9 of the most shocking true crime dramas

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This nerve-jangling mix of intense dramas and factual programmes proves that the truth can be more compelling than fiction. Dramatic interpretations offer an emotional look at notorious true crime stories, while unflinching documentaries examine how and why these crimes happen, and highlight the fallout for those affected.

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The Salisbury Poisonings

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

 

Dark Waters

Mark Ruffalo plays real-life lawyer and accidental activist Rob Bilott, who took on corporate giant DuPont when a West Virginia farmer supplied evidence his animals were being poisoned by hidden run-off from a chemical plant. Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman also star in this gripping thriller, which has startling repercussions for animal welfare, permanent pollutants and the human food chain.

“True to its title, this is a murky pool of a movie, and Mark Ruffalo is the man on the bank, poking its surface with a stick.” ★★★★ Telegraph

 

Quiz

Chameleon-like character actor 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

 

White House Farm

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

 

Hotel Mumbai

Dev Patel and Arnie Hammer star in this compelling dramatisation of the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. Anthony Maras’ debut feature mixes real-life drama and imagined characters as hotel workers, guests and diners across the city come under siege, and terror reigns with unsettling authenticity.

“Strong filmmaking and an unflinching gaze… a punchy, promising debut.” ★★★ Empire

 

Mississippi Burning

Alan Parker’s hard-hitting reimagining of the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers by members of Mississippi’s Ku Klux Klan won the 1989 Best Cinematography Oscar, was nominated in six other categories and scooped three BAFTAs. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe star as a ruthless investigating FBI officer and his idealistic sidekick, who are steered by Frances McDormand’s implacable whistleblowing sheriff’s wife.

“With remarkable performances, aggressive direction and a cracking pace, this is superb cinema.” ★★★★ Empire

 

A Confession

Martin Freeman plays Swindon Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, who broke police protocol and wrecked his own career in order to bring a killer to justice. Piecing together the last movements of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan from CCTV footage, Fulcher edges closer to chief suspect Christopher Halliwell (Joe Absolom) and seizes a confession – but at a steep personal cost. Imelda Staunton, Siobhan Finneran and Peter Wight also star.

 “A sad, ruthless dramatisation of ruthlessly sad events that asks profound questions about how we want to – and how we should – obtain justice for the murdered and missing.” Guardian

 

 

Appropriate Adult

A haunting psychological thriller based on the true relationship between serial killer Fred West (Dominic West) and his assigned ‘appropriate adult’ Janet Leach (Emily Watson). Sitting with West during his tense and traumatic police interviews, Janet is drawn ever deeper into his mind games until she begins to fear for her own mental health.

“There is humour in the grotesque, and Appropriate Adult [is] brave enough to show it.” ★★★★★ Telegraph

 

Longford

Directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), Jim Broadbent won a Best Actor BAFTA and Golden Globe for his portrayal of Lord Longford in Channel 4’s affecting drama about the prisoners’ rights campaigner’s dogged campaign for the release of Moors murderer Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton). Lindsay Duncan and Andy Serkis offer nuanced support as put-upon Lady Longford and mercurial Ian Brady.

“[Broadbent] seemed to be playing not just the shambling man but his shining soul.” Guardian

 

You'll find even more true crime factual dramas in our complete collection

 

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