew!
Looking for unusual British crime dramas on Netflix? Try River.
You’ll recognize Stellan Skarsgård from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, he plays John River, a detective inspector plagued by the ghosts of victims of cases he has to solve. He’s accompanied by the “manifest” of DS Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson (Nicola Walker), a recently-murdered colleague. The pair were more than just friends, and the sadness of their situation is underlined by their warmth.
The problem River faces isn’t solely solving her murder. It’s whether he really wants to—knowing that, once he does, she’ll disappear from his life forever. At what price justice?
River’s short six-episode run is critically acclaimed, holding a rare 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. Happy Valley
A staged kidnapping spirals out of control when convicted rapist, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), proves too much of a wildcard. Royce’s original victim was Becky, who committed suicide as a result of his crime. She’s the daughter of DS Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), now investigating this new kidnapping.
It’s an intriguing premise, and obviously not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal and shocking, but nonetheless one of the best dramas on Netflix. There’s a lovely humanity at the heart of this show, highlighted by Sally Wainwright’s realistic (and witty) dialog, and stellar acting from the whole cast.
You can enjoy both acclaimed seasons on Netflix—and yes, they’re perfect for binge-watching!
Let’s finally explore the outer reaches of Great Britain. Shetland is set on the titular archipelago to the north of Scotland and based on the series of books by Ann Cleeves. These see the small community divided by disturbing crimes, and it’s up to DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) and his team to fix the damage.
It’s a stunning, ever-shifting landscape—barren yet alive. This is particularly evident in the second episode’s celebration of Up Helly Aa, Europe’s biggest fire festival, inspired by Viking tradition.
Shetland’s reach is massive, becoming an international success, and making it one of the best crime shows on Netflix.
Missing These Dramas Would Be Criminal
With so much awesome content on Netflix, it’s difficult to narrow down what to watch during a quiet evening in. But missing these shows really would be criminal.
The streaming media service boasts a wealth of fantastic drama series, including plenty more British mysteries on Netflix. If you’re overwhelmed despite these suggestions, check out our ultimate guide to Netflix.