Another British drama, another moody small town with more murders than actual people – but what makes a truly great one? Drama masterchef Tara Ward has the recipe down.
Nothing beats a good crime drama for a binge watch, and nobody does it better than the British. Whether it’s award-winning shows like Broadchurch, Luther and Sherlock, period dramas like Spies of Warsaw, or psychological thrillers like Trust Me and The Capture, Britain churns out quality dramas that capture your attention from the very first moments, shows that take you on a tense and emotional journey into dark and unexpected places. It’s television so dark, you’ll need to keep the lights on. Or is that just me? It’s fine.
We love these dark crime dramas, just like these dark crime dramas love a midnight bacon butty and a dishevelled loner with a flimsy alibi. But what makes them so compelling? What keeps pulling us back to these nerve-wracking shows filled with death and despair, like we’re misery magnets and they are TV’s North Pole? It’s a question fit for Her Royal Highness herself, but since she’s got other stuff on her plate, we’ve come up with the answers you need.
After extensive research (mostly watching this video) and robust debate (me, talking to myself), we’ve uncovered the perfect recipe for a quality British crime drama. Chuck all these things together and you’re guaranteed* (*results may vary) to discover another gripping drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you hungry for more. More criminals, more secrets and lies, and definitely more Olivia Colman saving the world from sociopaths and annoying idiots. The woman can do no wrong.
Recipe for the perfectly dark British drama:
First, clench your jaw and stare into the distance
Idris Elba still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.
Sprinkle in some deliciously moody scenery
Broadchurch’s scenery is so haunting and atmospheric that I started Googling “flights to the murder capital of England’s south west” before the opening credits had finished. I was ready to move into Alec Hardy’s boathouse and eat greasy chips all day every day, but guess what? The town of Broadchurch doesn’t even exist. Olivia Colman lied to me, and we need to have words.
Throw in some big names
Legends like Idris Elba, Olivia Colman, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant have each made successful, award-winning, fall-off-the-edge-of-your-seat British thrillers, but it’s time to tip our Union Jack flat caps to The Great British Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc, who stars in two episodes of Spies of Warsaw. Did they have soggy ladyfingers in World War Two Poland? They do now.
Be prepared to shout a lot
“BLOODY TWIT-TAH” etc.
Add the salty tears of a tortured genius
British dramas are chocka with exceptional leading men who are burdened with a tortured soul. Repressed feelings ooze from every pore, contempt drips from each snarled lip, cut them and they bleed internalised tears. I mean, John Luther is brilliantly unorthodox but becomes consumed by his cases, Alec Hardy is unrelenting to the point of near death, and Sherlock is a freaking genius but also a narcissist, a perfectionist, and his own worst enemy. Anyone notice a pattern? Take a break, fellas, join a Men’s Shed or something.
Chuck in a small community with unreasonably high levels of crime
Run for your lives.
Mix in a bit of David Tennant
It’s required by law that all British dramas include at least three scenes featuring David Tennant. I don’t make the rules, but whether he’s playing grumpy detective Alec “Shitface” Hardy in Broadchurch, a mysterious military spy in Spies of Warsaw, or a grieving dad in Single Father, David Tennant is the baking powder of any good TV show. You only need a pinch of him, and the show rises like hot bun. Delicious.
Choose a one word title for your show
Don’t say we didn’t warn you, Spies of Warsaw.
Fold in one hell of a mood
It might be Sherlock’s dizzying suspense or the unbearable tension of Broadchurch, the psychological unease of Trust Me or the gritty darkness of Luther, but a good British drama packs an emotional punch so strong you’ll never want to leave the house again. Also, who knew the soundtrack in Spies of Warsaw could put you so much on edge? Clarinets, freaking us out since 1939.
Set fire to the recipe, disobey orders, break the law and do it your way
Your country needs you.
Always remember: trust no one
Not even Olivia Colman. Sorry.
This content was created in paid partnership with TVNZ OnDemand, where you can watch all the shows mentioned above. Learn more about our partnerships here.