12 Must-Watch British Dramas: Talent And Storytelling

British Television concept, 3D rendering

Television is a distinctly American invention. Thankfully, it's an invention shared with some very talented folks across the pond. British dramas have long captivated audiences with their compelling narratives, intricate characters, and impeccable performances.

In recent years, the television landscape has witnessed a surge of exceptional contemporary dramas from the United Kingdom, showcasing the nation's rich storytelling tradition and the immense talent of its actors.

Whether you're a fan of gripping crime thrillers, thought-provoking character studies, or intense period pieces, this list of 12 great contemporary British dramas will surely satisfy your appetite for quality television.

older couple smiling with tv remote in hand

Peaky Blinders (2013-2019)

Set in post-World War I Birmingham, this gritty period drama follows the notorious Shelby crime family as they navigate the treacherous world of organized crime. Led by the enigmatic Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), the cast delivers powerful performances, making Peaky Blinders an unmissable series. Its popularity soared, attracting a dedicated fan base worldwide.

Killing Eve (2018-2022)

This thrilling spy drama centers around the cat-and-mouse game between MI5 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the cunning, psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). With its dark humor, stylish cinematography, and brilliant acting, Killing Eve has garnered critical acclaim and a devoted following, cementing its status as a must-watch contemporary drama.

Line of Duty (2012-2021)

Delving into the complex world of police corruption, Line of Duty explores the investigations of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit led by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). This gripping crime drama, known for its intricate plots and compelling performances, has garnered a massive fan base, eagerly anticipating each new season.

Black Mirror (2011-present)

An anthology series created by Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror examines the dark side of technology and its impact on society. Each episode presents a standalone story, often set in a near-future dystopia, exploring themes of identity, surveillance, and human nature.

It's also extremely topical. An episode in season six centers on the issues of AI at the heart of the writers' and actors' strikes that have shut down Hollywood since May 2023.

With its thought-provoking narratives, Black Mirror has become a cultural phenomenon, earning critical acclaim and a dedicated fan following. If you like The Twilight Zone, you'll get a kick out of Black Mirror.

Sherlock (2010-2017)

Bringing the iconic detective to the modern age, Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his loyal companion, Dr. John Watson. This contemporary adaptation captivates viewers with its clever writing, masterful storytelling, and exceptional performances, making it one of the most beloved British dramas of recent times.

Broadchurch (2013-2017)

Set in a small coastal town, Broadchurch follows two detectives, Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), as they investigate a series of brutal crimes that shatter the community. With its haunting atmosphere, superb acting, and gripping storyline, this crime drama garnered widespread acclaim and captured the hearts of audiences around the globe.

The Crown (2016-present)

This lavish historical drama chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, providing an intimate and engaging portrayal of the British monarchy. With its impeccable production values, outstanding performances, and meticulous attention to detail, The Crown has garnered widespread acclaim and become one of Netflix's most successful original series.

Bodyguard (2018)

Starring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes, Bodyguard is a heart-pounding thriller that follows David Budd, a war veteran assigned to protect a high-profile politician. Exploring themes of terrorism, loyalty, and political intrigue, this riveting series earned critical acclaim and a large and devoted fan base during its initial run.

The Fall (2013-2016)

Set in Belfast, this psychological thriller stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, a detective superintendent tasked with capturing a serial killer, played by Jamie Dornan. The Fall distinguishes itself through its gripping storytelling, strong performances, and the exploration of complex psychological dynamics, resulting in a chilling and unforgettable viewing experience.

Fleabag (2016-2019)

Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag is a dark comedy-drama that follows the chaotic life of a witty and troubled young woman navigating relationships, grief, and self-discovery in contemporary London. With its unique blend of humor, heartache, and raw honesty, Fleabag has gained a cult following and widespread critical acclaim, showcasing Waller-Bridge's immense talent as a writer and performer.

The Night Manager (2016)

Based on John le Carré's novel, The Night Manager is a thrilling espionage drama that follows Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British soldier turned hotel manager who gets recruited by intelligence operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the inner circle of an international arms dealer, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). This enthralling series has received critical acclaim and captivated audiences worldwide with its high-stakes plot, stellar performances, and stunning cinematography.

Happy Valley (2014-2016)

Happy Valley takes place in a small town in West Yorkshire. The series explores the life of police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) as she confronts personal demons while dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic incident.

This gritty crime drama delves into themes of justice, redemption, and the human capacity for both good and evil. Lancashire's powerhouse performance and the show's realistic portrayal of the complexities of modern policing have earned it widespread praise and a dedicated fan base.

older woman watching tv with remote in hand

All Around Exceptional Storytelling

Is British television better than American television? Sherlock creator Steven Moffat thinks both sides are on equal footing.

"Everyone in Britain was thinking that the American TV shows were much better and classier and more expensive and glossier. And the reason that was really happening, in both directions, is we only see the best of each other's output," Moffat told The Ringer. "We don't tend to export our drivel, do we?"

These 12 exceptional contemporary British dramas represent the pinnacle of television storytelling, providing audiences with unforgettable characters, intricate plots, and extraordinary performances. Each series explores distinct themes, drawing viewers into their captivating worlds, from period crime epics to dark comedies. These shows are sure to leave you craving more.

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