The hauntingly beautiful setting of Dorset provides the backdrop for the hugely successful ITV series that is Broadchurch, a gripping crime drama located in the rural idyllic setting of a pretty English town, where the tranquillity of village life, the close-knit community and friendly townsfolk is shaken to the core by the brutal murder of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer.
The comparison of splendour and cruelty is reminiscent of the Wessex of Thomas Hardy, where Jude and Tess struggled for survival, in the tranquil beauty of the countryside amid the brutality and barbarity of humanity. Contemporary Wessex (creator and writer Chris Chibnall was partly inspired by the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, where he lived) is no less beautiful and no less cruel in this gripping and dramatic series. From the outset the viewer is captivated by the breath-taking shots of the cliffs which serve not only as a background but also as a metaphor for the dualism that is Broadchurch, as the community is torn apart by suspicion, secrets and lies as Broadchurch reveals itself as a town with murky secrets which are gradually revealed with a skilful touch and a fine eye for detail.
Innocence and guilt, hope and defeat, comedy and tragedy, good and evil is at the heart of Broadchurch. It succeeds in drawing the viewer into the story, into the lives of the villagers, into the awful grief of Beth Latimer in series one, into the gripping court case in series two, and into the terrible suffering of rape victim Trish Winterman in series three.
In series one we are introduced to the main protagonists; DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), the Broadchurch born-and-bred detective is begrudgingly teamed up with newcomer D.I. Alec Hardy (David Tennant), a man dogged by illness and past failures who has an abrupt manner that does nothing to endear him to his colleagues. By the end of the first series Miller herself will become a study in innocence corrupted.
Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) is the mother having to face every parent’s nightmare, the cold brutal murder of her young child and the effect it has on her mental health as well as the relationship with her husband, Mark (Andrew Buchan), who is unable to supply an alibi for his whereabouts on the night of Danny’s murder. Broadchurch is a deliberate, slowly unfolding ‘who-done-it’ which, in the best tradition of Agatha Christie; the English rural setting, the close-knit community, the layers of veiled secrets which are shockingly revealed, the numerous viable suspects, the plot twists and red herrings, grip the viewer from the outset.
Praise for the series was unanimous on both sides of the Atlantic, and deservedly so. The core strength of the series lays in the wealth of top-class performers that graced the series in featured roles. Living long in the memory is the harrowing scene where Beth realises that the covered dead body found on the beach is her son, having recognised his trainers lying nearby.
David Bradley gives a harrowing portrayal of elderly former sea cadet leader Jack Marshall, now a local newsagent, who is hounded to his death when the media reveal a possibly murky past and the local community come to believe he is a paedophile and Danny's killer. His performance rightly won him a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor.
Pauline Quirke is excellent as the brutally antagonistic and impossibly damaged outsider Susan Wright. Suffering with a terminal cancer diagnosis and a desire to 'make peace' with son Nige, her reunion attempt crumbles, and she turns on him, claiming to have seen him laying Danny's body on the beach. It is just another twist and turn that made the series so compelling. It is everything great drama should be -- riveting, raw, heartbreaking, funny and very, very smart.
In series three Julie Hesmondhalgh gives an incredibly emotional performance as a victim of a harrowing and brutal rape. A role which earned her a BAFTA Best Actress nomination. The writers of Broadchurch worked closely with The Shores (Dorset’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre) and Dorset Rape Crisis on the hard-hitting storyline to ensure the depiction was both accurate and realistic. The Lancashire-born star who formerly starred in Coronation Street, told the press, "I had a conversation with Chris Chibnall because I didn’t know Chris. I didn’t know what his politics were around this issue obviously, I probably could have guessed but I needed to know that was something that was going to be handled in the right way.” Broadchurch presents a narrative you will find yourself invested in and characters you will find yourself caring about.
Compelling too are the stunning visuals. The magnificent camera work utilises filmic techniques; dramatic shots of the magnificent coastline from every conceivable angle, highlighting both beauty and danger; incredible shots of scenes filmed in reflections, emphasising the seen and the unseen and the uncertainty of all between; carefully choreographed scenes of conversations many of which are naturally divided by a door or a hallway, and montages reminiscent of Hitchcock, convey the increasingly fractured relationships, suspicion, hostility and loss of trust in Broadchurch. All set to an evocative and atmospheric musical soundtrack.
The only certainty is uncertainty as the viewer becomes engulfed in the investigation, and grapples with the evidence presented, the dramatic plot twists, the furiously fast-paced and unpredictable unfolding of events. This, in contrast to the seemingly slow-paced day-to-day life of Broadchurch, in a village where nothing is at it seems, and everyone has a secret to hide.
Well written and beautifully shot, Broadchurch is a deliberate, slowly evolving mystery procedural with superb performances from a fine cast. Polished, professional, and possessing superbly cast central performers, Broadchurch with its haunting beauty and its terrible savagery, its idyllic setting and its hidden secrets, its violence and its struggle for justice, remains in our minds long after the credits have rolled, and long after the waves have rolled in to the Dorset coastline.
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Published on March 10th, 2021. Written by Tanya MacDonald and Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.