2020 will be remembered as a terrible year for many reasons, but TV drama won't be one of them. This year has seen some extraordinary productions – from original series to adaptations of bestselling novels; from heartwarming family sagas to devastating true crime stories; from political thrillers to psychological chillers – which have given many of us a much-needed distraction from the troubling daily news updates.
What will you watch next?
Glenda Jackson gives a stunning performance as a woman afflicted with dementia in this BAFTA-winning BBC One adaptation of Emma Healey’s bestselling novel. After her best friend Elizabeth disappears Maud is convinced that something terrible has occurred and sets out to solve the mystery, fighting against time as her condition worsens.
“A powerful and unsentimental portrait of psychological decline.” Independent
Hugh Laurie stars as narcissistic Conservative MP Peter Laurence in BBC One’s twisty political thriller, written by David Hare. Hit by a series of public revelations about his private life and his work as a minister, Peter is untroubled by guilt as he attempts to outmanoeuvre his enemies and his past. But Helen McCrory’s ruthless PM Dawn Ellison is ever willing to pull the rug from beneath him.
“A reminder – as if we needed one – that political ambition is rarely pure.” Guardian
As the residents of a converted suburban house in Manchester go about their disparate lives, the walls that divide their flats keep them apart. But as their stories begin to intersect, hidden secrets connect them in unexpected ways. Alison Steadman, Adrian Lester, Peter Davison and Victoria Hamilton star in the explosive BBC One series from the team behind BAFTA-winning Doctor Foster.
“A smart exploration of the human condition – with just the right amount of sentimentality.” Guardian
The epic Netflix drama continues with Olivia Colman stepping in as the Queen and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, whose marriage to Lord Snowdon is crumbling as surely as the nation’s economy. Meanwhile Prince Charles takes an illicit interest in Camilla Shand, while Princess Anne takes a shine to roguish Andrew Parker Bowles…
“A lavish return full of royal pains.” Guardian
ITV's acclaimed period drama, adapted by Julian Fellowes from his own novel, is a story of scandalous secrets, star-crossed lovers and financial shenanigans in a London society reeling from the Battle of Waterloo and hurtling towards the Victorian era. Tamsin Greig, Harriet Walter, Philip Glenister and Tom Wilkinson star.
“A meaty historical potboiler, bubbling with issues of class and sex.” The Times
Co-adapted by Sally Rooney from her bestselling novel, this intimate BBC drama tracks the tender but complicated relationship of Marianne and Connell (Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal) from the end of their schooldays in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Trinity college. Honest, smart and intoxicating.
“It’s a triumph in every way… a hugely beautiful thing.” Guardian
Russell Tovey leads the cast in Neil Cross’s thrilling ITV adaptation of his psychological suspense bestseller Burial. A distinctive and tense ghost story, Tovey’s Nathan is trying to escape his shocking memories of young woman who died at a party he attended years ago. Then one rainy night, otherworldly old acquaintance Bob (Bertie Carvel) appears at his door with terrifying news – and learns that Nathan has since married the dead woman’s sister.
“The Luther creator has crafted an eerie chiller, with Bertie Carvel at his best as a sinister paranormalist.” Telegraph
This colourful story of passion, politics and romance is the first screen adaptation of Vikram Seth’s classic novel. Written by Andrew Davies and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair for BBC One, the groundbreaking all-Indian cast made an international star of Tanya Maniktala as perky bride-to-be Lata.
“A joy from start to finish.” Radio Times
The first television project from Oscar- and BAFTA-winning director Steve McQueen, this series of five films for BBC One is based on the real-life experiences of London’s West Indian community. Set between 1969 and 1982, these standalone stories celebrate courage and community, and serve as a powerful reminder of how brave individuals can spark change.
“Immersive TV at its most intoxicating.” Telegraph
“I’m undead, but I’m not unreasonable.”
Claes Bang stars as Dracula facing adversary Agatha Von Helsing in this witty black-comedy reworking of the classic legend by Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat. In Transylvania in 1897, the blood-sucking count is plotting to swoop on Victorian London. And be warned: the undead travel fast.
“A bloody masterpiece from beginning to end.” Evening Standard
Keeley Hawes stars in ITV's true-crime drama based on the real-life ‘honour killing’ of Banaz Mahmod. DCI Caroline Goode was given the Queen’s Police Medal for her investigation into the missing 20-year-old., who was murdered by her father and uncle after she left her abusive husband and fell in love with another man.
“A chilling reminder of how society failed to protect a young woman from harm.” Guardian
Tom Hollander, Saskia Reeves and Sofie Gråbøl star in David Nicholls’ beautifully nuanced adaptation of his bestselling novel about an unravelling marriage. Douglas and Connie, and their university-bound son Albie, are set for a grand tour of Europe, but days before departure Connie announces she wants a divorce. As they set out for Amsterdam and Paris, Venice and Barcelona, Douglas is determined to win Connie back and restore his troubled relationship with Albie. But then love takes a detour…
“Tom Hollander shines in this funny and acutely observed Sunday night drama.” Independent
In the third BBC One crime thriller based on the books by J.K. Rowling, (under the pen name Robert Galbraith), Strike and Robin (Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger), investigate the blackmail of a government minister and the case of a strangled child. As Robin goes undercover in the House of Commons posing as a ministerial aide, their personal lives collide as they each stifle then explore their true feelings.
“The acting is to die for.” Telegraph
Fresh from his studies, James Herriot sets out to become a vet in the glorious Yorkshire Dales – where gruff farmers and edgy villagers can be tough to please. A delightful new adaptation of the much-loved books, starring Nicholas Ralph as James, Samuel West as Siegfried, Callum Woodhouse as Tristram and Rachel Shenton as Helen.
“The sense of warmth and community, now more than ever, feels nigh on irresistible.” Telegraph
Anne-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall, MyAnna Buring and Johnny Harris star in this impactful BBC One dramatisation of the aftermath of the infamous March 2018 Novichok poisonings. When Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are found slumped on a shopping centre bench, public health director Tracy Daszkiewicz (Duff) and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey (Spall) are the local heroes who lead the crisis response and criminal investigation.
“A warm tribute to ordinary people who rose to an extraordinary challenge.” Telegraph
Freddie Fox plays an oily, scheming Jeremy Bamber in ITV’s meticulous, sympathetic yet chilling reconstruction of the 1985 murders of Sheila Caffell, her twin six-year-old boys and her adoptive parents at the family farm. The first-rate cast includes Cressida Bonas as Sheila, Mark Stanley as Colin Caffell, Gemma Whelan as suspicious cousin Ann Eaton, and Mark Addy and Stephen Graham as investigating officers with competing agendas.
“A tear-jerking take on harrowing real-life murders.” Radio Times
BBC One’s sumptuous adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize-winning novel is an intricately woven, suspenseful tale of star-crossed love, murder, manipulation and revenge. At the height of the 1860s Gold Rush, Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson) has travelled to the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island to forge a new life. At the end of her long sea voyage, she encounters natural charmer Emery Staines (Himesh Patel), but in the New World their hopes for romance are dashed by scheming fortune-teller and brothel-keeper Lydia Wells (Eva Green).
“A soulful history packed with incident, plot and magic… Greed has rarely looked so good.” Independent
David Tennant dazzles in ITV’s extraordinary true crime ITV drama, based on the macabre murders of Dennis Nilsen, known to the few who loved him as Des. The story of the investigation, arrest and trial is told through the prism of three different men – Nilsen himself, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay and biographer Brian Masters. Also starring Daniel Mays, Jason Watkins and Barry Ward.
“David Tennant proves his versatility as he plays one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers.” Independent
The award-winning HBO/Sky Atlantic black comedy starring Brian Cox, Keiran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook explores themes of power, politics, money, and family. Logan Roy (Cox), the tough, powerful, ageing patriarch, is head of a monstrous international media conglomerate in which three of his children vie for control.
“Chilling, despicable and horribly addictive.” Guardian
Michael Sheen is uncanny as Chris Tarrant in ITV’s entertaining reconstruction of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating scandal. Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford play Major Charles Ingram and his wife Diana, and Helen McCrory steps up as the QC who so nearly destroyed the case for the prosecution.
“A brilliant, big-hearted romp through one of the great British scandals of the century.” Independent
In case you missed one of the best TV dramas of 2019…
As society changes at an ever-increasing pace, the Lyons family experiences everything we hope for in the future, and everything we fear.
Each episode of this remarkably prescient drama propels the family a year or two ahead, following the lives of Daniel, Stephen and his wife Celeste, sisters Rosie and Edith, Gran Muriel and the family’s children, as they navigate a world made unstable by politics, the economy and technological advances. Starring Russell Tovey, Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear, Jessica Hynes, Anne Reid.
Start the new year with arguably the best TV police procedural ever made! Coming very soon in 2021