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10 shows that prove TV drama is alive and kicking!

BY Mark Reynolds

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

10 shows that prove TV drama is alive and kicking!

Nordic noir has altered the face of British drama, but top British screenwriters like Paul Abbott and Sally Wainwright remain at the top of their game

Much has been written and spoken about the impact of Scandinavian and other noirish serials on the British TV drama schedules. Certainly the hugely successful and acclaimed Broadchurch borrowed heavily from Scandinavia in placing troubled investigators with dark histories in a punishing landscape.

ITV Encore recently ran its US adaptation Gracepoint, also starring David Tennant, and borrowing many of the original character names and plot points as investigations transfer from Dorset to California, adding further layers of curiosity. Sky Arts scored high ratings with the hit Danish show The Legacy, while Spiral, Salamander and Hostages proved that France, Belgium and Israel can also step up to the plate to fill the now coveted 9pm Saturday BBC Four foreign drama double-bill slot.

Here are some other highly original and accomplished series that have caught our eye.


1. The Legacy (Sky Arts)

The Legacy

The acclaimed drama is back for a second series and reignites our love affair with Denmark. But this isn’t a crime thriller! Described by the Guardian as a series about ‘complex, flawed, real characters having complex, flawed, real relationships’, the show is set in and around the country mansion of an artist, Veronika Grønnegaard.

The modern family unfolds as her four adult children, whose lives have been affected by her radical counter-culture philosophies, deal with the aftermath of her death.


2. Humans (Channel 4)

This entertaining and provocative remake of an original Swedish series uses a world in which domestic robot helpers have become commonplace to explore eye-opening questions about identity, memory, awareness, revenge and desire.

Gemma Chan is the face of the show as lead ‘Synth’ Anita, who causes all manner of rumblings and tensions between prime users Joe and Laura Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill and Katherine Parkinson) and their teenage son and daughter. William Hurt also stars as lone widower George Millican, who was a scientist on the original Synth project before an ethical falling out with their creator.


3. Jordskott (ITV Encore)

ITV grabbed this award-winning slice of Nordicana to launch its brand new subscription channel. The show combines primal fears and urges from Norse mythology with a dark contemporary tale about driven, damaged cop Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) whose daughter Josefine has been missing for seven years.

When a young boy disappears, Eva is compelled to investigate the dark forces that pervade Sweden’s ancient woodlands. A gripping mystery about grief, loss, and the dogged pursuit of justice, with a huge dose of the supernatural, and plot twists as tangled as the remotest forest path.


3. No Offence (Channel 4)

Paul Abbott, who cut his screenwriting teeth on Coronation Street before turning to acutely observed, multi-stranded drama serials such as Clocking Off, State of Play and Shameless, serves up a compelling and highly original police procedural about large-than-life characters on both sides of the law.

Elaine Cassidy and Alexandra Roach star as old friends Dinah Kowalska and Joy Freers, impulsive cop and thoughtful cop on the team of DI Vivian Deering, an unstoppably tenacious Joanna Scanlan with a gift for bending the rules to nail the guilty. A pacy and provocative joy, crammed with belly laughs and broken villains.


4. Happy Valley (BBC One)

Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire stars as forty-something single-parent cop and grandmother Catherine Cawood in Sally Wainwright’s compelling crime drama, in which the surface investigations force the characters to dig ever further into their personal histories as parents, spouses and colleagues.

Catherine’s work and domestic life are thrown into chaos when she spots the man she believes was responsible for her daughter’s brutal rape and subsequent suicide, on the loose in her West Riding town. She resolves to track him down, and gets embroiled in a new case of abduction. Bleak, bloody and brilliant, putting down a marker for the slated second series.


5. Home Fires (ITV)

Home Fires
Samantha Bond and Francesca Annis lead a strong cast in this inspirational drama about the resourcefulness of women in wartime. A fictional adaptation of the punningly titled Jambusters by Julie Summers, Home Fires debunks the usual clichés about potted preserves to show the integral role of the Women’s Institute in keeping a community together while the menfolk are away at war.

Pushy Frances (Bond) and snobby Joyce (Annis) may be vying for control, but all the women pull together to contend with their individual troubles and maintain the fabric of the nation.


6. Line of Duty (BBC Two)

Line of Duty
Jed Mercurio’s critically acclaimed crime drama is set in the murky world of a police corruption. Series One opens with DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) of anti-corruption unit AC-12 investigating Officer of the Year DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James), whose squad consistently – but fraudulently – returns the best crime figures in the force. Stakes are raised as Arnott digs deeper and Gates attempts to cover his tracks.

Series Two sees the introduction of ratings magnet Keeley Hawes as Lindsay Denton, the less than squeaky-clean head of a Missing Persons Unit. With bad cops falling by the wayside as the series progresses, expect for more significant big-name changes in season three.


7. Wolf Hall (BBC One)

Mark Rylance is an irresistible force of nature as Thomas Cromwell in this utterly engaging adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s double Booker-winning Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies, chronicling the rise of the humble blacksmith to Machiavellian adviser to Henry VIII.

A dazzling support cast includes Damian Lewis as Henry, Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, and Mantel, embroiled in both TV and stage adaptations of the first two parts of her planned trilogy, can’t write the final part fast enough for eager fans.


8. Poldark (BBC One)

Poldark brooding
A spirited, smouldering update of the 1970s historical drama based on the novels of Winston Graham. Aidan Turner stars as Ross Poldark, returning to his Cornish roots after a doomed campaign in the American Civil War to discover the family’s tin and copper mines in crisis, and the love of his life about to marry his cousin and rival.

Hurling himself into the family business for the good of the community, he also finds love again in the shape of the winsome Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). The Cornish clifftops are majestically shot, and Turner is every inch the gentleman-rebel, all tousled locks and chiselled torso.


9 Indian Summers (Channel 4)

Indian Summers
This colourful original drama investigates insular in-fighting among a select group of British expats and their families, employees and servants in the foothills of Simla as the Raj began lose its grip on India. While the natives seek an end to British rule, tongues wag at the arrival of single mother Alice Whelan (Jemima West) – and just-so matriarch Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) carries on regardless. Carefully crafted period detail embraces spiky issues of race, class, caste, religion and Britain’s legacy on the subcontinent.

A fine ensemble cast also includes Henry Lloyd-Jones, Amber Rose Revah, Aysha Kala, Nikesh Patel and Bollywood regulars Lillette Dubey and Roshan Seth.


10. Ordinary Lies (BBC One)

Danny Brocklehurst’s intriguing drama explores the dark secrets harboured by work colleagues at a fictional car dealership near Manchester. Boss Mike Hill (Max Beesley) is going through a difficult separation, and is having an affair with his deputy Beth (Jo Joyner), whose husband Dave (Shaun Dooley) has been missing for a year. Mechanic Rick (Shazad Latif) is involved with Mike’s daughter Ruby (Holly Earl), while salesman Pete (Mackenzie Crook) is a hypochondriac and former gambling addict. You might not want to buy a used car from any of them, but watching their lies and lives unravel is habit-forming.



Listen to our TV-drama quiz in September's podcast:


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