This review contains spoilers.
For me, Broadchurch’s compassion was its early draw. Unlike the majority of TV murders, the killing of Danny Latimer didn’t just have a motive (whatever that turns out to be), but also consequences. The worst happened, and the people affected crumpled like cloth. The cheery small-town setting too, was a novel backdrop for the story. Broadchurch’s drama played out in kitchens and sunny tourist spots, not menacing urban streets or rain-lashed crime scenes. Banality met catastrophe, and the result was punch-to-the-windpipe television.
As the series has gone on, the procedural elements have begun to take prominence over personal pain, understandably so; we’ve a job to do and a murderer to find. The investigation progresses, the roulette wheel of suspects turns, and each week another of Broadchurch’s residents is voted “Most likely to kill a child and cover up their crime”. Last episode, Mark Latimer was in the frame, and this week it’s the turn of newsagent Jack, with gormless Nige, creepy Susan/Elaine, and trendy vicar Paul coming in a joint second.
David Bradley’s Jack Marshall is a picnic for gutter press speculation. Unmarried, involved with a local youth group, prone to taking photos of young boys, server of an historical sentence for underage sex, and owner of an address history that puts him in the vicinity of a similar crime years ago, it’s all the evidence many people would need to throw a noose around his neck. Looks-wise too, hopefully Bradley won’t mind it being said that his isn’t the most avuncular of faces – he’s no Jim Broadbent, or dearly departed Richard Briers at least. There’s no doubt about it, Jack Marshall’s life in Broadchurch is about to get very difficult very quickly. If there isn’t a brick through Jack’s window by the time the news of his prior gets out, then perhaps I watch less television than I thought.
But do we think he did it? Not on your life. Part of writer Chris Chibnall’s remit with Broadchurch has been a frank examination of press responsibility and irresponsibility in situations like this one. The Echo’s Olly represents the naïve folly of youthful ambition, the Herald’s Karen the manipulative, unscrupulous scoop-seeker, and old school Carolyn the sole flyer of the press ethics flag. If Jack turned out to be the killer, Chibnall’s drama would be cementing today’s assumption-happy, suspicious, tabloid-fuelled culture instead of critiquing it, which is surely his goal.
Which leads us to Pauline Quirke’s shady dog-walker and her alleyway co-conspirator, Nige. Their terse exchange belonged more to the mean streets of New York or old-timey Chicago than it did Dorset. “We’re connected now, you and me, you can’t turn your back”, Susan/Elaine told our Nige, her dog lead quivering with dramatic tension. Quirke’s character took on almost supernatural powers this week, appearing from nowhere to make a grotesque threat against Carolyn, and sending DI Hardy into one of his fainting spells just by wishing him goodnight. And what of Nige himself? The plumber’s mate is evidently harbouring more than just a secret crossbow. Never trust a man who beams about beef, as my old nan didn’t used to say.
Speaking of Sunday roasts, director Euros Lyn shot that family lunch scene with the fuzzy warmth of a Sainsbury’s Mother’s Day ad. All the better for creating irony with, I suppose, as ‘psychic’ Steve’s announcement that Danny was killed by someone close to him hung weightily above the momentarily happy group. The arrival of suspect Jack burst the bubble, but having eliminated him from my on-going investigation (we all have one), it was Nige and Ellie’s husband I kept a closer eye on.
I very much hope Ellie’s Welsh hubby is just a background player in Broadchurch, so refreshing is it to see a woman on telly with a career that hasn’t been won at the cost of a happy family life. Please Chibnall, let the culprit be anyone but Joe. Between this recession, this government, and this endless winter, having to watch the wonderful Olivia Colman emote Ellie’s realisation that she’s married to a child-murderer would be a bridge too far. The Samaritans phone lines wouldn’t be able to cope.
What else? Oh yes, last week’s dinner invitation played out nicely for comic relief, Hardy being as incongruous and awkward a presence in that warm, orange-tinted and fairy-light decorated home as the bright white evidence tent still angering local businesspeople on Broadchurch’s beach. There was also the developing shadiness of Arthur Darvill’s insomniac vicar, whose IT club may have played a part in the secret Tom Miller is hiding from his mother (and which could explain that mysterious £500 found in Danny’s room), the tantalising appearance of Tanya Franks as Olly’s financially troubled mum, and the retrieval of Danny’s mobile phone.
The episode was structured around key mass gatherings – the press briefing, the church service – that served as live-action games of Guess Who? for the audience. Lyn’s camera swung from suspect to suspect, efficiently reminding us of the position of Broadchurch’s many players. Because we’re halfway through Broadchurch’s story now, and the clues and testimonies are piling up. The whodunit intrigue may not have been what drew me to the drama in the first place, but that and the still-superlative cast (there hasn’t been time to rave about Jodie Whitaker this week, but I’ll be sure to do so over the next month) are why I’m still here.
Read Louisa’s review of episode 3, here.
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