Crime writers are obsessed with death. No matter what medium they write for, their stories always involve murder, slaughter or some other unfortunate end, and are hardly an accurate reflection of the realities of detective work. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Broadchurch understands this, with its final series continuing with the grounded approach for which it has been praised.
Once again, the coastal village of Broadchurch finds itself reflecting upon its values after the sexual assault of local woman Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh). Tasked with investigating the assault are DS Ellie Miller and DI Alec Hardy, with Olivia Colman and David Tennant reprising their respective roles from the previous two series. As Trish slowly overcomes her shock and humiliation, she reveals that the attack occurred at the 50th birthday party of her best friend Cath (Sarah Parish), one which was attended by a number of men.
As their investigation proceeds, Miller and Hardy are able to narrow down the number of suspects, but this doesn’t make their work any easier. Their suspects include Jim Atwood (Mark Bazeley), the unfaithful husband of Cath; the belligerent Ed Burnett (Lenny Henry), Trish’s employer; local taxi driver Clive (Sebastian Armesto), who constantly lies about his activities on the night; Trish’s ex-spouse Ian (Charlie Higson), another who proves uncooperative; and adolescent Leo (Chris Mason), whose smugness riles Miller.
Characters from episodes past of Broadchurch haven’t been forgotten. Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) – the woman whose son, Danny, was slain in the first series – plays an active role in the investigation as Trish’s social worker. Her husband Mark (Andrew Buchan), meanwhile, spends much of his time struggling to accept Danny’s death. Other townsfolk have their own issues to consider – editor of the local newspaper, Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) is frustrated at the bureaucracy that now runs her publication, while Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) wonders what role he has in a community that no longer values his teachings.
It seems gratuitous and unnecessary to be focusing on this cohort, whose subplots are largely disconnected from that of the main conflict. While it is interesting to see how the Latimers et al cope with the long-term loss of Danny, those who haven’t seen the previous series will find little interest in their struggles. Additionally, these characters distract from the engrossing primary conflict, which echoes the quality of Broadchurch’s first series. And as with that series, the focus is less on the detective work and more a town’s reaction to a heinous crime.
Great performances from series stalwarts and newcomers are what allow Broadchurch to shine. Colman and Tennant are at their best, no doubt being comfortable in the roles they have held for three series. Continuing the trend of comedic actors in dramatic roles, Lenny Henry is probably the standout of the supporting cast, convincing and measured as Ed Burnett. Yet it is Julie Hesmondhalgh as Trish who is the most captivating, playing her role with such certitude – the pained, uncomfortable expressions on her face seem all too real.
Broadchurch’s third series also explores the nature of sexuality, relationships and gender in the 21st century. As news of Trish’s assault reaches her friends, the men are uncertain as to how to support Trish, and must contemplate what it means to be male – that goes for DI Hardy as well. The underlying concern that writer Chris Chibnall seems to have is that today’s hypersexualised world – think sexting, online pornography and Fifty Shades – is leading men to be disrespectful toward women, and use sex to assert their masculinity.
And as finales go, Broadchurch does a pretty solid job of concluding both its over-riding story arc (Danny’s death) and this series’ conflict (Trish’s rape). Seeing Miller and Hardy wear down each and every suspect until they crack is enthralling viewing. It is proper police work being seen here, with the perpetrator being uncovered by the two detectives – unlike the first series, where the murderer’s admission to his crime came suddenly out of shame. What’s more, the episodes can be enjoyed again knowing the final outcome.
A slightly different approach to its final series has not changed the fact that Broadchurch has been one of the best crime dramas on television. The acting and writing is still excellent, but its analysis of society and its ills make it essential viewing. If only other programmes could cease their obsession with homicide and start learning from this one.