American dramas tend to get all the praise but British TV has had some pretty intriguing dramas over the years too, especially those aired on BBC. With darker plots, crisp dialogue, and more ruthless characters, the government-run network never holds back when it comes to telling the most fascinating and shocking fictional stories.
Many of these dramas are currently streaming on major platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, hence viewers who haven’t watched them yet don’t need to scratch their heads regarding where to find them. According to IMDb ratings, these are the best BBC dramas ever made.
Updated on March 20th, 2021 by Kristen Palamara: British series are popular and well-made shows that people love to watch and rewatch. There are long-running shows that have been on the air for years and some are mini-series that are just as engaging. There are several police procedural British dramas that can be lighter but still dramatic like Father Brown or more serious. There are more creative series from genre-defining zombie shows like In the Flesh to novel adaptations like Emma. There’s a wide variety of dramatic British dramas that are perfect for any fan.
14 Father Brown (2013-) (7.7)
Father Brown is a long-running series set in the 1950s about an ordinary Catholic Church priest helping out the people in his fictional small town in England as everyone struggles in the aftermath of World War II.
Father Brown (Mark Williams) isn’t affiliated with law enforcement, but he still seeks justice for the townspeople by investigating on his own while also keeping up with his responsibilities as a priest.
13 In The Flesh (2013-2014) (8.0)
In the Flesh is an intriguing drama that tells a different type of zombie story than other shows on the air. The show focuses on Kieren (Luke Newberry) who has newly been turned into a zombie, with zombies being accepted by the government, but still hated by large groups, in this universe.
Kieren tries to reckon with his new status and his treatment for “Partially Deceased Syndrome” while also dealing with the violence he caused before he started treatment.
12 Emma (2009) (8.1)
This British miniseries is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma that tells the story of matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) as she continually tries to match others up for marriage without focusing on her own love life.
Emma has her flaws as she at times only worries about herself as she tries to match up others in their town, and the only one to talk to her frankly is Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller). It’s a loyal adaptation to the novel that any Austen fan would enjoy.
11 Spooks (2002-2011) (8.2)
Spooks revolved around a team of MI-5 counter-terrorist spies working under Section D. They were known as ‘Spooks’ because of their secretive nature. The spooks had no identities or known homes. Led by Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfayden), their goal was to protect the United Kingdom against terrorist threats.
The drama might not have had the high-octane energy of terrorist-centered shows like 24 but the plots were always convincing and captivating and aired for ten seasons on BBC One.
10 The Missing (2014-2016) (8.2)
The emotional drama followed the harrowing mystery of the disappearance of a five-year-old boy named Oliver Hughes during a family holiday to France. A spinoff titled Baptiste, focusing on the officer heading the case, was later developed though it never managed to be quite as popular as the parent show.
Despite the story initially suggesting that Oliver had been kidnapped, the finale threw a major twist involving an accident and a conspiracy to cover it all up.
9 Poldark (2015-2019) (8.3)
Poldark focuses on Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returning home to Cornwall after being defeated in the American Revolutionary War. He tries to cope with defeat and how his circumstances have changed since he was away fighting.
Poldark returns home to find that his father has passed away and the woman he was in love with has agreed to marry another man. It’s an engaging and lovable series that has a lot of drama, action, and romance throughout.
8 Killing Eve (2018-) (8.3)
Sandra Oh is a brilliant actress, and here, she’s been more than outstanding. Killing Eve follows Eve Polastri (Oh), a British intelligence investigator who is only interested in female assassins. After doing shoddy investigations, she ends up getting fired from MI5. However, that’s not the end of the road for her.
She soon gets recruited by an MI6 division that’s looking to capture an assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Soon, Eve and Villanelle become a bit too obsessed with each other. Killing Eve is also keen on promoting female empowerment. Aside from the two leads being women, each of the three seasons has had a different female head writer. Laura Neal has also been confirmed as Season 4’s head writer.
7 Happy Valley (2014-) (8.4)
Happy Valley follows the impressively calm Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire). Audiences first meet her when a heartbroken man sets himself on fire on a playground. Everyone panics but Cawood is casual about it. She even goes to a store first to buy chords to hold her shades.
She then remarks: “He can send himself to paradise, that’s his choice, but he’s not taking my eyebrows with him.” That statement alone makes you fall in love with her. And critics love the series way much more than the fans do. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a score of 98%.
6 House Of Cards (1990) (8.5)
Years before the Netflix remake came out, the original one had already made a mark as one of the best political dramas of all time. The series was adapted from Michael Dobbs novel of the same name. Dobbs was a former Chief of Staff.
The series followed the Conservative Party’s Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) as he devised manipulative schemes to enable him to become the leader of the ruling party and, eventually the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Urquhart was every bit a Machiavellian monster as Frank Underwood, if not more brutal.
5 Luther (2010-2019) (8.5)
Idris Elba plays a smart and tough detective named John Luther who spends his days tracking down serial killers of London. He is so consumed by his job that his estranged wife once remarks: “You care about the dead more than the living.”
Despite trying his best to be a good cop, Luther’s integrity is tested when he begins investigating a woman named Alice (played by The Affair’s Ruth Wilson). Alice has an obsession with him and Luther soon begins developing a dangerous connection with her too. The series received 11 Emmy nominations during its hugely successful run.
4 Normal People (2020) (8.6)
Based on a New York Times best-seller of the same name, Normal People revolves around the steamy relationship of young lovers Marianne and Connell as they move from high school to college. Cornell happens to be popular while Marianne is lonely and intimidating. Soon, the tables turn between them.
At the recent 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, Normal People was nominated for four awards. The series aired on BBC One and BBC Three in the UK but in the US rights were acquired by Hulu.
3 Line Of Duty (2012-) (8.7)
Line of Duty focuses on a department of the police that is responsible for investigating corruption within the Central Police force. The series follows Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) who was transferred to the unit after he refused to be part of a cover-up.
The series is a popular and unique type of police procedural drama that focuses on the police unit that takes on cases of police corruption.
2 Peaky Blinders (2013-) (8.8)
There can be no doubt that a show is brilliant when Tom Hardy agrees to play a supporting character. The gangster drama sees Cillian Murphy portraying the kingpin of the Shelby Crime Family as he controls crime in the West Midlands industrial city of Birmingham back in 1919.
Sam Neill also plays a ruthless inspector whose goal is to destroy the organization. Hardy joined the show in Season 2. He portrayed Alfred “Alfie” Solomons, the boss of a Jewish gang in Camden Town. The series is based on the infamous urban youth gang of the same name.
1 Sherlock (2010-2017) (9.1)
Benedict Cumberbatch’s breakout role saw him play a modern version of Sherlock Holmes as he teamed up with his trusted sidekick, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) to solve crimes in London. Four seasons of the BBC drama have aired so far.
To make the series even more modern, Watson had a blog in which he documented his adventures with Holmes. The blog ended up making Holmes a celebrity. The series has won numerous awards including two Emmys for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie” for Benedict Cumberbatch and “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries Or a Movie” for Martin Freeman.
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