On top of the British series that returned in 2020 (His Dark Materials, Ghosts and Inside No. 9 to name just three), below are the many new UK TV series we welcomed in 2020.
You’ll find true crime series, contemporary thrillers and the usual hefty number of literary adaptations and period dramas. Here’s the same for all the new British comedy we enjoyed in 2020.
Obviously, with Covid-19 delays having taken at least a three-month chunk out of production on all continuing and new dramas since mid-March 2020, there were serious delays to many planned shows, but a good number of new arrivals still managed to make their way onto screens.
All Creatures Great and Small (September)
Filmed in the Yorkshire Dales in autumn 2019 is a new adaptation of the memoirs of rural vet James Herriot (real name: James Alf Wight). Airing on Channel 5 in the UK and on Masterpiece on PBS in the US, this series stars Samuel West, Anna Madeley and Dame Diana Rigg, with newcomer Nicholas Ralph playing young vet James. A six-part series plus a Christmas special has been filmed, timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the first book’s publication. Expect warm-hearted stories of animal frolics and local characters.
A Suitable Boy (July)
Literary adapter extraordinaire Andrew Davies (Les Miserables, War & Peace, Pride And Prejudice) is back on the BBC with the first screen adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel A Suitable Boy. Making her television debut is acclaimed feature director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Queen Of Katwe). A Suitable Boy is a coming-of-age story about university student Lata (played by Tanya Maniktala), told against the backdrop of newly independent India in 1951. The official BBC press release describes it as “a vast, panoramic tale charting the fortunes of four large families and exploring India and its rich and varied culture at a crucial point in its history.” Here’s our spoiler-free review.
Adult Material (October)
This Channel 4 drama takes on the UK porn industry and the complex relationship between sex, money and power. Written by Skins and The Smoke’s Lucy Kirkwood, the four-part miniseries stars I, Daniel Blake‘s Hayley Squires (in a role previously given to Sheridan Smith, who left the project due to conflicting commitments) as Jolene, an experienced porn actor and mother of three whose on-set friendship with a young woman leads to a complex examination of her own work and home life. With warnings of adult and sexual scenes, here’s the official trailer.
Baghdad Central (February)
Based on the thriller of the same name by Elliott Colla, Baghdad Central is a six-part Channel 4 commission written by House of Saddam and The Last Kingdom‘s Stephen Butchard. Set in Iraq shortly after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, it’s described as “part noir detective drama, part Le Carre and part Green Zone“. With a cast led by Waleed Zuaiter (Omar, Altered Carbon), it’s the story of a quest for justice in an almost lawless society. Bertie Carvel co-stars, with Doctor Who and Tin Star‘s Alice Troughton as the lead director. All six episodes are currently available to stream on All4.
Written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and based on his 2016 novel of the same name, Belgravia is a six-part period drama set in 19th century London. Expect toffs and treachery in a story about society secrets on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. Among the fine looking cast are Tamsin Greig, Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald, Philip Glenister and Alice Eve. It aired in March on Sunday nights on ITV1.
Black Narcissus (December)
This BBC commission was announced back in 2017 and we finally have some info on it. Adapted by Apple Tree Yard screenwriter Amanda Coe from Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel (which was previously adapted for cinema in 1947), three-part series Black Narcissus stars Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh in a Gothic tale of “sexual repression and forbidden love”. Set in the 1930s, it’s the story of a group of nuns who travel to Nepal to set up a branch of their order, and Sister Clodagh’s struggle with her attraction to a land agent, against the backdrop of the tragic history of a Nepalese princess. Diana Rigg, Jim Broadbent, Gina McKee and more join Arterton. Filming began in Nepal and the UK in October 2019, and back in January the BBC included it in the year’s ‘New for 2020‘ trailer.
New political thriller Cobra arrived on Sky One and NOW TV in January. From The Tunnel and Strike writer Ben Richards, it stars Robert Carlyle, Victoria Hamilton and David Haig as, respectively, the PM, his chief of staff and the home secretary. It’s a six-parter promising “high stakes politics and high-octane action” about a team of experts and crisis responders attempting to bring society back from the brink of collapse. A second series was ordered by Sky in February 2020.
Deadwater Fell (January)
From Humans screenwriter Daisy Coulam, this new four-part Channel 4 drama aired in January this year. Set in a remote Scottish community, it explores the aftermath of a heinous crime – a family is murdered by someone they know and trust, sending ripples through the supposedly idyllic town. David Tennant leads a cast including The Good Fight‘s Cush Jumbo and The Bay‘s Matthew McNulty. It’s an excellent, if difficult watch (read our spoiler-filled reviews here), and is currently available to stream on All4.
ITV has included this three-part true crime drama in its autumn 2020 schedule, so it looks like there are no delays here. Des stars David Tennant and is inspired by the real story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who murdered several boys and men between the years of 1978 and 1983. It’s adapted from Brian Masters’ book Killing For Company, and will be told from the perspective of three men – Nilsen, DCI Peter Jay (played by Daniel Mays), and biographer Brian Masters (played by Jason Watkins) – and explore how Nilsen was able to prey on the young and the vulnerable. See the first trailer here.
The Sherlock showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss reunited to bring another 19th century fictional icon to life in Dracula, which aired on BBC One over New Year and Netflix. Danish actor Claes Bang played the title role alongside Dolly Wells and John Heffernan in the miniseries which comprises three ninety-minute episodes. Moffat and Gatiss promised to “reintroduce the world to Dracula, the vampire who made evil sexy.” Job done. Read our spoiler-filled reviews here.
Flesh and Blood (February)
Filming on new ITV four-part drama Flesh And Blood got underway in June 2019, with an enviable cast led by Imelda Staunton, Stephen Rea and Russell Tovey. It’s a contemporary story of three adult siblings shocked when their recently widowed mother falls for a new man, bringing into question everything they thought they knew about their parents’ 45-year marriage. Staunton plays the family’s neighbour, who harbours an unhealthy obsession with the unfolding drama… Think dark wit and the unearthing of long-buried secrets. It’s available to stream on ITV Hub here and here’s our spoiler-filled episode one review.
Gangs of London (April)
Filmmaker Gareth Evans came to everybody’s attention with 2011 Indonesian-set action flick The Raid. In April, he made his TV debut with this Sky Atlantic/HBO co-production. Gangs of London takes place in a version of modern London torn apart by international criminal organisations. You can expect assassinations, intrigue, expertly choreographed fight scenes and full-muscled action from this excellent new drama. All nine episodes are available to stream on Sky and NOW TV. Read our reviews and interviews here.
Keeley Hawes’ production company is behind new two-part ITV drama Honour, which filmed in autumn 2019 and is due to air this autumn. Based on the real-life so-called “honour” killing of 20-year-old Londoner Banaz Mahmod, “murdered for falling in love with the wrong man”. It comes written by Vanity Fair‘s Gwyneth Hughes and stars Hawes as DCI Caroline Goode, who investigated Mahmod’s disappearance.
I Hate Suzie (August)
Billie Piper has co-created this original Sky Atlantic comedy-drama with playwright Lucy Prebble, who adapted the Piper-starring series Secret Diary Of A Call Girl in 2007. It’s a story about a celebrity (Piper) whose career is threatened when she’s hacked and a personal photo leaked to the public. The Crown and Lovesick’s Daniel Ings co-stars. Piper is terrific in it and it has plenty to say on fame and the nature of modern celebrity. With adult content, see the first trailer here. It starts on Sky on Sunday the 27th of August, with all episodes available on NOW TV.
I May Destroy You (June)
The latest from acclaimed writer-actor Michaela Coel, creator of Chewing Gum, is a 12-part half-hour series exploring sexual consent, trauma, recovery, friendship and much more. Formerly under the working title of January 22nd, I May Destroy You is a BBC One/HBO co-production set and filmed in London, and stars Coel in the lead role of Arabella, a celebrated young novelist who suffers a sexual assault that causes her to reassess her life. Joining Coel in the cast are Weruche Opia, Paapa Essiedu, Aml Ameen and a host of new and stage talent. It aired in June on BBC One and stunned just about everybody with its frank, poised brilliance. Watch it here on BBC iPlayer.
Another Bad Wolf production, this one is on its way to BBC Two and HBO in the US. Eight-part drama Industry comes from new writers Konrad Kay and Mickey Down, and is directed by Girls’ Lena Dunham. Taking on work, money, power, greed and loyalty. It’s about a group of graduates competing for places at a top firm in the cut-throat world of international finance. How far will some people go for profit?
Isolation Stories (May)
UK channels responded quickly to the unusual demands of making television during lockdown, with BBC stalwarts Have I Got News for You and The Graham Norton Show continuing but using remote video link-ups. In May, ITV aired the first lockdown drama with anthology series Isolation Stories. The episodes are 15 minutes long and depict the experience of lockdown on a variety of characters played by Sheridan Smith, Angela Griffin, Robert Glenister, David Threlfall and Eddie Marsan. Watch them on ITV Hub here.
From the writer of Doctor Foster comes a new six-part hour-long drama for BBC One. Life tells four separate story strands about the residents of a large Manchester house divided into flats. The cast includes Alison Steadman and Peter Davison as a married couple rocked by a chance encounter, Adrian Lester and Rachael Stirling are a couple whose marriage is threatened by temptation, while Victoria Hamilton plays a woman whose life is disrupted by the arrival of her teenage niece. Currently filming in Manchester, “LIFE explores love, loss, birth, death, the ordinary, the extraordinary and everything in between”.
Little Birds (August)
An original six-part UK drama coming to Sky Atlantic, Little Birds is creatively adapted from Anais Nin’s collection of erotic short stories of the same name. Set in Tangier in 1955, filming took place in Andalusia and Manchester, with Juno Temple playing the lead role of Lucy Savage, a young women trapped by society who yearns for an unconventional life. It’s an erotic, political exploration of sexuality against the backdrop of colonial rebellion, and all episodes are currently available to stream on NOW TV. Read our spoiler-free review of all six episodes.
Miss Scarlet And The Duke (March)
This six-part co-production written by Trollied’s Rachel New and starring Peaky Blinders’ Kate Phillips aired on Alibi here in the UK. It’s a one-hour series set in the 19th century about London’s first female gumshoe, Eliza Scarlet (Phillips), a woman who takes over her dead father’s detective agency, aided by Stuart Martin’s ‘Duke’. One for fans of Aussie period detective series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, perhaps?
Noughts + Crosses (March)
Malorie Blackman’s hugely successful series of Young Adult novels have been adapted by Being Human’s Toby Whithouse for BBC One. The six-part series is set in a world where racial divisions are turned on their head, and two young people from different backgrounds battle through separation caused by power, politics and prejudice. All episodes are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer. Read our episode one review here.
Normal People (April)
Filming took place last summer in Dublin, Sligo and Italy for Normal People, adapted by Sally Rooney from her 2018 publishing hit of the same name. It’s a 12-part drama for BBC Three and US streaming service Hulu, starring new(ish)comers Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal. Directing is Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie McDonald, telling an intimate story about a relationship between two young people – Marianne and Connell – stretching through their university years at Trinity College, Dublin. Available now on BBC Three and Hulu, read our spoiler-free review and more.
Three-part hour-long drama Penance aired on Channel 5 this March. It’s an original scripted drama for the channel, and stars Neil Morrissey, Julie Graham and Nico Mirallegro in a psychological thriller about grief, manipulation and morally murky relationships. The story revolves around the Douglas family, reeling from the death of their son, and a young man they encounter at bereavement counselling with whom they become entangled.
Adapted from James Graham’s acclaimed stageplay of the same name, Quiz is the story of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? 2001 cheating scandal in which Major Ingram and accomplices were accused of cheating their way to the show’s top prize. Human chameleon Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Damned United) pictured above, plays quiz host Chris Tarrant, with Ripper Street‘s Matthew Macfadyen playing the accused Major in the three-part ITV/AMC drama. On directing duties is Stephen Frears, who recently directed excellent comedy drama State Of The Union and Russell T. Davies’ A Very English Scandal. Read our reviews here.
Veep‘s Hugh Laurie is going back to politics. Acclaimed screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) is behind a new four-part political thriller for BBC One. Roadkill is the story of Peter Laurence (Laurie), a conservative minister with his eyes on the top job who attempts to out-manoeuvre the personal secrets threatening to wreck his public standing. Peaky Blinders‘ Helen McCrory is set to play prime minister Dawn Ellison, with Westworld‘s Sidse Babbett Knudsen also appearing. Filming began in London in November 2019 and we’re expecting it to arrive later this year.
The Salisbury Poisonings (June)
An episode in recent UK history – the 2018 Novichok poisonings – is translated to the screen in three-part factual drama The Salisbury Poisonings, which filmed in 2019 in the Wiltshire cathedral city. The BBC Two drama focused on the impact of the chemical attack on ordinary people and public services in the city, and boasted a terrific cast including Anne-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall, Mark Addy, Johnny Harris and MyAnna Buring. It was co-written by BBC Panorama‘s Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn. Read our review here.
Sitting In Limbo (June)
A new feature-length film tackling the shameful political Windrush immigration scandal aired on BBC One in June. Sitting In Limbo is inspired by the true story of Anthony Bryan’s struggle to be accepted as a British citizen, despite having lived in the UK since emigrating to Britain as a child in 1965 with his mother. Written by Bryan’s novelist brother Stephen S. Thompson (Toy Soldiers, No More Heroes), it’s a deeply personal and powerful ninety minute drama about the devastating human toll of the foreign office’s ‘hostile environment’ tactic. Casualty‘s Patrick Robinson and Save Me‘s Nadine Marshall star.
Small Axe (November)
An anthology of six hour-long stories set in 1960s – 1980s London is on its way to the BBC and Amazon Prime Video from Steve McQueen, the director of Twelve Years A Slave, Hunger and Shame. Small Axe started filming in June 2019 and boasts a terrific cast including Black Panther and Black Mirror‘s Letitia Wright, and The Force Awakens and Attack The Block‘s John Boyega, with Malachi Kirby and Rochenda Sandall. The first of the anthology’s five stories, all of which are set in London’s West Indian community, will be told across two episodes. See a teaser for the first, ‘Mangrove’, here. The title is inspired by the Jamaican proverb about marginal protest challenging dominant voices, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”. The first three episodes are due to open the New York Film Festival on the 25th of September 2020, though it’s currently unknown how the ongoing pandemic will affect the event.
Talking Heads (June)
Nothing to do with the NYC post-punk band of the same name, this remake of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads monologue series featured an all-new cast and two new monologues by Bennett. Originally broadcast in 1988 and 1998 and featuring a host of acting talent including Julie Walters, Maggie Smith and Patricia Routledge, the new Talking Heads starred Jodie Comer, Maxine Peake, Martin Freeman, Lesley Manville, Kristen Scott Thomas, Sarah Lancashire and more. The episodes are available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and were filmed using the standing EastEnders sets.
The Windermere Children (February)
This one-off feature length BBC Two drama delved into a little-explored part of English history – the child survivors and presumed orphans of the Holocaust who were granted the right to come and live in the UK following World War II. The Windermere Children tells the story of one coachful of young refugees brought to Lake Windermere to be rehabilitated through nature. Romola Garai, Tim McInnerny and Iain Glenn star in a screenplay from The Eichmann Show‘s Simon Block and directed by Any Human Heart‘s Michael Samuels.
The End (February)
This ten-episode series aired on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV. The End is created and written by Samantha Strauss and stars Harriet Walter and Frances O’Connor in the story of three generations of the same family dealing with the thorny issue of dying with dignity. O’Connor plays a palliative care specialist opposed to euthanasia, while Walter plays her mother Edie, who feels strongly that she has a right to die. Complicated family dynamics meet complex moral issues. See the trailer here.
The English Game (March)
Netflix bagged itself a Julian Fellowes-written drama earlier this year, this one about the birth of football. Set in Northern England in the 1850s, The English Game tracks the development of the beautiful game with the help of a cast including Line Of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, The Virtues’ Niamh Walsh, Kingsman’s Edward Holcroft and Game of Thrones’ Charlotte Hope. It arrived on Netflix UK in March and reviews were… not kind.
The Luminaries (June)
Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries won the Man Booker prize in 2013, and this June, arrived on BBC One. The six-part drama, available to stream on BBC iPlayer, boasts a strong cast, with Penny Dreadful‘s Eva Green and Eve Hewson taking lead roles in the 19th century New Zealand-set tale of adventure and mystery during the 1860s Gold Rush. Read our spoiler-free review here.
The Pale Horse (February)
The brilliant Sarah Phelps (And Then There Were None, The ABC Murders, Witness For The Prosecution, Ordeal By Innocence) is back with another Agatha Christie adaptation for BBC One. This time it’s 1961 novel The Pale Horse being adapted for the screen, a story where superstition and witchcraft meet rationalism and murder. In the cast for the two-part mystery thriller are Rufus Sewell (The Man In The High Castle), Kaya Scodelario (Skins, Pirates Of The Caribbean), Bertie Carvel (Doctor Foster, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), Sean Pertwee (Gotham) and more. Read our spoiler-filled episode reviews and more.
The Nest (March)
Line Of Duty‘s Martin Compston joins Sophie Rundle in new five-part BBC One thriller The Nest. Filmed in Glasgow and written by Three Girls‘ Nicole Taylor, it’s the story of a wealthy couple struggling to have a baby who enter into a surrogacy agreement with an 18-year-old girl (Mirren Mack) that spirals into unexpected territory. The series arrived in March, and here’s our episode one review.
The Singapore Grip (August)
A bit of class here coming to ITV with an adaptation of JG Farrell’s World War II novel The Singapore Grip. Playwright Christopher Hampton, whose previous screenplays include Atonement and Dangerous Liaisons, has adapted the story for a six-part series set against the backdrop of 1940s Japan. It stars Luke Treadaway and Elizabeth Tan, with David Morrissey, Charles Dance and Colm Meaney. The series is due to air in Australia this July, and will arrive in the UK in autumn.
The Sister (October)
Neil Cross, the creator of Luther and Hard Sun, has a new drama on the way to ITV. The Sister, formerly titled Because The Night, is a four-part murder story “which exposes the quiet terror of a man trying to escape his past,” and comes inspired by Cross’ 2009 novel Burial. The psychological thriller is about Nathan, whose world is rocked when a face from the past suddenly appears on his doorstep. Russell Tovey and Bertie Carvel star. It’s due to arrive on ITV this autumn.
The Stranger (January)
Announced in January 2019 and arriving on Netflix a year later, The Stranger is a Harlan Coben thriller made for UK television. Nicola Shindler’s British production company RED (The Five, Safe) have once again turned a Coben novel into a twisting, turning UK series. This one’s about Adam Price (played by Richard Armitage), a man with a seemingly perfect life until a stranger appears to tell him a devastating secret. Things quickly become dark and tangled for Price and everybody around him. Read our spoiler-free series review here.
The Tail Of The Curious Mouse (December)
When children’s author Roald Dahl was just six years old, so the story goes, he persuaded his mother to drive him to the Lake District so he could meet his hero, writer-illustrator Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and many more beloved children’s characters. The welcome he received, however, was less than warm. This one-off drama (Roald and Beatrix: The Tail Of The Curious Mouse) stars Dawn French as Potter and is made by the production team behind Sherlock and Dracula. Expect it to arrive this Christmas.
All eight episodes of this new contemporary drama are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer. Trigonometry comes written by playwright Duncan Macmillan and actor-screenwriter Effie Woods, and provokes some fascinating questions about modern love. It’s the story of Gemma and Kieran, a couple who decide to ease the financial burden of their London flat by taking in a lodger who soon becomes entwined in their relationship. Is life as a ‘throuple’ sustainable? Could it be the way forward?
A four-part adaptation of David Nicholls’ novel Us is on its way to BBC One. Tom Hollander and Saskia Reeves star as Douglas and Connie, a couple whose marriage is on the verge of falling apart when the family take a long-planned holiday touring European cities. London, Amsterdam, Venice, Paris and Barcelona will provide the backdrops to this humorous, poignant relationship drama from the novelist behind One Day, Starter For Ten and Sky Atlantic’s recent adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels. The Killing‘s Sofie Grabol and Agents Of SHIELD‘s Iain de Caestecker also star.
White House Farm (January)
This six-part ITV true crime drama tells the tragic story of 1985’s White House Farm murders, the Essex killings of multiple members of the Caffell and Bamber families. Based on research, interviews and published accounts, it’s written by The Slap and Requiem’s Kris Mrksa, and directed by Little Boy Blue and Hatton Garden’s Paul Whittington. Freddie Fox plays the role of Jeremy Bamber, who is currently serving a sentence for the murders, with Stephen Graham, Alexa Davies, Mark Addy, Alfie Allen and more among the cast. Read our spoiler-filled episode reviews here.