There's been plenty of American crime dramas over the years, but sometimes you can't beat a classic, grisly British crime series.

From police procedurals with a twist like Line of Duty and Happy Valley, to flawed detectives in shows like Luther and Marcella, crime dramas have long been one of the UK's most popular TV genres. 

We round up our pick of the 12 best British crime drama box sets to binge watch now.

1. Des

Des is a true crime drama about infamous serial killer Dennis Nilsen, starring David Tennant in the lead role as the civil servant who murdered at least 12 boys and young men in London between 1978 and 1983.

The three-part series tells the story from a new perspective, following not just Nilsen but also the police investigation into the murders (led by Police Detective Peter Jay, played by Daniel Mays) and Nilsen’s biographer Brian Masters (played by Jason Watkins).

The ITV drama received rave four-and five-star reviews from TV critics, with many praising Tennant's 'chilling' and 'menancing' performance as Nilsen. 

Watch Des on BritBox.

2. Broadchurch

The BAFTA-winning drama series gripped the nation with its whodunit murder mystery storyline in season 1, with millions of viewers grappled by the hunt for 11-year-old Danny Latimer's killer.

Throughout its three-reason run, Broadchurch has also scooped major accolades for its acting, with a cast that boasted David Tennant and Olivia Colman as police detectives.

The Dorset-set show has also featured an array of award-winning actors including Jodie Whittaker, Vicky McClure, Arthur Darvill and Pauline Quirke.

All three seasons of Broadchurch are available to watch on BritBox and ITVX.

3. Line of Duty

Voted the third best crime drama of all time by Radio Times, the 10-time BAFTA-nominated police procedural has had audiences hooked with its major plot twists, character killings and shocking moments.

Line of Duty follows DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), who are tasked with investigating ‘bent coppers’ in the force.

In a testament to its audience appeal, Line of Duty series 5 was the most-watched TV drama in the country in 2019 - with 7.8 million viewers tuning in to watch the drama of the premiere episode unfold.

Line of Duty seasons 1-6 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

4. Luther

DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) is at the heart of this gripping crime drama, with the British actor’s performance as the troubled detective earning him both Golden Globe and SAG awards.

Like Line of Duty, Luther poses the question of police officers' moral integrity- with the show exploring the brilliant mind of the near-genius murder detective alongside the dangerous violence of his passions.

The Guardian called the show’s latest series ‘must-see TV’ and ‘so entertaining that you barely have time to catch a breath.’

A Luther spin-off film titled The Fallen Sun is confirmed for a March 2023 Netflix release.

Luther seasons 1-5 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

5. Happy Valley

Like Luther, a flawed member of the police force is at the centre of this dark and grimy crime drama - which was named in the top five crime dramas of all time by Radio Times.

Sarah Lancashire has been rightly lauded for her BAFTA-winning role as the tough, complicated and scarred Sergeant Catherine Cawood, who faces serial murders, blackmail, prostitution and personal tragedy.

There’s suspense, a slew of suspects and some of Britain’s brightest acting talents, notably James Norton in his brooding and psychotic breakout role as Tommy Lee Royce.

Don't miss Happy Valley season 3 - the show's final series - on BBC One.

Happy Valley seasons 1-2 are on BBC iPlayer.

Happy Valley season 3 airs weekly on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One.

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6. Marcella

Written by Hans Rosenfeldt, acclaimed writer of The Bridge, Marcella is a somewhat Scandinavian noir set on the streets of Britain - with the same action-packed cliffhangers that fans of Line of Duty have come to love.

Set in London, Anna Friel plays Marcella Backland, a Metropolitan Police Officer who left the force for the sake of her family - before returning to her job on the murder squad to investigate a case that seems disturbingly familiar to her.

The British actress was awarded an International Emmy win for her portrayal of the troubled female detective.

Marcella seasons 1-3 are available to watch on Netflix and BritBox.

7. Sherlock

Named in IMDB’s top 20 TV shows of all time list alongside The Wire, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos, Sherlock is an awards behemoth that’s had huge success not just in the UK but overseas too. 

Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock is a modern TV adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Sherlock Holmes detective stories.

It features Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the lead roles of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, with the chemistry between the British acting duo playing a huge part in its success.

Sherlock seasons 1-4 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

8. A Confession

This six-episode mini-series had viewers gripped to their TV screens with its retelling of a heartbreaking true story of police procedure, a serial killer and a heartbreaking tragedy.

Written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jeff Pope (Philomena), A Confession stars Martin Freeman as Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, who investigated the disappearance of Sian O’Callaghan in 2011.

With an incredible supporting cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Joe Absolom and Siobhan Finneran, A Confession tells the true story of lives ruined not only by a horrific crime, but also by a detective’s struggle to square the procedure he should follow with his need to find the victim as quickly as possible.

A Confession is available to watch on ITVX and BritBox.

9. Unforgotten

This British crime drama follows two London detectives, DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar), as they work to solve cases involving disappearances and murders, unravelling secrets left buried for years.

This BAFTA-winning cold-case crime drama was labelled ‘the new Broadchurch’ following its release, and has been given a five-star rating by The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Nicola Walker left the show after four seasons, and will be replaced in season 5 by Sinead Keenan as DI Khan's new boss, DCI Jessie James.

Unforgotten seasons 1-4 are available to watch on BritBox and ITVX.

Unforgotten season 5 is coming to ITV in early 2023.

10. The Fall

The Fall, which depicts the deadly game of cat and mouse between serial murderer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) and DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), has never shied from graphic scenes.

Anderson's enigmatic and alluring performance as policewoman-with-issues DSI Stella Gibson has garnered many fans, while Dornan’s two-series role as Belfast strangler Paul Spector was one of the hardest to watch, and earned him a BAFTA nomination in 2014.

This critically-acclaimed drama - which ended after three seasons - stays with you in all the best and worst ways.

The Fall seasons 1-3 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer, Netflix, ITVX and BritBox.

11. Shetland

The popular Scottish detective drama tells gripping crime stories set against stunning coastal backdrops - arguably the most picturesque murder scene on TV.

First airing in 2013, and based on a series of novels by author Ann Cleeves, the show introduced audiences to the beautiful archipelago of the Shetland Islands.

The Scottish Bafta award winner follows Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), who arrives on Shetland to start a new life with his young daughter as a single parent but ends up investigating more than his fair share of grisly murders.

Shetland seasons 1-5 are available to watch on BritBox and ITVX.

12. Midsomer Murders

On the surface, this long-running series is a quaint old British crime drama - combining the beautiful English countryside setting with an astute detective and some grisly murders.

But Midsomer Murders - starring Neil Dudgeon as lead character DCI John Barnaby - has traversed generations and charmed millions of viewers over the years thanks to its dark, bonkers and slightly sinister edge.

It’s this ‘intoxicating mix’ that Dudgeon thinks has given the show - which has been on-air since 1997 - its success, and named it one of the top 20 British crime dramas of all times by the Radio Times. 

Midsomer Murders seasons 1-22 are available to watch on BritBox on ITVX.