The 10 Best True Crime TV Adaptations

All based on true stories.

With Des coming up on ITV (starring David Tennant) next week, and shows like The Pembrokeshire Murders (also ITV) and the Danish series The Investigation (BBC) in the pipeline, it’s time to look into the genre of true-crime adaptations.

Down the years there have been many good ones, but what are our favourites?

Do you include series like Channel 4’s the Red Riding trilogy, loosely based on the Ripper murders? Or Ripper Street, based around the original Ripper murders? Or how about Mindhunter, a great series, and based on a biography with real characters in it?

No, we’ve been quite strict. Our inclusions are pure adaptations of true crimes, with no extraneous stuff.

It should be noted that the true-crime adaptations is a relatively new phenomenon – back in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and even in the 2000s this sub-genre didn’t exist. In documentary form yes, but dramatisations? Not really.

Just hovering on the outside of this list is Manhunt: Unabomber, In Plain Sight, The Moorside and ITV’s Manhunt.

So this is our list, what are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!

10 The Salisbury Poisonings
BBC

A very recent drama, this told the behind-scenes-story of how emergency services dealt with the now infamous Salisbury poisonings of March 2018. The city became the site of an unprecedented national emergency and this three-part dramatisation focused on the extraordinary heroism shown by the local community. It boasted the likes of Anne-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall, Annabel Scholey and MyAnna Buring, who all gave terrific performances.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF THE SALISBURY POISONINGS

9 A Confession
ITV

Another recent drama, this starred the likes of Martin Freeman, Siobhan Finneran and Imelda Staunton as three people caught up in the murders of Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden-Edwards. Freeman played Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, who broke the rules and put his career on the line to get a confession out of suspect Christopher Halliwell. Dovetailing between Fulcher’s decision-making and the families’ desperation, it put a different spin on the true-crime story.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF A CONFESSION

8 Waco
Alibi
Last year’s hit starred Taylor Kitsch in a remarkable retelling of the tragic 51-day 1993 standoff between the FBI, ATF and David Koresh’s religious faction, the Branch Davidians, in Waco, Texas. The stand-off culminated in a fatal fire and many lives were lost. The series investigated the tragedy before and during the standoff, from a variety of viewpoints of those most personally associated with the two sides of the dispute. But it also gave us an insight into manipulation and control, and a glimpse into hose lost souls looking for a place to belong.

READ MORE: ALL OUR REVIEWS OF WACO

7 See No Evil: The Moors Murderers
ITV/Google Play/YouTube

Hugely notable, not least because of the doomed lovers’ despicable crimes in the 1960s, making Ian Brady and Myra Hindley arguably the UK’s most notorious serial killers. It’s also notable because of Maxine Peake’s iconic performance as Hindley, one that sent shivers down the spine of many. It’s a ‘simple’ retelling of how Brady (Sean Harris) and Hindley were brought to justice, and it went on to win a BAFTA.

6 Appropriate Adult
ITV/Amazon Prime

Only two episodes, but Dominic West’s portrayal of the serial killer Fred West – one of the UK’s most infamous serial killers – was just spellbindingly creepy. It focused on the unusual relationship between West and his ‘appropriate adult’ Janet Leach (Emily Watson). After volunteering as West’s appropriate adult – a person from the community who assists vulnerable adults facing criminal charges – Janet finds herself sitting with West during his highly-charged police interviews. As Fred quickly becomes dependent on Janet, he draws her deeper into his mind games and refuses to cooperate with the authorities.

5 Rillington Place
BBC

This three-part series from 2016 revolved around the home life of John Christie and his wife, Ethel, as he committed a string of murders during the 1940s and early 1950s. Each of the three episodes told the story as seen from the respective point of view of the three main characters: Ethel, Timothy Evans and John Christie, himself, who was played with quiet malevolence by Tim Roth. With the house in Rillington Place like a character in itself, this was one not to watch on your own.

READ MORE: ALL OUR REVIEWS OF RILLINGTON PLACE

4 A Very English Scandal
BBC

Russell T Davis brought the strange you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-it-hadn’t-happened story of British Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe to our screens. With a brilliant Hugh Grant as Thorpe, it tells the true story of the MP, who was accused of conspiracy to murder his gay ex-lover (Ben Wishaw) and forced to stand trial in 1979.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL

3 When They See Us
Netflix

Created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay, it tells the harrowing story of events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City. There’s a strong ensemble cast, full of brilliant, young African American actors, who bring to life this shocking story, and show how this heinous, wrongful conviction changed the teens’ lives forever.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF WHEN THEY SEE US

2 Unbelievable
Netflix

This stunning and engrossing eight-part series stars Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, and Kaitlyn Dever and follows the 2008–2011 Washington and Colorado serial rape cases. Specifically, it tells the story of Marie, a teenager who was charged with lying about having been raped, and the two detectives who followed a twisting path to arrive at the truth. Detectives Grace Rasmussen (Collette) and Karen Duvall (Weaver) form an unlikely but obsessive investigative pairing who fight to find out the real truth, and uncover a serial perpetrator.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF UNBELIEVABLE

1 American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace
BBC/Netflix

On the surface, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace was an archetypical dramatisation of a murder spree but beneath that, there was so much more to process, including a searing indictment of homophobia in 1990s America. Superficial scanning might have also concluded that this would be a relatively standard study of vacuous 1990s opulence and excess. It wasn’t. Yes, there were the peculiar dynamics within the Versace family present, but as the layers peeled back this became a story about something completely different. At its centre, Darren Criss gave the performance of a lifetime as Andrew Cunanan, the narcissistic killer who brutally murdered his way across America. As we watched we saw a disturbed young man so desperate for fame and fortune, acceptance and love, that he created such a dizzying raft of different personalities – and weaved such a heady web of lies – it was difficult to know where, or who, he would be next. No wonder it won our Best Crime Drama Of The Year in 2018.

READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE

One Comment Add yours

  1. Andy D says:

    Great list Paul and plenty I haven’t seen here to look into. I’m always a little queasy about these types of adaptations. Sort of a “Cheap holiday in other peoples misery” as the Sex Pistols used to sing. The Assassination of Gianni Versace still stands out head and shoulders above everything here for me, as something way beyond the usual procedural nature of these kind of shows. It really haunted me for a good while after watching it.

    Like

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