British import ‘Broadchurch’ lives up to hype
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 07:09
It’s the buzziest British import since “Downtown Abbey” (2010-present) hit American airwaves, but despite all the hype, “Broadchurch” still certainly lives up to expectations. “Broadchurch” premiered this spring in the United Kingdom to huge ratings and rave reviews. It airs in the United States on BBC America, so the ratings will likely never approach the numbers seen in the U.K. The critical praise, however, has been just as strong, with the show being so well received that an American version is currently in development.
The show centers on a fictional seaside town that is rocked by the murder of a young boy. As two detectives search for the killer, they find that nearly everyone in this small community has something to hide. It features David Tennant of “Doctor Who” (2005-present) fame as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, while Olivia Colman plays Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller. The core of the show focuses on the dynamic between these two; their odd-couple relationship careens through vast emotional territory that gives “Broadchurch” its most affecting moments. DI Hardy is surly and quiet — a stranger to the tight-knit community. Ellie, however, is caring and considerate, oftentimes struggling to maintain an unbiased, arbitrary view of a case so close to her heart.
Despite their bickering, the detectives work well together, subtly sensing that each needs the other in some way. Their codependence becomes more explicit as the show progresses, though to say how would reveal too much. The characters are wonderfully crafted and watching their relationship develop is alternately touching, infuriating and funny; for all its somber, grief-stricken moments, “Broadchurch” does find moments of levity.
There is a wonderful sequence midway through the first season in which Ellie attempts to make a polite gesture by inviting DI Hardy to her house for dinner. Tennant does a masterful job portraying a man who truly does not know how to interact with his colleague outside the codes and structures of the office. The dinner scene is filled with moments both cringe-worthy and endearing, and it provides a break from the gravity of the show’s premise — some lighter fare for both the audience and the detectives. The writers are wise not to exploit the comedy in their relationship — they allow humor to seep in naturally, adding another layer to the duo’s rapport, instead of overtaking their entire dynamic.
While Hardy and Ellie serve as the show’s foundation, “Broadchurch” also focuses a considerable amount of time on the townsfolk of the show’s namesake and the Latimer family, the relatives of the dead boy. It is the Latimers who first introduce us to Broadchurch; one of the first scenes in the pilot depicts the family on a typical morning; parents Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan) are trying to get their rebellious teenager Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) out the door, assuming their young son Danny (Oskar McNamara) is merely finishing up his paper route.
Whittaker and Buchan do fine work in their roles as grief-stricken parents, though they seem too young to have a teenage daughter. They are first presented as a regular couple in a regular home; he is a plumber, while she answers phones for the tourism hotline. But after their lives are turned upside down by Danny’s death, the writers carefully reveal the dark secrets that consume them. Whittaker and Buchan create a convincing portrait of a slowly decaying marriage rocked by their child’s death.
The supporting cast of the townspeople provides a colorful, necessary backdrop to the story. They serve as red herrings; the writers skillfully direct our attention to their dramas while still reminding us that the murderer is here, concealed, among these seemingly ordinary folks. Most recognizable among this crop of characters is local business owner Jack Marshall, portrayed by David Bradley, known to American audiences for playing misanthropic caretaker Argus Filch in the “Harry Potter” films. Pauline Quirke delivers a riveting performance as Susan Wright, a cleaner and dog owner whose suspect behavior and devastating past make her the most intriguing member of the community.
“Broadchurch” is a strong show, imbuing its simple “whodunit” structure with emotional complexity and deftly layered characters and relationships. The show suffers only from an occasional deflated tension; we know the mystery won’t be solved until the final episode, which makes the red herrings a tad too obvious. The acting and writing, however, more than make up for this fault. Indeed, the show does a masterful job depicting a town ripped apart by tensions as bitter accusations and fear mongering overtake the once-peaceful community. If the American adaptation wishes to live up to its British counterpart, it’s certainly in for a challenge.