Broadchurch (BBC America, Wednesdays, 10/9C), premiering tonight, deals with the murder of a young boy in the titular English coastal town. It follows a single case through eight deliberately paced episodes that track both the murder investigation and the effect that both have on the town. It is also very, very good.
Broadchurch opens with a brief montage of the town at night – the police station, a boy’s bedroom door, a clock ticking, a young boy standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. The sound of the ocean rises and… we cut to a woman starting awake. We watch as she and her family prepare for their day – she asks her husband why she was left sleeping while the rest got up and got ready for the day. Before long, she’s off to her son’s school’s sports day – where no one has seen her son.
We also follow a woman through the streets, talking to people she passes by – they call her Ellie (Olivia Colman). She enters the police station smiling – she’s just got back from vacation and hands out presents to her colleagues before learning that the promotion she was up (and was assured was hers) has been given to DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant). As she bemoans the situation in the women’s room, she gets a call.
A boy’s body has been found on the beach. She arrives to find that the dead boy is Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) – her son’s best friend! Hardy arrives, all bristly and not the most socially adept guy on the planet. The family we’ve been following is the Latimers – Mark (Andrew Buchan), his wife Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) and Beth’s mother, Liz (Susan Brown).
Over the show’s eight episodes, we get to meet a host of locals, including: Ellie’s husband Joe (Matthew Gravelle) and son Tom (Adam Wilson); the local newsagent, Jack Marshall (David Bradley); Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill), the local vicar; Mark’s employee, Nigel Carter (Joe Sims); the owner of the local paper, Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) and her protégé, Olly Stevens (Jonathan Bailey); Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay), owner of the hotel where DI Hardy is staying; loner Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) and her dog Vince; self-professed psychic Steve Connolly (Will Mellor) and more – and with the possible exception of Vince and a big city reporter named Karen White (Vicky McClure), every last one of them has some kind of secret!
Series creator/writer Chris Chibnall (Life on Mars – the good one, Torchwood, Doctor Who) has clearly learned from Scandy Noir shows like Forbrydelsen as well as more familiar British dramas. Broadchurch is developed in such a way as to make us wonder if every character might just be Danny’s killer through the revelation of each one’s secrets. There are a few dramatic chases, but they’re on foot and not at all flashy in the usual sense. We get revelations big and small; press leaks; unexpected witnesses with their own agenda, and more.
The cast is superb – Tennant and Colman have great chemistry as the oil-and-water detectives heading the investigation; Whittaker makes us feel Beth’s pain and loss; Bailey makes Olly’s conflict between ambition and humanity palpable – and so on down the line.
Directors James Strong and Euros Lyn keep the pace deliberate, slowly building the tensions inherent in the investigation and escalating the fears of the townspeople as things seem to drag on. Before the season finale, we watch as the secrets of many of the characters threaten to tear families – and the town itself – apart. It’s not pretty, but it is great television – and far more real than we might like to think.
In a development that I found rather unusual and highly effective, the final episode of the season reveals the killer fairly early on, giving us a chance to see exactly what happened – and giving us resolutions on important character arcs that have been developed throughout the season. It’s not all neat and tidy – this is a town that has some tough days ahead, but getting to see those first steps adds immeasurably to the story.
Finally, when all is said and done – and the final credits roll – there is the card that reads, Broadchurch will be back. Given the way major characters are left, it will be very interesting to see how, exactly, that will be done. The cool thing is that the entire production is so good that it will be a pleasure to see what comes next.
Final Grade: A+
Photos courtesy of BBC America