Tales of murder, marriage and illicit affairs are all coming up in January and February’s new TV shows, offering escapes to 1920s Paris, Thailand and more. Increasingly, film stars have been appearing in small screen dramas, and 2021 will be no exception, with Lily James, Elle Fanning, Nicolas Hoult and Luke Evans all taking turns depicting captivating characters. Whether it’s the highly anticipated adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love or the BBC’s gripping tale of con-man turned murderer, here are the new TV shows worth binging.
The BBC’s eight-part drama may transport viewers to the beautiful beaches of Thailand, but it’s a dark secret that awaits them there. Inspired by true events, the series tells the story of how life-time con-man Charles Sobhraj (played by The Looming Tower’s Tahar Rahim) lured young western travellers to their death in 1975 and 1976.
With help from his girlfriend, played by Jenna Coleman, Sobhraj decides to escalate his crimes from the cons that had helped him flit between Paris’ high society and its criminal underworld. Targeting the 1970s hippies who flocked to Thailand’s trails, Sobhraj poses as a gem broker to groom his victims, before robbing and murdering them. It’s a chilling tale that turns into a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase when Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (played by Billy Howle) and his wife Angela (played by Ellie Bamber) enter the mix, determined to uncover the truth.
Available now on BBC iPlayer
Catherine the Great has been attracting a fair bit of attention recently — the final years of the 18th century Russian empress’s reign were portrayed by Helen Mirren in an eponymous Sky Atlantic miniseries in 2019 to great acclaim. But the latest depiction of Russia’s longest-serving female ruler is concerned with her younger years, particularly her marriage to the depraved and dangerous Emperor Peter III.
Elle Fanning stars alongside Nicolas Hoult in this American satirical drama, which received such a positive response upon its US release that it’s already been renewed for a second season. With sumptuous costumes and garish episodes inside the Russian court, it’s a wickedly fun coming-of-age story that covers religion, sex and plots of murder.
Thanks to shows like Euphoria, high school dramas are enjoying a resurgence of popularity, especially those with a dark twist. Following a successful run in the US, the controversial series is now available here, with Kate Mara starring as Claire, a new teacher at Westerbrook High School in Texas. Trapped in a dull and unsatisfying marriage to her high school sweetheart, it doesn’t take long for her to find thrills in the attention of one of her students.
Eric (played by Nick Robinson) appears to be the teen dream — handsome, athletic and popular. But outside the school gates, things aren’t as perfect as they seem. What begins as an innocent friendship and source of support for the two lost souls gradually begins to spin out of control, with dire consequences.
Available now on BBC iPlayer
The hit Scandinavian drama comes to UK screens this January, with A Hijacking’s Søren Malling and Borgen star Pilou Asbæk leading the cast in this retelling of the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. Malling plays Jens Møller, the Head of Homicide, investigating how, after sinking into the ocean in a homemade submarine, Wall’s body parts were found scattered throughout the area. Asbæk is the prosecutor determined to get justice for Wall’s parents — who helped the film’s production team — and works closely with Møller as they attempt to build a strong case.
Director Tobias Lindholm, best known for his film A War and Netflix thriller series Mindhunter, puts a strong cast to great use in this chilling crime drama. The Danish-language limited series is a tense ride, with Malling and Asbæk painstakingly trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and convince the court that they have the killer in their grip.
January 29 on BBC iPlayer
Luke Evans returns to the small screen in this three-part true crime drama miniseries based on the pursuit of Welsh serial killer John Cooper. Evans stars as Officer Wilkins, a detective who in 2006 decides to reopen two unsolved murder cases from the 1980s, with hopes that advances in forensic tehcnology and a reexamining of witness testimony will finally help them track down the killer.
Adapted from the true-crime book Catching the Bullseye Killer, written by the real Officer Wilkins and ITV news journalist Jonathan Hill, the gripping drama also stars Keith Allen as the chilling murderer on the run.
11 January on ITV
Thanks to Bridgerton, appetites for period dramas are rampant. Enter the BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel The Pursuit of Love. Narrated by the well-behaved Fanny Logan (played by Emily Beecham), the series follows Fanny’s cousin, the aristocratic Linda Radlett (Lily James), on her search for romance. From manors in Oxfordshire to the glittering world of 1920s Paris, Linda’s adventures create a dizzying tale of friendship, growing up and love.
Directed and written by Emily Mortimer, who also stars as Fanny’s mother, nicknamed The Bolter on account of her own romantic liaisons, the series is host to many a familiar face. Alongside Dominic West, who plays Linda’s father, Dolly Wells (of Bridget Jones fame) plays her strict mother, while Fleabag’s Andrew Scott appears as their neighbour, Lord Merlin.
Coming soon on BBC iPlayer
As the world tries to get to grips with the COVID 19 pandemic, many have been reminded of the tragedy of the AIDS crisis. Now, just over 40 years since the first AIDS-related death, Russell T Davies, the screenwriter and producer behind hits including Doctor Who and Queer as Folk, is returning to the small screen with a new TV show that aims to bring the devastation of the disease out of the shadows.
Following a group of young, queer characters through the 1980s, Davies’ new drama depicts the paranoia that arose before people understood how the disease was transmitted, but also takes care to celebrate the liberation that young members of the LGTBQ+ community found in London during that time. Years & Years singer Olly Alexander leads the cast as Ritchie, an aspiring young actor from the Isle of Wight who comes to the capital to find his big break, and is joined by a promising group of up-and-comers as well as veteran stars, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, in supporting roles.
Coming soon on Channel 4
Dramas about the underbelly of the financial and business world have been enjoying a moment, thanks to the likes of Billions, Succession and, most recently, Industry. Now entering the arena is Devils, based on Guido Maria Brera’s bestselling novel I Diavoli, and starring Patrick Dempsey (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) and Alessandro Borghi.
Set in London in 2011, Borghi plays Massimo Ruggero, a charismatic Italian banker who has managed to enjoy a winning streak as a trader for investment powerhouse, New York London Bank. This has impressed the bank’s American CEO, Dominic Morgan (Dempsey), who Ruggero sees as a father figure, and it’s assumed that Morgan will give him the vice-CEO position. But when Ruggero’s wife is involved in a public scandal, Morgan hands the promotion to someone else. As mysterious events start to unfold, Ruggero becomes convinced that there is a more menacing plot at work and sets out to find the truth, uncovering scandals, crimes and intercontinental wars in the process.
Coming in February on Sky Atlantic
Following his acclaimed turn in the hit series Breaking Bad, Emmy winner Bryan Cranston returns to the small screen in this tense 10-part legal thriller. Cranston plays Michael Desiato, a respected New Orleans judge whose sense of justice is put to the test when his teenage son, Adam (played by Hunter Doohan), is involved in a hit-and-run.
Desperate to keep his son out of jail, Desiato begins to cross legal and personal lines. Unluckily for him and his son, this means going up against Jimmy Baxter (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), the menacing head of the city’s biggest crime family, and his wife Gina, who is even more set on having her revenge.
Coming soon on Sky Atlantic