Recurring Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Arthur Darvill, David Bradley, Vicki McClure, Jonathan Bailey, Pauline Quirke, Will Mellor
Murder mysteries are a staple of British television, especially when it comes to the ITV. There is something very reassuring about the stock set-up for the genre. A fractured partnership between two cops, a cast of British actors doing their best ‘could-it-be-me?’ face and a mystery at hand. It is a formula that perhaps the British television circuit relies too heavily on, but in a sense, it works, so why fix it? Therefore, it is very welcome to have a show like Broadchurch come along, which sticks to these values and stock cliches, yet push the boundaries, turning a stale genre into ample opportunity for class cinematography and stand-out performances.
In many ways, Broadchurch is almost like a drastic reboot of Midsummer Murders. The entire investigation is set in a sleepy West Country town, where everyone knows everyone. Nothing as shocking as a murder happens in a place like this. However, director/writer Chris Chibnall shies away from the same approach and wonders how, realistically, the sudden murder of a child would affect the town. Half of this show isn’t really about crime-solving, but damage control as a town begins to implode under the weight of such a devastating event. The tight knit community gives both of the Detective Inspectors problems that most TV cops haven’t had before. David Tennant plays the out-of-town police officer that no one trusts. Moved to the remote village to get away from a investigation gone horribly wrong, Tennant finds himself trying to break through to a group of people who do not trust him and rather sort out the issue themselves rather than speak to the police. Tennant also finds distrust in his own department, his social skills not so much lacking, as non-existent. Perhaps there are links to other shows with the stock, brooding anti-hero, but Olivia Colman plays something we haven’t really seen before. She is part of this community, the friendly DSI that knows everyone in the town. However, her job could be even harder. How do you interrogate the neighbourhood friendly postman and even begin to suspect he could be a killer? How do you not talk to the press when the local reporter is her nephew, dying to get his hands on a story that could get him a promotion to a national paper? On top of that, all eyes to the town are looking at her, almost as if she can speed up the investigation as a favour to the family. The strain on the character pretty much makes for a figure we haven’t really seen before, cementing Colman’s place as a consistently strong British actress. However, the brilliant thing about Broadchurch is that it isn’t just the heroes of the story that get a fully-functioning character arc. Almost every character in the town has something they can sink their teeth into. Arthur Darvill is the reverend who finds himself as the one person who can unite the town. David Bradley is the kind old man, who kindness is twisted into something perverse as the town’s rumours start spreading malice about the town. And then there is, of course, the parents of the murdered boy. Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan could be the stars of the show, two people whose lives are torn apart at this horrific incident.
On the whole, as a narrative, Broadchurch is up there with the most superb murder mystery shows out there. The care taken into the camerawork, cinematography and writing elevates it above the norm. However, there is room to complain. In being so focused on the lives of the town and the drama of the issue, there is a suggestion that the mystery elements are buried far too often. Whole episodes pass with a token reference to a clue they are looking into, yet the script is far more concerned with the drama that the mystery is left to the side. Some of the red herrings are amazingly complex. Usually the actor dragged in to look like he could be the baddie but isn’t feels like a waste of time but not with Broadchurch. However, while you feel like this should be commended, and yes, I do appreciate the commitment to story above anything else, there are lengthy chunks of time when the core mystery isn’t the focus of the writers. Thankfully the final twist packs a decent punch. The worst thing Broadchurch could do was end on a whimper, which, gratefully is not the case. It is definitely worth a recommendation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few viewers would rather stick to the creature comforts of Midsummer Murders.
Final Verdict: Murder mysteries are rarely this good with attention to detail and realistic character study that makes it essential viewing.