Small Town Murder in Broadchurch, UK

Until last night, I had been a bit underwhelmed by ITV’s new drama, Broadchurch. Sure, it was well-acted and gorgeously-shot on the English coast, but after four episodes, the story and its characters still felt a bit one-note. It was a nice note, but I only wanted to listen to it for so long. Last night’s episode – the fifth in the eight-part series – added some harmony.

Not much leeway was made in the central mystery of the series – the death of 11-year-old Danny Latimer – but the story was diving into the dark depths of the town and its citizens where there had only been wading before. For the first time, I felt like the fictional Broadchurch could be a real town rather than just an impressively-lit amalgamation. With only three episodes left in this suspenseful drama, I hope Broadchurch keeps up its hypnotic momentum.

THE PREMISE

Broadchurch is set in, well, Broadchurch – a quiet town on the English coast. The small town is rocked by the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer. The show follows the investigation of his murder, as well as the effects the horrific tragedy has on the boy’s family and his town.

THE MANY, MANY PLAYERS

This show is an ensemble drama. Though the two lead investigators and Daniel’s parents garner much of the storyline, Broadchurch is populated with a whole host of integral and integrated characters. See handy picture profiles below:

David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy
David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy

Lead investigator Alec Hardy is played by none other than Doctor Who himself, David Tennant. You’d think the Tenth Doctor would have this case wrapped up by tea time, but not so much. DI Hardy is new to town and plagued by his past – a previous blundered murder investigation – as well as some sort of life-threatening health condition that has him collapsing in hotel room bathrooms. Yikes!

Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller
Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller

If there is a gateway character for the viewer, it is DS Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman. Ellie is just returned from vacation to find her promotion has been given to Alec Hardy (“A man!” she reacts, awesomely.) She cannot distance herself emotionally from the investigation (nor does she want to). Not only is she a long-time resident of Broadchurch, but Danny was her son’s best friend. If there is one reason to watch this show, it is for Olivia Colman. Because she is the best.

Colman is a BAFTA-nominated actress and has been in scores of television series and films, but as an American, I am embarrassed to admit I only vaguely recognized her (from turns in Hot Fuzz and The Iron Lady). It has been such a treat to discover her through this character. I came to this show for David Tennant, but I’m staying for Olivia Colman.

Ellie’s husband, Joe (Matthew Gravelle), and son, Tom (Adam Wilson), are also important characters in the show. As Danny’s best friend, Tom knows much more than he is letting on. Joe hasn’t had much to do so far besides act the supportive husband and father, but that could easily change.

The Latimer Family
The Latimer Family

The Latimer family is composed of father Mark (Andrew Buchan), mother Beth (Jodie Whitaker), daughter Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), son Danny (Oskar McNamara), and grandmother Liz (Susan Brown). Mark and Beth have the most prominent storylines so far. In addition to the death of their son, they also have their crumbling marriage to worry about.Whitaker does a solid job as what must be an emotionally-exhausting role as grieving mother Beth, and I am so excited to see Andrew Buchan in a role after my recent Netflix discovery of his work in BBC’s Party Animals.

So far, these two characters have been a bit predictable and two-dimensional, but they had some lovely scenes in last night’s episode. Buchan shared one with David Bradley that had me tearing up. Bradley stole the scene, but Buchan was subtly solid in his reactions to what was largely Bradley’s monologue.

Last night, Whitaker also had the chance to interact with Becca, a character we haven’t seen her with before, in a way we haven’t really seen her behave before. Beth was angry in the scene, but she was also expressing herself and taking agency in a way that hasn’t been very present in her storyline. I liked both of these characters more after this episode.

Rory! Arthur Darvill as Reverend Paul Coates, the local insomniac vicar.
Arthur Darvill as Reverend Paul Coates

Rory! It’s nice to see Arthur Darvill in something post-Doctor Who. Darvill plays the local insomniac vicar and, much like his character in Who, he is generally falling over himself to do the right thing by others. This has actually made me quite suspicious. I have no idea which character committed the murder, but right now my money is on him solely for the reasoning that he is just too nice – which is both illogical and unfair. Oh well!

Will Mellor as Steve Connollly, the local telephone engineer and psychic. I can't figure out this guy's deal. Are we really supposed to believe he is a psychic?
Will Mellor as Steve Connolly

Will Melor plays Steve Connolly, the local telephone engineer and psychic. Yeah. I can’t figure out this guy’s deal. Are we really supposed to believe he is a psychic who is communicating with the late Danny Latimer? …Because it seems a bit hokey to me and not in keeping with the hyper-realism of the rest of the piece. Then again, some people think psychics are hyper-realistic, so maybe I shouldn’t judge. Other points in the “yes, he really is psychic” column is that the writer of the series, Chris Chibnall, has previously worked on Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Life on Mars – all of which have supernatural bents.

Argus Filch! David Bradley as Jack Marshall. As Danny's boss for his newspaper route, Jack was one of the last people to see Danny alive. He also has a criminal record.
David Bradley as Jack Marshall

Argus Filch! Actually, the actor’s name is David Bradley, he is playing Jack Marshall, and he is so good as the curmudgeonly shopkeeper with the questionable past. If there is anyone who has given Olivia Colman a run for their money in this show for me, it is David Bradley. As Danny’s boss for his newspaper route, Jack was one of the last people to see Danny alive. He also has a criminal record and no desire to cooperate with the police. This does not bode well for Jack.

Simone McAulley as Becca Fisher, owner of the local inn and has secretive connections with Mark and Chloe Latimer.
Simone McAulley as Becca Fisher

Simone McAulley plays Becca Fisher, the Aussie hotel owner. Becca has mysterious connections to the Latimer family. She also has a failing hotel, mortgage, and no desire to see Danny’s murder keep away the tourists and, with them, the last shot she has of keeping her business afloat. That makes her sound like she may be kind of a bitch, but she’s not. I actually like her character quite  a bit. She is also one of the only characters Alec Hardy interacts with outside of his role as detective (he is staying at her hotel), and it is nice to see his character from a different angle.

Small town newspaper reporters: Carolyn Pickles as Editor Maggie Radcliffe and Jonathan Bailey as Olly Stevens.
Carolyn Pickles as Editor Maggie Radcliffe and Jonathan Bailey as Olly Stevens

Maggie Radcliffe (played by the awesomely-named Carolyn Pickles) and Olly Stevens (Jonathan Bailey) are the town’s news corps. As a newspaper editor, Maggie aims to work with the police and avoid alienating the townspeople while still covering the story of Danny’s death. As a former small town newspaper reporter, I know this delicate balance well and was excited to see it play out. So far, it has been explored too much, but I am hoping it will come into play more in the last three episodes.

Olly also happens to be Ellie Miller’s nephew, which causes some tension between the two of them whenever Olly tries to get information about the investigation out of his aunt. Ellie is estranged from Olly’s mother/her sister, who seems to suffer from mental health issues/money troubles, as far as I can tell.

Joe Sims as Nige Carter, Mark Latimer's friend and work colleague and Pauline Quirke as Susan Wright, a creepy townsperson who has Danny's skateboard tucked away in her closet.
Joe Sims as Nige Carter and Pauline Quirke as Susan Wright

These two characters are seriously shady. Joe Sims plays  Nige Carter, Mark Latimer’s friend and work colleague. He is friendly enough and seems genuinely interested in helping Mark, but also keeps having these vague conversations with Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke), a creepy townsperson who lives on the beach with her dog and has Danny’s skateboard tucked away in her closet. It is unclear how these two are connected and how they are connected to Danny’s death, but there is definitely more to their story. I feel like the show is hinting too heavily that these two murdered Danny for them to have actually committed the crime, but maybe not?

Vicky McClure as big-time newspaper reporter, Karen White. She's out to make sure Alec Hardy doesn't botch this murder investigation like he did his last.
Vicky McClure as Karen White.

Vicky McClure plays big-time newspaper reporter, Karen White. Karen is sick of sitting in her city office wading through press releases so she jumps at the opportunity to cover the Danny Latimer murder. She’s good at her job and has a professional history with Alec Hardy: she covered the murder investigation he botched and has vowed not to let it happen again.

THE WRITER/CREATOR

The show is created and written by Chris Chibnall, who has previously worked on Life on Mars, Torchwood, and Doctor Who – three of my favorite British shows. He was responsible for last series’ “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” episode of Doctor Who, though, which – while a good idea in theory – left something to be desired in execution.

He calls Broadchurch “a labour of love,” as he as always wanted to write a ensemble drama exploring the effects of a murder on a small town like the one he has lived in for the past ten years. Until this most recent episode, I was beginning to think that the show was progressing too slowly. The themes and issues introduced in the first episode – i.e. the natures of both local and national presses in today’s society; how a town economically based in tourism moves past a tragic event of this nature; small town structure in general – were not furthered, and that bothered me. the show just kept saying “Look! We’re in a small town! Isn’t it quaint how everyone knows one another?” instead of exploring how a small town works and, perhaps more interestingly for in the case of a television mystery drama, doesn’t work.

I think the reason I liked this past episode so much was because it portrayed the social claustrophobia and atrophy that can occur in a small town, the ways in which a town’s borders can seem like the limits of the world and give weight to a person or event that might not have weight in a town or city much larger in size. The first four episodes, though touching on this darkness, never quite delved into it. It was nice to see the series’ dark set-up finally begin to payoff.

THE DIRECTION

If there is anything that tops the stellar cast of the show, it is the direction. James Strong directed the first two episodes, with Euros Lyn stepping in for the subsequent three (both have directed some of the best new Who episodes, like “Girl in the Fireplace” and “The Impossible Planet”).

This show is just so…pretty. The camera glides through Broadchurch – slow, but always moving (much like the pacing of the narrative). We are inside of these characters’ houses, privy to their most intimate revelations as the town’s veneer of privacy is ever-so-slowly peeled away.

The focus moves like the Dorset tide that provides the show’s backdrop. It starts wide and expansive: a view of a town. Then, it moves closer, to its community, its families, its individuals. It stops, holding shots of these characters’ lives, refusing to break its gaze… before pulling back again. Episodes feature these flowing montages of Broadchurch‘s cast of characters, brief  glimpses of their lives melding together into a greater sea of story.

I will definitely be  watching the rest of Broadchurch for the chance to see this exquisitely-shot and well-acted series dance to what will hopefully be a satisfying finish.

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