More British Sleuthing

Part 2 of my list of outstanding British sleuth television programs.

Coleman and Tennant

Broadchurch (2013-2017)

A somber, aching police drama that centers on the murder of a boy in the small coastal village of Broadchurch. Starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman as the police detectives on what turns into a complex and horrifying case that stretched over the program’s three seasons. The murder tears apart the Broadchurch community and is the reason Tennant’s character is promoted over Coleman’s.

This might be the most riveting series I’ve ever seen. It’s intense and complicated, blending two murder cases into a story that upends many lives. Coleman and Tennant are outstanding, I’ve never seen two actors work harder or give more to a performance.

While the series follows one case, it’s not a traditional procedural structure, the story unfolds with many surprises and offshoots that eventually reveal new clues and character information. The pacing and music intentionally add to the melancholy and urgency, but not in a cheesy, obvious manner.

This show is just plain intense. Watch at your own risk. It’s difficult to turn away. You’ve been warned.

DCI Banks (2010-2016)

Stephen Tompkinson stars as Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, based on a series of books by Peter Robinson. DCI Banks is the opposite of Broadchurch, slow and following clues in a more linear flow, with the focus on the cases rather than the characters, although these are are not cardboard people.

Caroline Catz, Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe in DCI Banks.

Each story is spread over two episodes, which allows time to follow a case in more depth, but not anytime like Broadchurch. Banks is a somewhat bland character by television police standards. He’s focused on his work, doesn’t seem to have destructive habits, and appears to get more than enough of being around people on the job. His anger and directness are sometimes off-putting, but he can be both ver complementary to his staff, and highly critical. His subordinates have more traditionally quirky habits.

DCI Banks is a procedural show, and a dour one. Tompkinson is a fine actor, he radiates weariness and pulling away from the world. He may seem laidback, but he’s got a fire that can erupt over stupidity and lack of effort. This show reminds me of the early years of Law and Order.

Happy Valley (2014-2023)

Sarah Lancashire is Sergeant Catherine Cawood, who leads a group of police officers in a Yorkshire town. Lancashire starred in Last Tango in Halifax, another fine show, which was also created by writer/producer Sally Wainwright.

Cawood is a divorced grandmother raising her death daughter’s son, the result of her daughter’s rape. The man responsible is due to be released from prison. Cawood’s sister, a recovering addict also lives with her, but Cawood is estranged from her other family. Cawood’s life is complicated; and she sleeps with a married man, who happens to be her ex-husband.

Cawood and grandson.

The first season also involves the kidnapping of a young woman and the involvement of a local businessman strapped for tuition money for his daughters. The target is his boss’s daughter. The kidnapping goes sideways. One of those involved is the man who raped Cawood’s daughter.

Happy Valley is anything but. Lancashire is awesome, her life is problematic on many levels and is held together by responsibility. She clearly is very good at what she does.

Whitstable Pearl (2021-present)

Based on The Whitstable Pearl Mystery and Disappearance at Care by Julie Wassmer is a crime drama starring Kerry Godliman as Pearl Nolan. She operates the Whitstable Pearl, a seaside restaurant with her mum, and a detective agency on the side. Of course, she is a pain to the local police as she investigates the death of a friend. Howard Charles is DCI Mike McGuire, the new cop from London, who is less than thrilled about his new posting.

Pearl and her Mum.

Whitstable is quirky, sort of a cross between Death in Paradise and Virgin River. The Whitstable Pearl is the social hub of the town, like Jack’s in Virgin River or The Brick in Northern Exposure. Pearl is a hard character to define, but she is indispensable to the town, and quickly thaws the icy DCI McGuire. They become an item by the end of season one.

Mattie and her aunts.

Queens of Mystery (2019-present)

Murder She Wrote times three. A young detective sergeant returns to her village where her three crime-solving aunts live and write crime novels. So far, two seasons have aired. Each of the season has three stories, each story consisting of two episodes. A comedy-drama, produced by Acorn Television, this could be a Hallmark Mystery.

In the first season, Olivia Vinall portrayed Detective Sgt. Matilda Stone. In season two, Florence Hall took over the role. The aunts assist Matilda (Mattie) solve crimes and work at fixing her up with eligible men. Mattie’s mother disappeared when Mattie was a child, leaving clues, but it remains unsolved.

The more I watched this show, the more I like it. It’s challenging to realistically blend humor and drama, have them both believable in the same show. Queens of Mystery is well-written with a talented cast. The murder cases are inventive and entertaining.

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