Broadchurch (2013-present) is a very intelligent British crime drama with an unusual format, one that, for the most part, works very well. Its eight-episode first series/season focuses on the investigation of a single crime, and how that crime and its investigation, along with intense, exploitative media scrutiny, impact the small seaside community in which it is set. Though much of the focus is on the lead detectives, played by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, it's as much a Robert Altman/Alan Rudolph-type tapestry with similarities to the excellent Wallander, and with a dash of 24-type cliffhanger suspense thrown in.
The series became a minor phenomenon in Britain, its ratings improving steadily as it went along, and its critical and commercial success prompted both the commission of a second season as well as an American remake for Fox, Gracepoint, also to star David Tennant. After watching Broadchurch in its entirety, a second series would seem mighty difficult to pull off, while the American remake seems utterly pointless.
eone's DVD 3-disc set is complete, offering a fine presentation as well as a few extra features.
Set in South West England along the Dorset coast, Broadchurch begins with the mysterious death of an 11-year-old boy, Danny Latimer, who was from a seemingly normal middle-class family. DS (Detective Sergeant) Ellie Miller (Colman), just back from a family vacation in Florida and fully expecting a promotion upon her return, is doubly upset. Her son, Tom, was a close friend of Danny as she is of Tom's family. Further, she loses her promotion (and thus also the ability to lead the investigation) to outsider Alec Hardy (Tennant), a misanthropic, ailing Scot who apparently botched badly his last major murder inquiry.
As the scope of the investigation broadens, more of Broadchurch's citizenry fall under suspicion, and the onion-peeling is both gripping and realistic. Amidst their profound grief, personal problems among the Latimers - mother Beth (Jodie Whittiker), father Mark (Andrew Buchan), and their 15-year-old daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont) - bubble to the surface. Ellie tries her best to shield her friends from unnecessary trauma but Alec demands a level of probing professionalism for which she's ill prepared.
Other residents of the town also fall under suspicion and yet more dark secrets are exposed, though few lead to any conclusive answers about Danny's fate. Meanwhile, ambitious young local reporter Olly Stevens (Jonathan Bailey), against the wishes of his community-conscious editor, strikes an imbalanced alliance with an equally upwardly mobile writer for a Rupert Murdoch-styled national newspaper, she far more experienced in the art of personal manipulation.
The series, ambitious itself, explores the mostly negative impact of the growing national interest taken in the case, and its take-no-prisoners, scorched earth unethical journalistic practices. Particularly heinous, as compellingly done here, is the way it stokes mob justice with unsupported conclusions and irrelevant accusations among Broadchurch's residents, people desperate for immediate and black-and-white answers to a crime far more complex than anyone could have imagined. The series also does a fine job dramatizing the less savory but perhaps necessary side of police investigations, as well as paint an emotionally truthful portrait of an already troubled family blindsided by personal tragedy.
Before Broadchurch, I wasn't much of a fan of David Tennant; I thought he made a terrible, self-consciously quirky title character on Doctor Who, but here his fine skills as an actor and willingness to play such unpleasant, mostly unsympathetic troubled characters, one similar to but even moodier than Kenneth Branagh's magnificent Wallander, impresses. Colman, who resembles a young Francis de la Tour, is even better in her more challenging part. The supporting cast is equally fine, with not one misstep.
The dénouement, which I won't reveal here, was a closely guarded secret, one that genuinely surprises and, more or less, satisfies. To its credit, Broadchurch is the kind of slick, almost too slick, show that's hard to stop watching. I was only able to spread these eight episodes over four days myself.
The ending does leave one wondering how it could possibly continue into a second series given the collateral damage inflicted on its leading characters, and how believable it would be to have this same team investigate another murder (for example) in the same community, one that never before experienced such violence.
Further, it seems downright perverse to remake a perfectly fine (and English-speaking) series simply to accommodate a mainstream American market turned off by British (and Scottish) accents. With its 24-like suspense and cliffhangers, Broadchurch may be the most American-like drama ever produced in Britain and it is in every way completely accessible.
Video & Audio
Broadchurch was filmed in 1.78:1 high-definition and looks great on DVD. The eight episodes, totaling 390 minutes of running time, are accompanied by a fine 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack, with optional English SDH. A word of caution: The menu screens, in the "episode selection" pages, give away at least one important plot point, so viewers might want to hit "Play All" to avoid them.
Supplements include a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted footage. Needless to say, all should be avoided until after viewing the entire series.
A gripping crime drama that's compulsively watchable, Broadchurch is one of the best of its kind to come along in years and Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.