Series Review: Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a new ITV crime drama which explores the impact on a family of their child’s murder and the effect the subsequent investigation has on a community in which no-one is free from suspicion. Sound familiar? That’s because the Brits are finally tapping into the great success that was The Killing, bravely taking on the Nords in the genre of the slow-burning, realistic and atmospheric crime drama. And this is not a superficial comparison: everything from the harrowing realism of the family’s suffering to the beating drums underscoring an end-of-episode-montage, to even the emotive music (appropriately written by Icelander Olafur Arnalds) is reminiscent of the Danish series.

Perhaps most notable similarity is the depth into which Broadchurch explores the family’s grief; like The Killing, the detail in which we witness the effect of their loss is profoundly affecting and gives the series an emotional gravity which the old school of crime dramas was sorely lacking. It’s no longer enough to have charismatic detectives and an enticing list of suspects: we now have to feel the pain and suffering felt by the victim’s family, and this makes for a much deeper experience.

The general melancholy of the familial drama is well balanced by the amusing personality-clash between protagonists David Tennant and Olivia Coleman. Tennant plays with verve the cynical, quasi-autistic Inspector Hardy, and Coleman, in particular (who is unrecognisable from Peep Show), gives a powerful, yet subtle performance as the optimistic and emotionally-driven Sergeant Miller.

The denouement of the series, refreshingly, is not a disappointing anti-climax; in fact, it is the best episode: even if you’ve figured out the culprit, the scene leading up to the exposure of the murderer is utterly enthralling and expertly shot. In a smart move, the revelation takes place early, allowing its impact to reverberate through the characters and for loose ends to be tied. The efficacy of this approach is testament to Broadchurch’s depth – the audience’s interest exceeds just finding out the identity of the killer: we want to see how the rest of the townsfolk react.

When The Killing arrived on our shores in 2011 the bar was raised for crime drama, and while Broadchurch overtly tips its hat to its Scandinavian sibling, the show wears its influences proudly and, crucially, adopts them into its own British style. As conceded by creator Chris Chibnall, the influence of Dorset-born novelist Thomas Hardy is evident, in both his sweeping, romanticised vision of the West Country and his depiction of conflict within a small community. This lends the series a uniquely British flavour which ensures that, far from a mere homage to The Killing, Broadchurch is, in its own right, a bold step forward in British crime drama. 

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