War & Peace
The BBC's recent lavish adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's mammoth 19th century novel, starring Paul Dano, Lily James, Gillian Anderson, and the ubiquitous James Norton, proved once again that writer Andrew Davis (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House) really is the undisputed king of literary adaptations.
The Night Manager
Adapted from the novel by John le Carre, this addictive spy thriller stars the ridiculously good looking Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, an ex-soldier and hotel night manager, who gets pulled into a plot by government agent Angela Burr (Olivia Colman, brilliant as ever) to bring down international arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie, who can't seem to decide if his character is American or English). The first series (there is talk of a second) is currently airing on BBC1 and will start in the US on AMC in April.
Sorry, Aidan Turner fans, but you're going to have to wait a little bit longer for more topless scything action. The second season doesn't kick off until the autumn.
This brutal crime drama comes from the pen of Sally Wainwright, writer of Last Tango in Halifax, and while both shows star Sarah Lancashire they couldn't be more different. Don't let the title fool you, this show is anything but happy. Set in West Yorkshire, Happy Valley follows police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) and her growing obsession with bringing down Tommy Lee Royce (a terrifying James Norton, yes, him again), the man she believes is responsible for the brutal rape that impregnated and drove her daughter to suicide. Season two is currently airing on BBC1 and will be released on Netflix in the US and Canada later this month.
Line of Duty
The third season of Jed Mercurio's gripping thriller about police corruption kicks off later this month. This time the detectives of AC-12 turn their sights towards Daniel Mays' Sergeant Danny Waldron, the leader of an Armed Response Unit, suspected of being up to no good. Expect twists, turns, more twist, and some sure to be BAFTA nominated acting.
After being away far too long, Steven Knight's drama about Brummie gangsters returns in October. Not much is known so far, but expect lots of scenes of Cillian Murphy wandering around 1920s Birmingham to contemporary music, looking cooler than anyone in a flat cap has any right to be.
Is there a better detective on TV right now than Gillian Anderson's majestic Stella Gibson? Thought not. Stella, along with her now iconic silk blouses, will return for a helping of The Fall sometime later this year that will hopefully bring the twisted tale of Paul Spector to a long overdue conclusion. Rumour has it that the third season might be the show's final season, although Anderson has hinted that she may film another season in 2017. Heather's reviews of the first two seasons can be found here.
Hinterland (Y Gwyll)
Grim Welsh detective DCI Tom Mathias and his team of fellow grim Welsh detectives investigate grim murders in the grim Welsh countryside. In Welsh. Or English if you watch it on Netflix. The second season has already aired on SC4 in Wales and will be broadcast on BBC4 around the rest of the UK sometime later this year. A third season is already in production.
The Missing was the must-watch drama in Britain back in 2014. Reactions to the final episode reached Lost levels of divisiveness. While many were left disappointed with how the search for Oliver Hughes ended, I wasn't one of them and can't wait to see what writers Harry and Jack Williams have in store for season two. Although Tchéky Karyo will return as retired detective Julien Baptise, the new season will feature a brand new story centred on Sam and Gemma (David Morrissey and Keeley Hawes), whose daughter Alice went missing in 2003 and mysteriously returns home in 2014.
When I first heard the premise of Grantchester—local vicar develops an interest in sleuthing—I remember thinking: dear God, not another do-gooding religious character solving mysteries. Hasn't this been done before, like, a dozen times? And whilst 'a dozen times' may be something of an exaggeration, anyone who's seen Cadfael, Father Brown, or The Father Dowling Mysteries must surely sympathise. This just isn't a novel concept. I mean, it is the concept for some novels (if in doubt, check out Ellis Peters, Ralph McInerny, or G.K. Chesterton's bibliographies), but this really shouldn't have been the foundation for such an outstanding show.
Grantchester's main selling point is obviously James Norton. After a rather unremarkable performance in Doctor Who's 'Cold War', he really wasn't on my radar, but after watching the Daisy Coulam penned first season—an adaptation of James Runcie's 'The Grantchester Mysteries'—it became clear why his star was in such ascendancy. He's good. The show is good. I mean, it's really good. It's embarrassingly self-assured for a new show, and Sidney Chambers is a properly rounded character with the sort of self-doubts and foibles that we can all empathise with. Add to the mix Robson Green as detective Geordie Keating, Sidney's sounding board and eventual best friend, and the breathtaking Cambridgeshire countryside—almost a character in its own right—and your mid-week viewing just got a whole lot more interesting.
Grantchester season two is currently airing every Wednesday at 9 PM (ITV), and is due to air in the US on March 27th (PBS). But in case you're still not convinced, I'll leave this jpeg here for you to look at—just in case you like your Anglican Vicars half-naked. Norton undeniably puts the phwoar in post-(ph)w(o)ar England.
My other two favourite shows this year have been Vera (ITV) and Shetland (BBC). Both are adaptations of crime author Ann Cleeves' excellent 'Vera Stanhope' and 'Shetland Island Series' novels (with original stories added for variety), and both offer northern colour to your weekend viewing. (Shetland being so far north that you actually have to get in a boat to get there.) The Shetland Isles are obviously a beautiful backdrop for a crime drama, but it's the remoteness, combined with the relatability of its detectives in an environment of idiosyncratic island folk, which offers something different from the more hectic, city-based detective shows. Plus, Douglas Henshall and Julie Graham are in it. I don't know what more needs to be said.
Vera likewise manages to highlight the scenic side of Northumberland, and Brenda Blethyn is simply marvellous as the show's eponymous hero. Vera is the antidote to TV's immaculately dressed detectives. She dresses like a bag lady, wears less make-up than a giraffe, and armed with a full-on 'Geordie' accent, grumbles her way through every episode, making deductive leaps that would put Sherlock Holmes to shame. Yet despite the main character's shortcomings, Vera is ultimately a show with heart. Despite her sometimes brusque exterior, Vera genuinely cares about the people under her care. And any show which makes Newcastle look inviting has to be doing something right. I initially considered Blethyn's Geordie accent to be a crime against humanity, but that was before I heard Greg Bryan's attempt at one on last week's episode of Castle. If you haven't heard it yet, check out this monstrosity...
My favourite comment underneath this abomination was "This is the worst thing that has ever happened." I agree wholeheartedly. Dick Van Dyke has finally been stripped of his Worst Ever Attempt at an English Accent Award, and I see Bryan reigning unchallenged for decades to come.
Mark Greig is the very model of a modern Major-General, he's information vegetable, animal, and mineral, he know the kings of England, and can quote the fights historical, from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical. More Mark Greig.