Best TV crime dramas of 2014

THIS ROUND-UP of the year’s best TV crime dramas has for the past four years comfortably listed 10 outstanding series.2014, on the other hand, is a tougher proposition. There were so many terrific stories and performances that I found it impossible to restrict it to 10. So, to celebrate the New Year, here is my top 14 for 2014…

True Detective, Sky Atlantic

A simply indelible series that was unlike anything else out there in 2014. Haunting, a little mad and with a dream-like – or perhaps that should be nightmarish – atmosphere. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson put in a shift, too. Our review

Happy Valley, BBC1

Sally Wainwright’s gritty drama was engrossing and powerful, and also had one of the performances of the year from Sarah Lancashire. The second series will have a tough act to follow. Our review

Peaky Blinders, BBC2

Really hit its stride in this second series. Great to see a revival of the British gangster drama that dared to be brash and different. Our review

Sherlock 3, BBC1

Some people did not like this flamboyant third series, but we did and so did most reviewers. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were really on their game, producing a drama that fizzed with jaw-dropping surprises and delights. Our review

The Bridge 2, BBC4

Superb follow-up to the first series, which pushed our heroes Saga and Martin into new intrigue and emotional turmoil. Kim Bodnia won’t return to series 3 because his character, of course, ended up in jail, but Sofia Helin will (see Digital Spy’s interview with them)
Our review

Line of Duty 2, BBC2

Another feather in BBC2’s cap this year, this drama about police corruption was superb and completely outshone the first series. Keeley Hawes dominated proceedings with a compelling performance as the inspector under suspicion. Our review

The Widower, ITV

Once again ITV came up with a fascinating exploration of a real crime. Reece Shearsmith as the slippery killer Malcolm Webster was haunting, in a drama that was way better than his other series this year, the unconvincing Chasing ShadowsOur review

Fargo, C4

It never came close to catching the bleak logic and black humour of the Coen brothers’ cult film, but this series starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton was quirky enough to keep everyone frozen to the screen. Our review

The Missing, BBC1

Sober, intelligent and always engrossing eight-part tragedy. The disappearance of a five-year-old British boy on holiday in France was a difficult subject, but this was a truthful and heartfelt series that was totally involving. Our review

Gomorrah, Sky Atlantic

Powerful Italian series, based on Roberto Saviano’s frightening book about the Neapolitan Camorra, which revealed how insidious and slightly unhinged Southern Italian crime organisations are. Our review

The Honourable Woman, BBC2

Twisting, full of intrigue and beautifully made and acted, this follow-up to The Shadow Line from writer/producer/director Hugo Blick was one of the most captivating dramas of 2014. Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped out of her Hollywood comfort zone and gave a blockbuster performance. Our review

Scott & Bailey, ITV

Once again this ITV staple with Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones got all the basics of good drama right, while coming up with some really intriguing crime stories. Our review

Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic

A series that has never really grabbed audiences in the UK, but as it approached its finale it was always beautifully written, acted and produced. Our review

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies

ITV specialises in dramas inspired by real events and again came up with a sober, fascinating series about the wrongful arrest of the eccentric ex-school teacher. Jason Watkins was terrific in the lead. Our review

Honourable mentions to… 
The Fall 2 – even if the finale made a hash of Stella’s character and was ultimately disappointing (see our mini-poll, above right), this had some great moments along the way; Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Suspects; Endeavour 2; Mammon; 24: Live Another Day; Amber; Utopia; Crimes of Passion; The Driver; Legends; Glue; Grantchester; and Common.
Fond farewells…
to Ronnie Brooks (and Law & Order: UK as well?), and Southland.
Disappointments…
Hostages; Salamander; the pilot for Bosch; Babylon did not quite cut it; Turks & Caicos – all prestige production and cast that failed to grip; Prey; Hinterland; Chasing Shadows; and Stalker, which was pretty dire.

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The Missing, BBC1, with James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tcheky Karyo PREVIEW

Tony (JAMES NESBITT) in The Missing
Stranded – Tony’s life is shattered by his son’s disappearance. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 28 October, 9pm

Story: Tony and Emily Hughes’ life changes forever when their five year-old son Oliver goes missing on a family holiday to France.

IT’S SAID THAT CRIME DRAMAS are a way for viewers to confront the nasty, violent side of life from the safety of their sofas. Well, The Missing is different. It confronts you with something more haunting – a living nightmare.

Because this tale of child abduction is so truthfully and simply told, it is much more affecting than run-of-the-mill murder and mayhem tales can ever be.

James Nesbitt ditches the smarmy and cheeky side of his repertoire to offer a powerful portrayal of a man none of us wants to be – the parent who loses his five-year-old son.

A normal holiday turned nightmare

He plays Tony, a normal, hard-working guy on his hols in France with wife Emily and little Oliver.

Tony (James Nesbitt) and Oliver (Oliver Hunt)
When everything was normal – Tony with Oliver

When his car breaks down they stop in Chalons du Bois and put up in a little hotel while the vehicle is repaired.

France is gripped by a big soccer tournament featuring their team. After taking Oliver for a swim, Tony and the boy go to a resort bar that is packed with football-enthralled locals. When he turns round, Oliver is gone. While everyone is celebrating the big match, Tony charges around in a mounting panic.

This eight-parter swings the narrative between this traumatic moment and events eight years later, when Tony and Emily have split. Continued…

Heartbreaking drama

Tony has gone off the rails, obsessed that Oliver is still alive, stalking the streets of Chalon du Bois

Emily (Frances O'Connor) in The Missing
Emily has tried to rebuild her life

grabbing people in the street for news of his boy. Emily, now settled with the UK police liaison officer assigned to their case, appears to have adjusted, but she is merely covering up how damaging the memories of her son still are to her.

It’s a heartbreaking drama, built on small details that make the story grounded in real life and painful. The parents are not perfect. Tony is hitting the booze and has become an outcast in this forlorn quest.

If this all seems to echo real-life tragedies involving stolen children, such as Madeleine McCann, then that impression is reinforced when Tony is told in France that his presence is making people ‘uncomfortable’.

Retired French detective

Tony’s torment is heightened because he is given hope. He has found a recent photo of another boy,

Tcheky Karyo plays Julien in The Missing BBC
Retired detective Julien

a tourist’s son, in Chalon du Bois wearing Oliver’s initialled yellow scarf. Tony appeals to the retired detective who initially ran the investigation, Julien Baptiste, now retired, to help him.

Reluctantly, Baptiste quietly returns to the town and starts snooping. By the end of the opener, he and Tony are making disturbing progress.

Written by Harry and Jack Williams, The Missing is an engrossing story that definitely begs the awful question in the viewer of how they would behave in these circumstances. It is an honest attempt to look at a frightening crime against a family.

James Nesbitt is compelling as Tony

Interviewed in the weekend’s Observer, Nesbitt says this is the most challenging role he’s had since Bloody Sunday, and he rises to it well.

James Nesbitt as Tony in The Missing BBC
Tony looks for Oliver during the celebrations

He also says: ‘We are becoming inured to the horror of a lot of these [crime] shows, so whether it will be too much for viewers is an interesting question. I believe if these stories are told truthfully, then audiences will go there.’

Personally, I put off watching this for more than a week. There was always something less traumatic around to watch. But having seen it now, I would say it’s a wonderfully understated drama that is moving and gripping.

Cast: James Nesbitt Tony, Frances O’Connor Emily, Tcheky Karyo Julien, Oliver Hunt Oliver

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