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Broadchurch (ITV 2013-17)


Series 1…4 crumblies

Series 2…2 crumblies

Series 3…4 crumblies

My search for a programme in which Jodie Whittaker smiles continued this week.

Thought I’d try Broadchurch.

My search goes on.

I watched Broadchurch’s 24 episodes in a state of nervousness and admiration at what writer Chris Chibnall has done with so many past and future members of the Doctor Who cast. The programme mixes thriller with family drama, police procedural with telling insights into local journalism in the age of no-point-to-local-journalism-anymore, and sumptuous filmography of the south of England with the soulless pain of Icelandic percussion. Pauline Quirke also turns up looking so terrifying I nearly crashed the next time her Acting Academy ad came at me from the back of a bus.

Broadchurch is glorious. Beautifully cut. Filmed in deluxe grading. And written with a structure that hides and teases by turn.

You may know the various plots, but here they are in impenetrable form:

  • Series 1 – a kid gets murdered and Jodie Whittaker takes it really badly.
  • Series 2 – the accused pleads ‘necessary plot point’ in court and Jodie Whittaker takes it especially badly.
  • Series 3 – Jodie Whittaker is deeply sad as she helps the stellar Julie Hesmondhalgh through all-new misery. It is awful, and she does it whilst discarding her husband’s emotional disintegration. Forced to face it in the end, she takes it fairly badly.

All 24 episodes cover crimes investigated by David Tennant, who is in tip-top form as properly-ill detective Alec Hardy. Tennant is going for contained and pained throughout, switching from whispering aggressively to shouting gently depending on who he is bullying. He dips into his trusty ‘breathing noisily through his teeth’ persona when a heart condition drives his stress levels to the point of scrabbling for his return-to-grumpy pills. He is an easy watch, though there is some neck-beard unpleasantness for those with taste.

Tennant’s barely noticeable acting mechanics are matched beautifully by Olivia Colman as Ellie Martin, the other copper, who rages at everything by punctuating her sulks with the occasional bellowing fit, violence and vomiting. Series 1 makes her look like she’s lost not only her detecting skills but most of her senses. She’s a local so is put out more than triumphant as every disappointing local does their suspicious thing. She is an easy watch.

Chibnall, the writer and creator, pulls our focus in 20 minute chunks from villager to visitor, making every damn one of them give off guilt like unstoppable scat jazz. This grips you for most of the time, but improbabilities and convenient character traits will test your patience: the original criminal raises a hmmmmmm – really?, Charlotte Rampling’s magnificently royal barrister and Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s royally angry one carry one-note back-stories, and the criminals in the final series are so caricatured they damage the beautiful work done just eight episodes previous.

But you’ll forgive this for the joys of the series. And there are many:

  • Colman and Tennant are entrancing, funny and ripe for more.
  • Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker give magnetic performances – all that pain and repercussion.
  • Arthur Darvill is a fey vicar looking to be meaningful whilst working through some interesting beard choices.
  • Lenny Henry pops up to show the TV audience it’d be well worth giving his Shakespeares a go…
  • Eve Myles is terrifying.
  • The townsfolk and their vigil is properly lovely.
  • Carolyn Pickles exists to be adored.
  • Roy Hudd lives and I wanted to hug him.
  • And the Broadchurch Beach – the real star of the whole thing – is sexy in its mighty looming. Which is probably why no-one falls off it. At all. In 24 episodes.

Watch it? Oh yes. The mixture of thriller, investigation, fresh observation of victims’ long-term reaction to intense crimes…all of these make this a great boxset. There are naiveties and clunkers within, but watch the ocean and love the cliff. Spend 24 hours in murderous Dorset.

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