Review: ‘London Kills’ expands the reach of Acorn TV and British detective dramas

London Kills - Series 1 Specials
Tortured pasts and messy present-day circumstances are the bedrock of all good British detective series, and “London Kills” is off to a good start. The five-part series starring Hugo Speer is the first straight-to-series project by streaming service Acorn TV.
(Colin Hutton / Acorn TV)
Television Critic

Anglophiles, put down that imported McVitie’s Digestive. Steady your cup of PG Tips. America’s largest streaming service specializing in British television, Acorn TV, has made its first straight-to-series production, and it arrives just in time to be overshadowed by whatever post-Oscars deluge awaits.

But dedicated viewers of the the subscription platform that offers celebrated series from across the pond such as “Detectorists,” “Foyle’s War,” “Vera” and “Midsomer Murders” will have something to look forward to Monday when “London Kills” arrives in their viewing queue.

It’s no easy task, but “London Kills” holds its own as the newbie among the above beloved titles. The character-driven detective drama successfully fuses the fast-paced, no-nonsense approach of American crime procedurals with the wonderfully nuanced and grim appeal of celebrated British and other European series.

Each of the five hour-long episodes explores a new crime … His bloody body was found hanging from a tree in a leafy-green park overlooking London. He was beaten to death with a bottle outside a pub … or was he? But because this show isn’t from the land of “Law & Order,” the perpetrators’ motives are a complex mix of the heinous and the justifiable.


The elite and diverse team of homicide detectives at the core of this series operates in that murky territory between commonplace and evil, in a sprawling city where dull gray office buildings with a shoe-box construct occupy the same block as ornate 16th century landmarks.

And given that tortured pasts and messy present-day circumstances are the bedrock of all good British detective series, “London Kills” is off to a good start. The homicides in each episode appear unrelated until a common thread emerges that leads back to a mystery involving the missing wife of lead detective David Bradford (Hugo Speer of “Britannia,” “The Full Monty” and “Father Brown”). He’s haunted by her unexplained absence and the multiple affairs he had that may have contributed to the unfortunate situation. But no, the brooding, defensive and curt professional doesn’t want to talk about it.

His nemesis and peer is Det. Sgt. Vivienne Cole (Sharon Small of “Mistresses,” “Murderland,” “Trust Me”). She’s good, in fact better than him, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But Viv is not a team player. The petite investigator is a macho, pragmatic and hardened veteran who stashes her emotions in a box to nail the perpetrators. She’s a curious mix of scattered theory and laser-focused intuition, gray pantsuits and chaotic white hair spun high like cotton candy and held in place with layers of days-old hair spray and clips.

Created and cowritten by Paul Marquess (“Suspects,” “Footballers’ Wives”), the series also stars Bailey Patrick (“Bodyguard,” “Casualty,” “EastEnders”) as detective constable Rob Brady and Tori Allen-Martin (“Unforgotten,” “Pure”) as the trainee detective constable Billie Fitzgerald. This younger generation of sleuths both learns from and protects Bradford and Cole, their brilliant but flawed superiors.


The series was teased as being “shot like a cutting-edge documentary,” but it looks more like the scripted grit that fans of the messed-up-detective-solves-messed-up-crime genre (“Luther,” “Happy Valley”) have come to expect. The bedraggled appearance of crime solvers in British serials has become a hallmark of the imported genre, and it represents a refreshing break from the bleached teeth and emaciated likes of their American counterparts. And there’s more rumpled imperfection to come — Series 2 is already filmed and arrives later this year.

“London Kills” isn’t trying to fuse the tastes of two different continents, à la “Killing Eve,” or shoot that high on the creative scale. It’s a solidly British detective series, which fans of the genre will appreciate, especially given that an Acorn TV subscription costs around $5 a month — less than an imported box of PG Tips.

‘London Kills’


When: Any time, starting Monday


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