As the cool weather sets in, what better way to spend your evenings than cozied up with a warm drink and a wool throw watching some proper British mysteries. Here are our top five series currently streaming on Netflix.
This series’ secret sauce has two key ingredients: the chemistry between the main characters and the stunning Dorset cliffs abutting the small fictional town where the action unravels. Crusty Alec Hardy (David Tennant) is paired with compassionate Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) to investigate the murder of an 11-year-old local boy. Miller is devastated by the death — the boy was her son’s best friend — and none too happy at being passed over for a promotion in favour of outsider Hardy. Nevertheless, she tries to convert her new boss to the friendlier ways of her community. “Sir, do you mind not calling me Miller? I prefer Ellie,” she tells him. “Ellie,” he says in his thick Edinburgh brogue, briefly mulling the request. “No.”
But it’s professionalism — not distance — that Hardy is after, and the two detectives develop a deep (and at times, comical) mutual respect. The show has also been lauded for its unflinching treatment of difficult issues; the first two seasons deal delicately with family grief; the third (not yet available on Netflix) is about sexual assault.
Line of Duty
Cops spying on corrupt cops — that’s the premise of this gripping series, with each six-episode season introducing a new storyline while also recycling characters from previous ones who have unfinished business with their spying colleagues. The main draw here is the moment-to-moment uncertainty as to who will be revealed as “bent” next. The three reliably honest police — Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure, who also appears in Broadchurch) and their boss, Superintendent Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) — are nevertheless always screwing up: sleeping with partners, witnesses, husbands of victims, possibly even suspects. And beyond the bad guy in focus, there is always someone much worse. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff, but be warned: each season has featured at least one shocking scene of violence.
The name and idyllic blue sky of the show’s opening credits are ironic — this series is one of the darkest in the bunch, featuring rape, murder, kidnapping and a really, really creepy criminal. Watch it for the acting chops of the show’s star, Sarah Lancashire, who plays Catharine Cawood, a uniformed sergeant in the towns and moors of West Yorkshire. Her very first scene alone is gold: Trying to talk a young, drunk, heartbroken man down from a jungle gym where he’s doused himself in gasoline and is ready to light the match, she wearily lets him know he’s not alone in his despair: “I’m Catherine, by the way, I’m 47, I’m divorced, I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroin addict, I’ve two grown-up children, one dead, one I don’t speak to, and a grandson.” Other bonuses: appearances by the stellar Shirley Henderson (of Trainspotting, Bridget Jones and Harry Potter fame), and Katherine Kelly (Coronation Street’s beloved Becky).
This one stars the dashing Stellan Skarsgard as John River, a brilliant — and slightly mad — police inspector who is haunted by his partner, Stevie, in the aftermath of her being gunned down in the street right before his eyes. Even though Stevie, played by Nicola Walker, appears regularly as a ghost, it’s impossible not to wish the show had been based on something other than her assassination, because she is an utter joy as a character: tough, hilarious, smart as a whip and riven by a past secret life. Much like River, you will find yourself always waiting for her to manifest. But as much as she captivates, the true highlight of this series is a 1976 song by the British disco singer Tina Charles. “I Love to Love” plays in the very first scene of the series and it will play in your head ever after.
Admittedly, this series does not boast the tightest storylines, but there’s enough mystery in play to justify watching the show for its true feature: the scenery. The Shetland Islands comprise a subarctic archipelago (a chain of islands just below the Arctic Circle) that is part of Scotland, and their topography is basically the Highlands on steroids — green, windswept peaks, stark cliffs at every turn and more ancient stone walls than you can count.