Broadchurch episode 1 review

New ITV crime drama Broadchurch comes from Torchwood’s Chris Chibnall, and stars a Who’s Who of Who. Here’s Louisa’s review…

This review contains spoilers.

Everything about ITV’s new crime drama Broadchurch, from its intensely likeable cast to Chris Chibnall’s beautifully precise script and James Strong’s assured direction, tells us we’re in safe hands. Over the next seven weeks, episode one promises, this story is going to be pieced together like a well-tailored suit. Trust us, Broadchurch says, we know what we’re doing.

What they’re doing may not be new – murder in a close-knit community, a battling pair of Detective Inspectors, a steadily turning wheel of suspects, and a policeman with his own demons are all convention staples in modern crime drama – but it’s carried off here with such assurance and poise the familiarity is steadying rather than banal.

A steady hand is exactly what’s required when dealing with such overwhelmingly upsetting subject matter. To watch entertainment based around child murder and not feel complicit in exploitation, a bargain has to be reached between creators and audience. Sensitively show us human truth and we’ll willingly be made wretched by your story; use dead kids as a sensationalist ‘hook’ and we won’t feel anything at all. Broadchurch, I’m happy to report, made me feel entirely wretched.

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Blame Jodie Whittaker. As anguished young mother Beth Latimer, confronted with the prone body of her eleven-year-old son, Whittaker’s performance was horrendous to watch for all the right reasons. Andrew Buchan’s grief as father Mark was also well-played, though the suspicion laid at his character’s feet in the episode made his a less simple perspective to channel.

The quality extends throughout the cast (David Bradley, Vicky McClure, Arthur Darvill, Pauline Quirke…), which stands comfortably on the broad shoulders of David Tennant and Olivia Colman, two hugely capable leads. He’s a brooding, irritable interloper with a scandal in his professional past; she’s the warm-hearted, emotionally involved station local he’s displaced. Together, they’re tasked with the promise Tennant’s character makes at the close of episode one: to catch whoever did this.

The Dorset-set whodunit stages its genre conventions with slick professionalism. Episode one ends with a parade of suspects (the unmarried newsagent, the mysterious dog-walker, the deceased’s best friend, the trendy vicar…) which is every bit as fluidly presented as the opening scene that established Broadchurch’s close community ties. Director James Strong weaves his camera through the village’s fabric, introducing its raft of characters with sage efficiency. After just a few minutes in their company, we’ve formed easy first impressions of the ensemble, though with another seven hours for the drama to unfold, you can bet we’ll be proved wrong more than once.

Broadchurch hones in on emotional truths with startling aim. Strong’s camera plummets over a vertiginous cliff-edge more than once, evoking the sense of a world tumbled off-kilter by loss. And if the clocks stopping in the Latimer family house at 3.20am – roughly the time of Danny’s death – is a metaphor for the time-arresting experience of losing a child, then it’s a good one.

The story has a conscience too, seen in its cynical-but-depressingly-accurate condemnation of the press. A London newspaper editor cavalierly dismisses Danny’s death as the “wrong profile” to merit the interest of his readers, an ambitious young journo endangers the investigation in an attempt to move up the career ladder (prompting Tennant’s best line: “Bloody Twitter!”), and Vicky McClure’s Nationals writer unscrupulously removes the keepsake placed at Danny’s memorial site by his sister. The press routinely make hardships like this much harder, says Broadchurch, another of its observations that rings horribly true.

It’s by no means an easy watch, this first episode, but it strikes the right emotional notes and tells its awful story with a surety that promises seriously good drama to come. I’ll be back for more.

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