No matter how many times you reproduce the premise on television, the death of a youth in a tight knit small town is always a gripping experience but it has to be delivered with personal gut punches that keeps the viewers invested. It’s not a comforting subject but it does bring about interesting character studies at best and we have seen this done in many interesting ways. Twin Peaks became one of a kind because of this and The Killing in both its original and US formats showed stability and twists that helped vary the formula before it could lose viewers. Broadchurch, the latest British import that premiered tonight on BBC America, has much the same premise but its often moody and rather depressing presentation combined with some stirring performances makes it far more interesting than some might believe it to be.
Set in the seaside English town of the same name, Broadchurch is about the murder of an 11-year-old boy named Danny Latimer and how his death and the subsequent investigation effects the citizens of the town. With two experienced and personally damaged detectives taking on the case everyone in town is a suspect which takes these two deep into some dark secrets that the town would probably wish had never been rediscovered.
As common as the setup seems it’s still not easy and what makes Broadchurch different is we have a direct line between the aftermath and the case through Detective Ellie Miller played by the unflappable Olivia Colman. Known for having great range in both comedy and drama Colman’s Miller has the unenviable task of separating the personal connection between the deceased and her job after returning from maternity leave. She returns with a promised promotion handed off to one Alec Hardy (David Tennant) a no nonsense detective looking to redeem himself from a past experience that left his career crippled.
Make no bones about it Broadchurch is not uplifting and rather bleak but it stays clear of being melodramatic by pulling a veil over some serious emotional touches. Colman really is the standout of this show having to measure out a level of doubt that could hurt her personally. Hardy is a man who suspects everyone and this is the line that Ellie is afraid to cross knowing everyone in town. To find out the killer means losing trust in someone she has known personally and in investigating the town we learn of Broadchurch’s troubled past.
Tennant is both no nonsense and vulnerable at best, hard nosed yet damaged (mentally and as we learn later physically) and provides a stirring performance that takes him away from some of his joyful and over the top times as everyone’s favorite Timelord. We are also treated to the internal struggle of the Latimer family whose marriage slowly begins to disintegrate in the aftermath of Danny’s death. Jodie Whitaker (Attack the Block) carries a lot of emotional weight as Danny’s mother Beth and most of the time she is on screen you want to give her a hug with what she has to deal with.
There is something fascinating about watching a simple seaside town unravel itself and exposing new and old wounds and it’s done very well. Much of the accolades must go to the main writer of this series Chris Chibnall, a veteran writer for Doctor Who who hasn’t always had the best track record. In building the world of Broadchurch he makes something that he can put a stamp on for his strong points as a writer. The balance of personal drama and the whodunnit mystery really makes this far from just another murder mystery in the vein of the above mentioned shows a more recent ventures like Hannibal, The Bridge, and Rectify. We learn a lot about the people in town and while everyone is given a chance to have a leering eye thrown at them they are all people who you dread to wonder the truth about.
Even without being completely original Broadchurch is a rather standout show from the bunch. All great television tends to have a similar basis and this show is no different but its the depth and delivery of the characters and their situations that make this better than most of those shows and a rather shining beacon on BBC America despite its gloomy and often downtrodden exterior.
All photos copyright and credit: BBC