The show starts off with a beautiful, uninterrupted long-shot of Mark Latimer, father to an 11 year old son named Danny, hailing and greeting almost every resident of the village community on a sunny, idyllic day, on his way to work. This not only does a mammoth job of establishing the panorama of characters, but brings us to a chilling realization that this community will be blown out of their bucolic bliss because of the revelations and findings of the ensuing investigation.
Because the Latimers are about to discover that their little boy has been murdered.
Fortunately, it has a lot more going for it.
The show is eponymously named Broadchurch, after the sleepy sea-village which is the location for the unfolding drama. It's the kind of place where everyone knows each other - somewhat like Twin Peaks, except that it's too small for everyone to be able to hide secrets from each other for too long.
The first episode is hardly a fitting introduction to the series as it largely dwells on the initial disappearance of Danny and how this loss and his subsequent death affects his family and the community as a whole. However the emotionally charged first episode is an essential in setting down the foundations of the investigation.
The showrunner, Alec Hardy (David Tennant) is just a delight to watch. Alec Hardy sounds exactly like his name- he’s a gruff Scot nicknamed Shitfaced. Distant and antisocial, Hardy has no patience for fools or accepted social practices-he refuses to smile to officers, grimaces most of the time and cares only about getting justice for the Latimer family (and perhaps for himself?). Tennant outdoes himself with the kind of maturity and humility he brings to the underwhelming role of Hardy- a portrayal that is mostly internal given how repressed and frustrated a person Hardy is.
The emotion and pathos surrounding a murder investigation are usually ignored by most concerned as superfluous and irrelevant; it’s a commonly held perception that such an impassioned perspective tends to deflect and distract from the greater cause of finding the killer. Even most Christie whodunits are inclined to center on the perspective of the investigator who is ever so organized and gathered-seeing as she/he hasn’t just had their child murdered. So the question arises- who is best suited for the job? An insider cop who is part of the community and is aware of its inner workings or a brooding Scotsman who is not only an alien but also antisocial as hell (as well as whispers of a botched up investigation)? That’s exactly where the jugalbandi of Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy begins.
The first episode shows us a relaxed, chirpy Miller coming back from a vacation to find her promised job snatched out of her hands and plopped into the lap of dark horse Alec Hardy. Later on, when the death of Danny is discovered, we see Ellie reacting not as a homicide detective but as a well-wisher who has just seen the body of her ‘boy’s best friend’. Over the course of the investigation as further revelations come to light, Ellie proves to be a quick learner and tends to fall back on the initial advice an irritated Hardy tells her when she had just seen the corpse of a family friend- be a professional. Her growth from a myopic, short-sighted detective to a mature professional one who can pull out nuances and perhaps even challenge Hardy in his thirst for justice, is tremendous.
Beth (Danny’s mother) is an ‘English Rose’- beautiful, erratic and distraught as hell. Grief makes her want to be busy and not have to sit and think about Danny. Mark Latimer responds by shutting off his emotions or switching them on-like a well-oiled nozzle. But what shines through is the show showing us, in relative real time, how hard it is for grief to run its course. You start to question notions such as having a reasonable period of mourning - as if one could stamp an expiry date on a certain volatile emotion and expect all traces of it to fade in 2-3 months. And if it doesn’t fade, you are treated as an unstable, over-emotional person.
*Doctor Who references incoming*
On a side note, it is hilarious to see Ten and Rory starring in such fantastically removed roles as compared to Doctor Who - Rory, the timid but resilient Centurion plays Paul Coates, the village vicar who is the only comic relief in a sea of bleak depression with his awkward yet well-meaning humour. The usually wacky and weird David Tennant essays an almost Peter Capaldi role with his moods being 50 percent grumpiness and 50 percent thirst for vengeance which is SO unlike the goofy, trench-coat clad Doctor.
To be sure - Broadchurch is everything you can hope for from a whodunit: it’s gritty, dark and never, ever loses sight of the ultimate goal-to find Danny Latimer’s killer. It’s almost like watching a particularly gritty Christie whodunit directed with the finesse and perfectionism of a Wes Anderson. It’s a very clean plot with all loose ends neatly tied up so it’s a particularly satisfying watch (especially the first season when taken as a whole). It has a wealth of characters, but enough episodes for their quirks and nuances to shine through, because like I said, it’s a very well rounded off plot. Be prepared for a lot of emphasis on drama and pull outs to the breathtakingly high cliffs overlooking the sea, the sunset, and grabs of the sunny-beach town of Broadchurch.