Much of my childhood and adolescence was spent watching British crime dramas, a consequence of my parents being devoted viewers of the ABC (that’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation). There are few examples of the genre which I consider to be exceptional programming – these shows are either camp and melodramatic, or grim and overly sincere. Rising above the mediocrity is a police procedural which has just entered its third series.
Unlike most of its contemporaries, Broadchurch is not a straightforward crime drama. Here, the focus is not so much on solving a perpetrated crime as it is on the town where the crime took place. Set in the fictitious seaside village of Broadchurch (hence the title), the majority of the programme follows DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and her superior DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant, Doctor Who) solving two murder cases over the course of two seasons, or “series” as they’re referred to in the UK.
In the first series, Miller returns from maternity leave to learn that she has been passed over for a promotion. The role of Inspector has instead gone to Hardy, who has transferred from Sandbrook for reasons unbeknown. The pair barely have time to be introduced to each other when they’re faced with their first case – the murder of local boy Danny Latimer. There are few leads and no apparent motive for the crime, and Miller’s relationship with the Latimers only makes things more difficult.
The second series sees the Latimer case go to trial, with the accused killer (I shall not spoil who) entering an unanticipated plea of not guilty. Whilst the trial is proceeding, Hardy acquires the assistance of Miller to reinvestigate an unsolved murder from Sandbrook. Miller is apprehensive about working with Hardy – her confidence took a blow after being unable to solve the Latimer case, heightened by problems with her personal life.
Too many British crime dramas fail to consider the consequences of a murder. Sure, the perpetrators are punished for their crimes, but the wider effects of their actions are never thoroughly explored. In Broadchurch, we see Danny’s parents Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan) struggle to accept his death, Miller’s son Tom (Adam Wilson) feel guilt at the loss of his best friend, and the local church become a place of healing and reflection. It’s a solemn reminder that the victims of murders aren’t just the deceased – it’s often an entire community.
This notion tends to be lost during the second series, thereby making it inferior to the first. With a number of new characters introduced, far too many subplots AND the Sandbrook case, the trial and its effect on the townsfolk is often downplayed or ignored. Upon first viewing, this is not an issue, but on repeat viewings it does become irksome. Thankfully, the same problem isn’t present in series one, and can still be appreciated after watching a second or third time.
Above all, it’s the superb performances that sell both series. It goes without saying that David Tennant is great, though Olivia Colman deserves the greater recognition. Better known for her comedic work – she had a memorable role as PC Doris Thatcher in Hot Fuzz – her exceptional performance as Ellie Miller is one of raw, believable emotion, and was so critically adored that she won a BAFTA for her efforts. Additionally, there’s value to be found in the performances of Arthur Darvill as Rev. Paul Coates, and David “Filtch” Bradley as newsagent Jack Marshall.
The show has also been praised for its writing, so much so that head-writer Chris Chibnall has been made showrunner of Doctor Who from 2018 onwards. As of such, the third series of Broadchurch will be the last, which isn’t all that disappointing – there’s only so much one can do with these characters in this setting. But it will be interesting to see how Chibnall concludes the programme. And with the ABC having fast-tracked the series (cop that, Foxtel!) it won’t be long before Australian audiences see the ending.
By adding a human element to criminal proceedings, Broadchurch has reinvented the crime drama. It forgoes the flamboyant detectives and ostentatious deaths of other programmes in favour of where the real drama lies – those that mourn the victims. While it takes the two leads to carry programme, the clever writing ensures that they never take away from the other characters and their stories.