“There will be no hiding place for Danny’s killer.”
After garnering a great deal of attention during its initial run in the UK last spring, “Broadchurch” has finally hit BBC America with a pilot episode that only scrapes the surface of what audiences have to look forward to over the next couple of months. Presented as a ‘whodunit’ murder mystery, starring David Tennant and set in a fictional town on the coast of the English Channel, “Broadchurch” will feel all too familiar to viewers currently caught in the midst of a tv season already overflowing with investigative dramas. The brooding appearance of a small rural town affected by the murder of a young child, the knowledge that it was someone close to them that made it happen, and Tennant’s role as the hardened but determined detective inspector all play into a narrative that certainly won’t be winning any fans for its originality. However, as a mystery that finds its interest more in the lives of the townspeople and the secrets that come to light following the murder, rather than strictly the investigation itself, the unforgettable performances and revelations sprinkled throughout easily make this one of the best mysteries of the season.
When the body of eleven year old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) is found on a nearby shore, his splayed form under the steep, iconic cliffs of the town lead many to initially believe that it was a suicide. Nonetheless, new arrival, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant), is called in to oversee the case and is joined by Detective Sergeant, Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), who has been a resident of Broadchurch all her life. Soon, more evidence is brought to the surface and it becomes clear that Danny was, in fact, murdered by someone close to him.
“Anybody’s capable of this murder, given the right circumstances.”
Playing such a prominent role that it almost feels part of the cast itself, the fictional setting of Broadchurch borrows heavily from the landscape and atmosphere provided by the Dorset coast on which it’s filmed. Crashing waves, rocky cliffs, and a grassy landscape exist alongside brick buildings, school yards, and isolated huts that offer only the vaguest sense of privacy. Within the first three minutes, we watch as Danny’s father, Mark (Andrew Buchan), walks through the small town and greets each member of the sprawling cast on his way to work. It’s the sort of town where everyone knows everyone and even the most innocent movements never go unnoticed. As a town that starts off with a deliberaetly sunny and folksy feel, Broadchurch’s transformation into a place of secrecy is swift and effective in reflecting the growing anxiety of the townsfolk.
It doesn’t take long until accusations begin to fly and even surviving members of the Latimer family begin to question if, perhaps, one of them is Danny’s murderer. It’s through this suspenseful period that the series finds its true footing. The town’s ensemble cast provides plenty of moments for personalities to clash and gossip to circulate in a short period of time. Likewise, each episode carefully feeds the audience new, potential suspects and strange occurrences that are only revealed as characters are forced into increasingly tight situations.
As each character holds a stake in discovering the truth behind Danny’ murder, whether it’s tied to their familiarity with him, that the ensuing investigation is holding up business, or that the investigation holds endless journalistic possibilities, the mounting apprehension and distrust amongst long time friends and neighbours lends each scene a human perspective on a community torn apart.
“I couldn’t stand being here. I couldn’t stand being part of the frenzy.”
If I had to pick at any particular fault, it would have to be the few instances of over dramatic editing in the first couple of episodes. While fairly minor, they run the gamut of heightened violin playing when a shocking clue is found or the use of brief slo-mo reaction shots at the discovery of said clues. Thankfully, these are phased out very quickly.
For these small faults, the cast picks up the slack by infusing the well-trodded plot with a distinct sense of grounded realism that suits the subject matter and never feels out of place in what is a truly somber situation. Particularly, after episode three, the stakes are raised and Tennant, Colman, Jodie Whittaker as Danny’s mother, and David Bradley as a local shop owner, each provide the series with its most stunning performances.
“Broadchurch” is a solid mystery that will legitimately keep viewers guessing on the true identity of Danny’s killer. Even if you do happen to guess who it is well beforehand, thoughtful performances and a never-ending list of double lives make this an easy choice when choosing your next murder mystery.