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TV Review: ‘Broadchurch’

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If you missed the first episode of BBC America’s newest drama, Broadchurch, it’s online for a limited time. The second episode aired yesterday (August 14th), and with eight episodes in total coming, there is still plenty of time to get onboard this great series.


The first episode of the mystery introduces us to a sleepy town where everybody knows everybody yet nothing is quite as it seems. Soon, something goes amiss—an 11-year-old shows up dead, but all we know of the crime is that the boy had a few drops of blood on his finger as he looked out over a cliff, and then he ended up at the bottom.  Later evidence proves he did not jump, he was strangled, brutally, and then moved to the beach to make it look like a suicide (we do not see the strangulation marks, or any violence in particular, but we hear about it).

It is impossible to gauge why this has happened, or who could be responsible. We know the boy’s best friend (Tom Miller, played by Adam Wilson) is clearly hiding something, and the boy’s father (Mark Latimer, played by Andrew Buchan) is harboring secrets and appears to feel guilty for not “being there” for his young son.  We are led to believe it could be gambling, or cheating, or perhaps something more sinister. Even though he seems to be the epitome of friendliness from our first impressions, just under his smiles and easygoing grace, there is a hesitation. A sense of things that can’t be said.  Even their religious leader, Reverend Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill), seems to be more than what we would expect at first glance.

There are two sets of people, with opposing methods and motives, who are determined to find out what has gone down–the media, and the police.  On the police front, we have the gentle-and-warm Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and her unwelcome boss (as in, has taken her job out from under her) Sergeant Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant), who is somehow disgraced and yet is most equipped to take point on this case.  On the media front, Ellie’s nephew, Olly Stevens (Jonathan Bailey), an up-and-coming journalist who has perhaps been passed by once too often by the big league papers, and who decides to take matters into his own hands. Taking advantage of his connection to his aunt, he leaks game-changing news, releasing the identity of the victim before the police are ready. This attracts the attention of a London reporter, Karen White (Vicky McClure), who is itching to get her hands on a real story, and it forces the local veteran newspaper editor, Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) to collaborate with the police too soon.

Ellie has just had potentially the worst day of her life. After jovially returning to work and to a shoo-in promotion, she discovers her job has been handed over to Alec, then her son’s best friend is discovered dead and she has to be the one to break the news to her own good friend–and her heart breaks along with Beth’s. Then her nephew takes to Twitter with a Specifically Unconfirmed, No Don’t You Dare Use This statement that he bamboozles out of her when he calls her on her cell, and poor Ellie is naturally wet-eyed for most of the episode.

Next to her, David Tennant’s character appears to be stoic and brusque, but in fact he cares too much. Something has happened in his apparently recent past that haunts him, and this case–as gosh-awful as it is–may be his one shot at redemption. His bone-deep weariness at having to ask the questions that he must, and navigate the necessary channels of the law (versus the impatient forces of the media and Twitter and the Things He Can’t Control), make for a compelling performance.

Meanwhile, the family of the deceased are coming to terms with the shock in their own way.  Beth Latimer (the mother, played by Jodie Whittaker) goes through several intense emotions in the space of a few scenes, and every one is visceral.

The producers and directors clearly knows how to exploit the exquisite acting skills of their team (who can say so much in the silence of their expressions).  There is subtle use of camerawork, lighting, and the delicate choices of various gradations of zoom to manipulate our sense of time, our perception of truths, and the terrible sense of unease we get from a wonderfully crafted whodunit.

I feel this might be one of those shows to tape so that when all the cards are out on the table.  That way we can go and watch the whole thing over again and marvel at the nuances hidden in the performances and in the choices of direction that lay their own line of breadcrumbs to the ultimate truth.

This is one of those classic BBC productions that I would be hard-put to miss.  It promises to not only be ultimately entertaining, but thought-provoking as well.

The eight-part series airs each Wednesday, at 10/9C on BBC America.

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About Joanna Celeste

Joanna Celeste is at heart a storyteller, writing reviews, short stories, poems, articles and the occasional novel-in-progress, as well as interviewing others to discover their point of view, in the celebration of story. She welcomes emails from her readers at joanna_celeste [at] ymail.com, though she is currently booked for reviews through to January 2014. Visit her at http://joannaceleste.com