Towards the beginning of Broadchurch’s opening episode we follow Mark Latimer as he walks through Broadchurch high street. As he walks (via a single, impressive tracking shot), Mark he is greeted by the various friends he meets as he goes… friends who will soon become suspects. For soon Mark’s son Danny will be found dead on Broadchurch Beach and anyone in this small, close-knit community could be the killer. Welcome to the world of British Mystery Drama; post Nordic-Noir. Gone is the hammy acting and plodding narrative, Broadchurch is part of a new generation of thrillers that isn’t scared to make you use your brain. It may not be perfect but that doesn’t stop Broadchurch being a televisual masterpiece that deserves to be seen.
Following Danny’s death, Broadchurch’s narrative breaks off in to 3 strands: we see newly installed DI Alec Hardy and DS Ellie Miller investigate the murder of Danny Latimer, while also seeing how both Danny’s family and the wider Broadchurch community come to terms with the murder. Given the narrative, the comparisons with The Killing are apt; both focus on the murder of a child and explore both the murder investigation and the effect such a tragedy has on those immediately affected. What sets Broadchurch apart is the way we see how Danny’s death affects the other residents of town, and not just because it gives you lots of suspects to try and suss out.
Writer/creator Chris Chibnall is a master scribe and his scripts perfectly balance tension and emotion. By using 8 episodes to tell one story, Chibnall is able to apply the brakes at times, giving the audience the chance to get to know the town’s inhabitants. As the mystery into Danny’s death deepens, we see the community begin to question each other, desperate to find the killer amongst them; special praise must be given to David Bradley, whose portrayal of a man persecuted because of his past is particularly heart-breaking to watch.
Performances all round are exceptional with David Tennant and Olivia Coleman excelling in the lead roles. Tennant is prickly, determined but fearful and Coleman is plucky, charming and with an electrifying emotional payoff. Hardy using his skills to show Miller how to become a better detective is a nice touch, adding an endearing aspect to their partnership that can provide light relief during the darker moments.
However, as Danny’s grieving mother, it is Jodie Whittaker’s haunting performance that will stick in the memory. Sure, Chibnall injects one to many narrative clichés into Beth’s storyline, but the performance feels real. Her impact on screen is felt from the moment she finds her son’s body to the series’ (slightly too Hollywood) finale. Most memorable is a scene in which Beth meets with the mother of another murdered child. Both powerful and poignant, it showcases Whittaker’s acting ability, as well as showing Chibnall’s dab hand for writing sensitive material.
Broadchurch acts like a perfect antidote to the underwhelming American remake of The Killing. It takes the narrative structure and twists it into something fresh and exciting. Chibnall creates a world you care about, aided by the spectacular performances from his starry cast. The shows final reveal that “Broadchurch will return”, may be a twist too far but having given us 8 hours of blistering telly, I’ll definitely be tuning in.
Series 1 of Broadchurch is out on DVD in the UK on 20th May, 2013.