This year brought more murder mysteries, missing people, Scandinavian-style noir and plenty of whodunnits
Fans of pacey thrillers were in luck this year with plenty of great new and returning shows. Here are some of the best:
One of Us
A pair of childhood sweethearts fall victim to a brutal murderer in the Scottish Highlands. After a fateful car accident the killer is stranded in a remote village and finds himself in the hands of the couple’s families. What happens next will change everything for the bereaved relatives, who include Juliet Stevenson, Ade Edmondson and Game of Thrones star Joe Dempsie.
There’s much more to the two clans – now bound together by a dark secret – than first appears, with dysfunction and deception aplenty. “This is the kind of drama where everyone has a lot of secrets and says things such as: ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!'” notes The Guardian‘s Lucy Mangan.
“A clever little thriller,” was the Radio Times‘s verdict after episode one. In a TV landscape with no shortage of gritty crime dramas, One of Us “explores the nature of grief and retribution in new and interesting ways”, it says.
Fans of this Netflix original have been rewarded with a second season, and a third and fourth are already in the pipeline. The critically acclaimed drama is based on the story of the infamous Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Drug Enforcement Agency agents hunting him. The Daily Telegraph describes Narcosas “devastatingly addictive”. With “more plot strands than a Dickens novel, this is drama that commands your utmost attention”, says the paper, warning viewers not to tune out for even a second.
Critics at The Guardian agree. The drug kingpin can order someone’s death “with a nod of his head or the raise of his eyebrow – and then, that character will disappear”, the newspaper says. “If you don’t concentrate, you’ll get left behind. This is full-immersion TV.”
While audiences and critics have praised the series, Escobar’s son, Sebastian Marroquin, was less than impressed with the show, calling it “insulting” and claiming it includes a litany of historical errors. “But of course, the show’s creators have always said they never depicted the entire truth, with many aspects being exaggerated for dramatic purposes,” The Independent reports.
In 1950, 25-year-old Welshman Timothy Evans was hanged in Pentonville prison for the murder of his wife and young child. During his trial, he accused the softly spoken landlord John Christie, who lived below his London flat, of the crimes. Three years later, it emerged Christie was a serial killer who had murdered six other women at the same Notting Hill address: 10 Rillington Place.
Evans was posthumously pardoned for the murder of his daughter in 1996 and cleared of killing his wife in 2004.
The crimes inspired the 1971 film 10 Rillington Place, starring Richard Attenborough as Christie. Now the BBC has made a three-part drama about the killings, with Nico Mirallegro playing Evans, Tim Roth as Christie and Samantha Morton as his wife Ethel.
Rillington Place is “interestingly structured”, says The Independent, with each of its three episodes showing the crimes from a different perspective: first that of Ethel, herself one of Christie’s victims; then Evans’s point of view of, and finally the murderer himself.
The paper adds that Roth is “superb” as Christie, “chilling while suggesting the shambling gait of Woody Allen”, while The Guardian says Morton is “also strong in a difficult role”, although the “stark direction and script leave Ethel’s underlying psychology… indistinct”.
Everest director Baltasar Kormakur’s series is filled with eerie frozen landscapes, unpronounceable names and chilling drama.
Set in Seyoisfjorour, a remote village in the east of Iceland, it begins when a mutilated corpse is found near the local port, just after the arrival of an international ferry. Local police chief Andri begins his investigations but an ominous blizzard blows in, cutting off the fishing village, and the suspect remains on the loose.
The series was an instant hit in Iceland and France and is now being shown around the world. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “superior small-screen comfort food for the dark winter nights”, adding: “Like all great TV drama, Trapped opens with a vigorous bout of cunnilingus closely followed by a deadly explosion. Wham, bam, thank you Iceland.”
The first two series of thriller The Fall left viewers with their hearts in their mouths as steely Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) tried to stay one step ahead of Paul Spector, a charming but deranged serial killer played by Jamie Dornan.
Despite both actors being highly in demand – Dornan with the Fifty Shades franchise and Anderson in the revived version of The X Files – series three saw them return to resume their deadly chase. You’ll have to tune in to find out how Dornan survived his seemingly fatal confrontation with Jimmy Tyler and whether or not Gibson can finally pin down her prey.
Anna Friel, one half of British television’s first lesbian kiss in her Brookside days, plays Detective Sergeant Marcella Summers, who is returning to police work in her 30s after a 12-year break to have children. She has joined the murder squad of the Metropolitan Police in what has been billed as ITV’s first attempt at Scandinavian-style noir.
As Friel told TV Times, the show is packed with plot twists that will make viewers “go ‘Ahhhh!'”. Laura Carmichael, in her first post-Downton Abbey TV role, also plays Maddy Stevenson, a criminal psychology student whose flaw is ambition. “She’s a bit reckless… she may cross a line,” says the actor.
A pacey, dark thriller, Pure Evil revolves around criminologist Daniel Parodi’s quest to find out why his daughter’s killer has been allowed back on the streets just a few years after the brutal murder. Public prosecutor Diana Quaranta appears to be behind the move, but she denies involvement, so they team up to dig deeper.
The tormented sleuth searching for the truth about a murdered loved one is hardly a new trope, but the scale of corruption the duo uncover, involving a powerful cult-like organisation, makes for a gripping watch.
This unsettling but addictive Argentinian thriller is just one of the dozen or so foreign-language dramas available on Walter Presents, Channel 4’s streaming platform, which showcases the best of world television.
James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor starred in the first season of The Missing as a couple desperate to track down their missing son, who disappeared during a family holiday in France, helped by a retired detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo). It earned widespread praise and Golden Globe, Emmy and Bafta nominations.
The drama is back for a second season, but leaves behind the original Hughes family, although Baptiste returns and the story is again told in dual timelines.
However, the new series begins with the return of a missing person. Barefoot and sullen-faced, Alice Webster (Abigail Hardingham) walks back into the German town from where she vanished more than a decade ago – and her family’s joy soon disappears when they discover where she has been. Baptiste, meanwhile, is convinced there is more to her story than she is letting on and is intent on finding a second girl who disappeared at around the same time.
Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey, “two of the finest actors on British television”, give “haunting, heartfelt performances” as Alice’s parents, says the Daily Telegraph.
Written and fronted by Sally Wainwright and Sarah Lancashire, Happy Valley puts a fresh spin on the gritty, home-grown crime genre.
Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood follows the trail of the dangerous criminal who tore her family apart, ultimately uncovering a chilling new case and race against time.
It is Lancashire who makes the show, says The Independent, bringing life to “one of the most likeable heroines to grace prime-time TV”. Her “brilliant characterisation” has captivated audiences beyond the UK, giving the former Coronation Street star an unlikely cult following in the US.
Crime reporter Dicte Svendson (Iben Hjejle) returns to her hometown of Aarhus after a traumatic divorce – and promptly gets involved in solving crimes. She puts her journalistic instincts to good use on cases that include an assassination attempt on a politician and organ trafficking, while also attempting to resolve her complicated relationship with her family.
Dicte is perfect for viewers who find the usual Nordic noir vibe a bit oppressive as it takes a slightly lighter tone while retaining plenty of dramatic firepower and visual flair. As with The Bridge’s Saga Noren and The Killing’s Sarah Lund, its hero’s personal life is a mess – but Dicte’s strong moral sense and likeability make for a less prickly and more endearing character.
Several Danish critics complained that some cast members’ Aarhus accents were less than convincing – but this is unlikely to impede the enjoyment of British viewers.
In Plain Sight
Original ITV crime drama In Plain Sight tells the true story of the notorious Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel and the tireless efforts of a Lanarkshire police detective to bring him to justice following a spate of killings in the mid-1950s.
The three-part series, which details the macabre cat-and-mouse chase leading up to Manuel’s arrest, stars Scottish actor Martin Compston (Monarch of the Glen and Line of Duty) as Manuel and Douglas Henshall (Primeval and Shetland) as Detective William Muncie.
This disturbingly dark drama was described as “a good old-fashioned scrap between right and wrong” by the Daily Telegraph, which explained how the series sets itself apart from the slew of other serial killer dramas out this winter. “This was not primarily an exploration of the mind of a serial killer,” it said. “Rather it took the more old fashioned, and in many ways more dramatically satisfying form of a battle between good and evil.”