British Women Investigate

By Cecilia Cygnar

Move over Inspector Morse, Lewis, Linley, Frost, etc. These police women mean business! Here are some terrific UK TV series which feature female leads.

  • The Bletchley Circle


    Four women who worked in Bletchley Park during WWII reunite after one of them thinks they can solve a local London murder. During the war, each of the four had special gifts that make them useful at Bletchley (where British code breakers worked on cracking the German Enigma code). Together, they make a fierce code-breaking team, using statistics and analytic knowledge to solve a series of murders. Sadly, this one only has two seasons, but both (especially the first) are excellent television.

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  • The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries

    2003 by Diana Rigg

    Set in the 1920s and starring Diana Rigg, this series was short but sweet. Rigg (of The Avengers TV series, Game of Thrones, and not to mention--James Bond’s wife!) stars as the title character who takes amateur sleuthing to a very stylish level. Akin to the Miss Marple series and the Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Rigg is the reason to watch. As always, she’s radiant and oozes class.

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  • Murder in Suburbia


    This is another series that did not have a long run but is worth watching. Starring Lisa Faulkner and Caroline Catz (of Doc Martin fame), this one of the very few series that have two female officers leading the investigations. I have not seen these yet but just from the few things I read about these episodes, they sound like something to check out.

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  • Rosemary & Thyme.

    2011 by Felicity Kendal

    Meet the gardening detectives! Yes, while they are out on gardening assignments, they somehow always stumble upon a crime or crime scene. Logical, right? In the same vein as Hetty Wainthropp or even Midsomer Murders, this series is like an old friend--comfortable, cozy and quaint. Would I watch more of this series? Sure. But, I think I would have to be in a “hot chocolate by the fire” mood.

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  • Scott and Bailey. Season One

    2013 by Sally Wainright

    This is another one I have not yet watched but very much want to. Focusing around two lady police detectives, I think this one might be the Cagney and Lacey of British TV. Naturally, the ladies are close but opposites, but, they both have strengths when solving crimes. And together, they are a law enforcement team to be reckoned with.

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  • Vera

    2011 by Brenda Blethyn

    Glorious Oscar-nominated actress Brenda Blethyn stars here as a post-middle-age lead detective who spends almost as much time grumping around as she does solving cases. With her sidekick, a young whippersnapper with a precarious home situation (his wife doesn’t like him working so much), Vera always gets her man (or woman) but not without a bit of stress and lots of worry along the way. Brenda is as close to a female Inspector Morse as we’re most likely ever going to get.

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  • The Fall

    2013 by Gillian Anderson

    Set in Northern Ireland, this series stars Gillian Anderson (best known for her work in the X-Files) as a police detective who has her sights on one man for some serial murders in Belfast. She obsesses and focuses on nothing else other than finding him and proving he is the killer. Probably the most psychological show on this list, The Fall is more about the brooding and intensity of the chase than the actual chase itself. Anderson is good but Jamie Dornan who plays the hunted serial killer is phenomenal. (Too bad he has since gone on to lesser things such as the feature film Fifty Shades of Grey.)

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  • Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.

    2004 by Patricia Routledge

    Best known for playing Hyacinth in the iconic British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, actress Patricia Routledge stars here as a retiree who, after initially stumbling into a crime investigation, becomes a P.I. Along with her much younger assistant--who becomes like a son to her--and her husband, Hetty goes about rural England solving smallish cases and bothering the local police. More cozy than some of the other British mysteries and a bit dated, this one is for fans of Rosemary and Thyme and even Midsomer Murders.

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  • Marple

    2014 by Agatha Christie

    Agatha Christie might be best known for her Hercule Poirot series but don’t discount her beloved female amateur sleuth Miss Marple. Marple, though elderly, is sharp as a tack and usually one step ahead of the police. I would classify this more as a cozy mystery series; the crimes (even the murders) are never taken too seriously and no real violence is ever depicted. Three actresses have played Marple in TV series: Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie, and many more have played her in TV movies, including Angela Lansbury.

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  • Blue Murder


    Probably my favorite series on this list, mostly since I can relate to the character. Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect (below), is pretty much perfect in everything she does. But here, imperfect police detective Janine Lewis is pretty far from perfect. Aside from being highly flawed, she’s overweight, a single parent with four kids and a needy ex-husband and has a habit of mixing business with pleasure, which becomes highly problematic. Her sleuthing skills are top notch, but usually she’s juggling so many things at one time, the crimes take a backseat. In my opinion, this is one of the most realistic, raw female-driven shows out there.

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  • Prime Suspect.

    2003 by Helen Mirren

    As I mentioned above, Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison has it pretty much together. Yes, it takes her a while to get her fellow officers (mostly male) to respect her. And she does get in trouble quite a bit--with the Scotland Yard higher-ups, as well as when she brings her “work” home with her and hops into bed with someone she shouldn’t. But, over-all, she’s flawless. She always gets her man. Mirren is perfect as the edgy Tennison (and has the awards to prove it). And the crimes are twisting and knee-deep with surprises. I would call this the Grande Dame of British mysteries with female leads.

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