Robert Jackman

True crime: eight series based on real events

  • From Spectator Life
The Investigation, iPlayer (Image: BBC)

When it comes to source material for decent drama, police archives have a track record for delivering the goods. If you’ve binge-watched all the best true crime documentaries already, here are eight of the best fictional adaptations to keep you on the edge of your seat:

The Salisbury Poisonings


Televised back in spring 2020, this portrayal of the shocking events in Salisbury came with uncomfortable topical parallels: not least a frazzled public health official trying to identify and contain a mysterious deadly pathogen. Screenwriters Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn wisely choose to eschew the geopolitical intrigue and instead focus on the everyday Brits whose lives were turned upside down by the state-sponsored attack. Rafe Spall stars as DS Nick Bailey, the heroic police officer whose survival is left hanging in the balance after just the briefest of encounters with novichok poison.



If true crime has a fault, it’s that too many productions work to that simple rule of thumb that the grislier the better. Thankfully, playwright James Graham turns that assumption on its head with an utterly-thrilling adaptation of the most talked about trial of 2003 – the infamous ‘coughing major’ scandal. Originally a hit play before being adapted for ITV, Quiz’s magic comes from his ability to blend the frenetic tabloid energy of his source material with the emotionally-rich human stories underlying it. With the West End finally waking up from its slumber, let’s hope it’s not long before we’re seeing some new work from theatre’s golden boy.



With six hour-long episodes, this weighty dramatisation of the infamous Waco sage – in which a stand-off between a heavily-armed Christian cult in Texas and the FBI ended in tragedy – is a first-class slice of high-octane true crime. Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch avoids the pitfalls of cliche as cult-leader David Koresh, whose eccentric Biblical teachings sew the ground for a survivalist retreat and then, latterly, an armed insurrection.

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