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10 drama TV picks

Now is a good time to divert our attention and lose ourselves in absorbing stories. So, to help with that, here are ten different escape routes to choose from in our pick of some of TV’s finest dramas, now and then.

1. Quiz (ITV)

It was the most extraordinary moment on that most iconic of TV shows, ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Now the story of ‘coughing major’ Charles Ingram has been turned into an eagerly-awaited ITV drama.

Quiz began its three-part run on ITV on Monday [9 April] and stars Matthew Macfadyen as the former Army major, Sian Clifford as his wife Diana and Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant.

Directed by Stephen Frears and written by playwright James Graham, the story of the couple’s £1m heist and subsequent downfall is - like Millionaire itself - simply must-watch TV.

What they say: ‘Ocean’s 11 meets middle class Wiltshire.’ Radio Times

2. Save Me Too (Sky Atlantic)

Save Me Too is the sequel to Lennie James’ Save Me, picking up 17 months after the end of that first series with Nelly, played by James, seemingly still no closer to finding his missing daughter.

Created and written by James himself, the first series garnered universal acclaim when it aired on Sky Atlantic in 2018 and Save Me Too is no different.

Co-starring Suranne Jones, Stephen Graham and Adrian Edmondson, it is absorbing, original and heartbreakingly believable TV.

What they say: ‘James is electrifying [with] a script that takes the breath away. A near-perfect thriller.’ Independent

3. The Virtues (Channel 4)

Stephen Graham excels in Shane Meadows’ story of a man haunted by his past, a four-part drama that is as bleak as it is compelling.

Graham stars as Joseph, whose life unravels when he travels to Ireland after his young son and ex-wife emigrate to Australia. There he confronts terrible memories from his youth, a childhood spent in the care system that he has long since buried.

Co-written with Jack Thorne, it’s the latest extraordinary offering from Meadows whose acclaimed This is England trilogy is also available to watch on All 4.

What they say: ‘A supremely controlled display of a man in chaos, grasping for redemption.’ The Arts Desk

4. Belgravia (ITV)

If Julian Fellowes’ Regency period drama Belgravia was a welcome addition to the ITV schedules last month, with the nation now in lockdown it feels like something akin to compulsory escapism.

Based on the Downton Abbey creator’s 2016 novel of the same name, Belgravia begins with the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.

With an all-star cast including Tamsin Greig, Philip Glenister, Alice Eve, Tara Fitzgerald and Dame Harriet Walter, it’s old-school Sunday night drama and all the better for it.

What they say: ‘The world may be going to hell in a handcart but some things remain reassuringly unchanged … we need this stuff perhaps more than ever.’ The Spectator

5. Bulletproof (Sky One)

There’s no shortage of action to enjoy in Sky One’s Bulletproof, but the best thing about it is the chemistry between its two leads, Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke.

Walters and Clarke are the cops (and childhood friends) on the trail of some of the country’s most dangerous criminals. The pair not only star in but also created the comedy drama along with Nick Love, whose credits include The Football Factory and the big screen remake of The Sweeney.

Currently two series in - it will be followed by a three-part special in the autumn - Bulletproof is exactly high-octane escapism.

What they say: ‘The chemistry between creators and stars Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters is as strong as ever.’ iNews

6. Deadwater Fell (Channel 4)

The Channel 4 drama starring David Tennant was devastatingly compelling from first to last of its four-episode run.

Tennant plays the doctor who becomes the prime suspect when his wife and three children are killed in a house fire. Except that’s only the beginning of a story which puts very ordinary, totally believable characters at the heart of a storyline which is sometimes too awful to contemplate.

Tennant stars alongside Anna Madeley, Cush Jumbo and Matthew McNulty in the drama which lives long in the memory after the final scene has faded from view.

What they say: 'Daisy Coulam's script and the cast make these feel like real people, not cackling TV villains or victims, which makes it all the more disquieting and compelling.' Den of Geek

7. Chernobyl (Sky Atlantic)

Sky's exploration of the truth about the Chernobyl disaster was many people's picks for the best drama of 2019.

Jared Harris is utterly convincing as the nuclear physicist sent into the midst of the chaos, but everyone and everything about the drama (the cast also includes Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson) is pretty much perfect.

The middle of a global pandemic might not feel like the ideal time to revisit such a catastrophe, but when Chernobyl comes to an end, five episodes won’t feel like nearly long enough.

What they say: ‘Chernobyl is a disaster movie, a spy movie, a horror movie, a political thriller, and a human drama, and it spins each plate expertly.’ The Guardian

8. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (Drama)

Times have changed since Auf Wiedersehen, Pet first aired on ITV but class never dates and that’s something Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ comedy drama had in spades.

It remains true to this day, both in terms of the writing and the performances from an ensemble cast - unknown back then - that was so good it's criminal to leave any of them out (Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy, Kevin Whately, Timothy Spall, Christopher Fairbank, Gary Holton and Pat Roach).

All 26 episodes from the first two series of the comedy drama (based on an original idea by Franc Roddam) are available on on-demand on UKTV. That's living alright.

What they say: ‘Its most significant achievement … was the way it was able to reflect on the nature of British working-class life, from both a British and a foreign perspective, without letting often brutal dramatic events overwhelm its comic perspective.’ The Guardian

9. Electric Dreams (Channel 4)

This 10-part anthology is ideal for anyone in need of a break from the rigours of the real world, offering the opportunity to spend some time in the mind of celebrated sci-fi author Philip K Dick instead.

Not only that, each standalone film means you can dip in and out at will, perfect for anyone who’s feeling a bit frazzled right now (which is surely everyone).

It’s got big ideas and stars to match, including Bryan Cranston, Anna Paquin, Richard Madden, Juno Temple, Steve Buscemi and Julia Davis, to name but a few. Truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

What they say: ‘Every episode of Electric Dreams is absolutely gorgeous.’ GQ

10. Midsomer Murders (ITV)

It’s reassuring to know that in an ever-changing and challenging world, some things will always stay the same.

Like the crime rate in Midsomer Murders, which despite the best efforts of John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and, before him, his cousin Tom (John Nettles), shows no sign of slowing down just yet.

It’s been 23 years since the first episode, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, was broadcast on ITV. Now 21 series and more than 120 episodes later - many of which are available to view on the ITV Hub - it’s still providing viewers with the ultimate light relief.

What they say: ‘A crackling good whodunnit packed with colourful characters and a disturbing kick at the end.’ Variety [on The Killings at Badger's Drift]

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