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10 British cop shows to watch if you love Law & Order SVU

British crime shows
L to R: Olivia Colman and David Tennant in Broadchurch, Gillian Anderson in The Fall, Idris Elba in Luther Pic credit: BBC/Netflix

With Law & Order: SVU prepping its 23rd season, fans have learned to enjoy the series. Yet some may want to enjoy other police shows like it, and there’s quite a few to enjoy from the United States.

However, the United Kingdom has been providing some powerful crime dramas long before L&O ever hit the air. Thanks to the rise of streaming services, many of these are easily available and can offer terrific drama. 

Some shows rest on their leads and their terrific performances. Others utilize some fun settings and storylines to great effect. They can tackle the same dark material as SVU as these cops try to see justice done. 

A few of these are well known, but others may have fallen under the radar. As it is, these ten shows are just up the alley of any SVU fan to show England can provide the same powerful police drama of its own. 

Scott & Bailey

Scott & Bailey
Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp as the title cops on Scott & Bailey. Pic credit: BBC

Fans have long loved seeing SVU’s strong female characters like Olivia Benson and Amanda Rollins. The series Scott & Bailey also focuses on a pair of strong female cops.

Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones play the title characters, officers in a Manchester unit. It plays like a British version of the classic show Cagney & Lacey with Bailey a free spirit, while Scott is married with children.

The pair clash on the job but handle various crimes, which can often include some dark murders. It takes its toll as Scott’s family life suffers from her dedication to her job and Bailey undergoes serious personal trauma. 

There are some lighter episodes, of course, yet the two female leads manage to make this a compelling series for L&O fans to enjoy.

Seasons 1-5 streaming on Hulu. 

Criminal: UK

Kit Harington
Kit Harington in Criminal UK episode “Alex.” Pic credit: Netflix

TV shows like to do a “bottle episode” shot on a single location. This series takes it to a new level.

Every episode takes place entirely inside an interrogation room as the police interview a suspect with only his solicitor present.

The suspects are a who’s who of British TV: David Tennant, Haley Atwell, Sophie Okendo, Kit Harington, and more. Each one keeps you guessing if they’re guilty or innocent until the end. 

It’s a brilliant game of mental chess as the police go from acting friendly to intense to outright threats to rattle a confession. As with the criminals, the audience is guessing how much of it is real or an act. 

Each of the seven episodes is a one-act play and it’s a good binge for those who prefer an intense acting showdown.

Seasons 1 & 2 streaming on Netflix. 

Marcella

Anna Friel
Anna Friel in the crime drama Marcella Pic credit: Netflix

The cops of SVU may have their demons, but they’re nothing compared to Anna Friel’s title character.

Years after retiring, Marcella is brought back to try and solve a case that’s baffled her for a decade. But what her bosses don’t know is that Marcella is a borderline mental case prone to blackouts and bad behavior.

Friel is amazing as she leaves audiences guessing how much of Marcella’s experiences are real and what are delusions. The second season makes it worse with a shocking revelation that changes everything.

The third season moves from pure police drama to Marcella taking on a case on her own. Yet Friel’s performance still makes you feel for her quest for justice even as her mental health continues to fall apart. 

Seasons 1-3 streaming on Netflix. 

The Tunnel

The Tunnel
Clemence Posey and Stephen Dillane in the British crime drama The Tunnel. Pic credit: Kudos

There are versions of this show from Norway to the U.S., but this puts a spin on the concept. 

A body is found exactly halfway in the “Chunnel” between England and France. Not only that, the top half is of a British politician, while the lower half belongs to a French prostitute.

A British inspector and a French detective have to work together on this complex case. What looks like some sort of radical becomes a far more thrilling adventure.

The first season has a good finale, but the second and third find unique excuses to reunite the detectives. It’s fun seeing the contrast between the two national cultures and the cops with their personal demons for a powerful series.

Seasons 1-3 streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Unforgotten

Unforgotten
Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker in Unforgotten Pic credit: ITV

The formula becomes familiar, but it’s still good for this moody thriller.

Each season opens with the discovery of a long-murdered body as the audience is introduced to various seemingly unconnected new characters. As the police investigate, it becomes clear that all these people are somehow involved with the victim. 

While the police (led by Nicola Walker) are good, the real thrill of the show is seeing the effects the crime has on the civilians, from the guilty party to the innocent. 

The police face the real challenge in that some of these crimes go back years and have to wade through some dirty secrets to get at the truth. Unlike its title, this show will not be forgotten soon by viewers.

Seasons 1-3 streaming on Amazon Prime.

Luther

Luther
Idris Elba as Luther Pic credit: BBC

Idris Elba was launched to global stardom with his role in this hit thriller. 

He plays the title role of a detective whose passion soon turns into obsession. More than willing to break the rules (and bones) to get at the truth, Elba eats up the camera with his amazing performance.

Aside from cracking regular cases, Luther also has to handle his relationship with the twisted Alice (Ruth Wilson). Despite how he knows she’s a killer, Luther just can’t resist her charms, taking him to darker places.

The cases are amazing, from serial killers to kidnapping and Elba makes every episode immensely watchable. 

It’s a dark thriller, but Elba’s sensational performance makes Stabler look like a pussycat.

Seasons 1-5 streaming on Hulu. 

The Fall

The Fall
Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in The Fall Pic credit: Netflix

Former The X-Files star Gillian Anderson shines in this moody piece. 

She plays a police superintendent who realizes an unsolved murder case is actually the work of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan). This kicks off a complex cat-and-mouse game. 

Anderson is icy cool yet oddly also red hot in several scenes, from the hunt for Dornan to her chemistry with Archie Panjabi’s medical examiner. 

The series ups the stakes with each season and Anderson is spectacular in her performance. While the ending is good, there’s enough left open to make one hope Anderson returns to this role in the future. 

Seasons 1-3 streaming on Peacock and Tubi. 

Broadchurch

Broadchurch
David Tennant and Olivia Colman on Broadchurch. Pic credit: ITV

A monster ratings hit, this fantastic drama is highlighted by former Doctor Who star David Tennant.

He plays the newly appointed Detective Inspector of the titular British coastal town. He has the worst first day imaginable when the body of a young boy is discovered, kicking off a dark investigation.

Backing him is a fantastic supporting cast that includes Oscar winner Olivia Colman as Tennant’s partner, and Jodie Whittaker as the boy’s grieving mother. 

Tennant and Colman match each other well as the cops determined to discover the truth. It all leads to a shocking season 1 finale that no one saw coming.

While the latter two seasons don’t quite match it, that first season is one of the finest cop dramas ever made.

Seasons 1-3 streaming on Netflix. 

Line of Duty

Line of Duty
L to r Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure in Line of Duty. Pic credit: BBC

A sensation in England, this powerful drama focuses on AC-12, an anti-corruption squad investigating other police officers.

Every season has them tackling a different case which usually involves revealing a respected police officer is a criminal. 

The series boasts some terrific stars like Lennie James and Thandie Newton. There’s also the overarching arc of a greater conspiracy of corruption inside the London PD.

The actors are excellent at handling the cases and the politics as they don’t like investigating their own but have to do it. The newest season amps up the drama for a stunning turn on the police procedural.

Seasons 1-5 on Hulu, season 1-6 on Acorn TV. 

Law & Order: UK

Law & Order UK
Law & Order UK season 1 cast L to R: Freema Agyeman, Ben Daniels, Bill Paterson, Harriet Walker, Bradley Walsh, Jamie Bamber. Pic credit: ITV

Yes, even the United Kingdom has its version of the iconic franchise. 

Many of the storylines for this series are basically rewrites of classic L&O episodes. However, they are still fun as they showcase the differences between British and American law. 

The cops seldom use guns and benefit from London having scores of cameras around. Meanwhile, the barristers don’t have some pesky rules to worry about but tougher to prove facts in a British courtroom. 

The cast is great, with Doctor Who stars Bradley Walsh, Peter Davidson, and Freema Agyeman along with Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber.

There are shifts in the cast, but it has the same great turns of police and courtroom drama to match its American counterpart. 

Season 1-8 on IMDBTV.

Law & Order: SVU seasons 1-22 streaming on Hulu and Peacock.

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