Review of Broadchurch – Series 1, episode 1
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not see series 1, episode 1 of ‘Broadchurch’
David Tennant is back on the box in Broadchurch. His beard isn’t exactly befitting of a Deputy Inspector but it does mark a whole new post-Doctor Who era.
Tennant plays DI Alec Harding, a brooding Scot who has been recruited by the local police force in the fictional Dorset seaside town of Broadchurch. His appointment comes as a disappointment to DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) who was promised DI Harding’s job. No sooner has Tennant’s character been hired than the dead body of an 11-year-old child is found on Broadchurch beach, close to a well-known suicide spot.
The episode evolves into a whodunit plotline with a young family in the throes of a suspected murder. But Broadchurch is far from a contrived Midsomer Murders episode with people dropping dead over country stiles. It is well paced and values the effect of still shots and silence. At times it is stylised: when at the beginning we see the pricked finger of the murder victim Danny standing on a cliff top, or when his mother Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) runs in slow motion to the front of a traffic jam to find what we all know will be news that her son has died.
The stylisation isn’t over-done, and the lighting also helps to lift the drama from murder-mystery status quo. It is stunningly shot with a yellow tinge of sun that might hang over the sea in mid afternoon. The warm glow reflects the close-knit community of Broadchurch, with its independent penny sweet shops, local paper with a high street presence, and a man that will stop you in the street to sign a council petition even as you make your way to see your dead son’s body on the beach.
The opening of Broadchurch is not unlike the first episode of The Killing: a young person runs obliquely through darkness having been murdered; a male and female police officer are set against each other in professional rivalry, and a family is left distraught by a mysterious death.
Danny’s parents Beth and Mark Latimer are local born and bred types, who had Danny’s older sister when they were just 15 and 17. The drama isn’t stretching for social realism, but Beth’s deep v-neck floaty dress seemed too demure and strung-off-a-peg from Jigsaw for a young Mum in rural Dorset to be wearing.
There was also an odd moment when the young ambitious local journalist’s accent went from being southern, as it had been all episode despite presumably being brought up in Dorset, to full vowelled West Country when he spoke on the phone to fellow journalist Karen White (Vicky McClure) of the Daily Herald. Karen White, from the small part we saw of her, is perfectly characterised as the tough, nightmarish hack who is hellbent on being first to the story.
The characterisation of the whole “ensemble drama”, as writer Chris Chibnall calls it, was the most enjoyable part. Colman excels at playing DS Ellie Miller, who is kind and thoroughly honest – so honest she commits career suicide by admitting in front of all her colleagues that she accidentally leaked the identity of the dead boy to her nephew journalist. Ellie is, as Colman describes her “a jolly good egg.”
Then there is the older seen-it-all local newspaper editor who despairs of modern technology (did she even know what Twitter was?) in her white linen shirt, and not forgetting DI Alec Harding whose character is withdrawn, difficult and has problems connecting to people – something that is bound to be drawn on throughout the series.
There was enough set up within the hour for a whole host of subplots and further story lines to develop. Where was Mark Latimer when his son Danny was murdered and why is he being cagey about it? Why did Ellie’s son delete all those messages from Danny on his mobile phone and computer? Could Mark and Beth’s daughter’s boyfriend be a suspect? Does the hotelier fancy DI Alec Harding or is he more likely to have a thing with post-traumatic Beth? And did anyone see a grubbed up, thinner-looking Pauline Quirke peering strangely from the side of her caravan? It turns out even the cast didn’t know who committed the murder as the writer chose to withhold it from them until they shot the final episode.
Broadchurch is made by Kudos, the same production company that brought us Spooks, Hustle and Life on Mars. That coupled with ITV’s current golden run of drama success with Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge, it looks promising that Broadchurch might be another jewel in the channel’s drama crown.Tagged in: Broadchurch, Chris Chibnall, David Tennant, doctor who, Downton Abbey, jodie whittaker, Mr Selfridge, Olivia Colman
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