BBC America Dazzles with “Broadchurch” – Film Dispenser

Television August 6, 2013 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

The lifeless body of a young boy is found on a beach in a coastal town in England. It is the type of place where residents can call everyone by name, and murder is something that happens only in other communities. Over the course of eight episodes, Broadchurch is driven by the hunt for the person who killed Danny Latimer. In the course of that search, secrets will be revealed, and the citizens of this small town will begin to question if they really know one another at all.

Broadchurch excels at fleshing out the entire spectrum of personalities and characters who would find themselves swept up in the aftermath of a horrific small town crime. Alec Hardy (David Tennant) is an outsider who has transferred in from a larger jurisdiction and will spearhead the investigation. Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) is a native to Broadchurch and a sergeant in the local police force who considers her friends and neighbors incapable of such a horrible crime. Mark and Beth Latimer are the parents of the deceased boy. Then there are the members of the local and national media, the local priest, a man who fancies himself a psychic, the mailman, the sultry owner of the town hotel and a variety of other characters.

Despite how this premise may sound, this is no Agatha Christie, tea and crumpets, cozy murder mystery. This isn’t Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the candlestick. Broadchurch is a dark and gritty look at how a shocking crime can tear a small community apart. Neighbor becomes suspicious of neighbor, and everyone is a suspect. Secrets unrelated to the murder will be exposed, and lives will be changed forever. Unlike the recent season finale of The Killing, Broadchurch doesn’t cheat the viewer when it comes to resolving the crime at hand and the unveiling of the murderer is a jaw-dropper.

Screenwriter Chris Chibnall, who is known predominantly for his work on British science fiction series like Doctor Who and Torchwood, spent a year honing these eight episodes with no production company committed to the project. It was a labor of love that thankfully found its way to BBC America here in the States. Chibnall always wanted to write a series about a murder in a small British town like the one he grew up in, and he has succeeded in a major way. Every character, whether major or minor, is well-rounded and comes fully to life on screen. There is none of the “padding” that is sometimes found in one-trick pony crime shows where the murder mystery is the only interesting plotline.

Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller make a perfect crime-fighting team. Hardy is world-weary and untrusting, having been bitten once by a similar high-profile case. Miller begins the season as a naïve, small-town cop, and each successive episode strips away her innocence and alters her world view. Tired of her superior’s condescending cynicism and bleak outlook, Miller asks, “How do you sleep at night?” Hardy responds, “Who says I can sleep?”

David Tennant excels in the lead role, but Olivia Colman is the true stand-out performance over the entire eight episodes. Through her carefully modulated performance, Ellie Miller leaves behind her life as a simple, trusting mother of two, and evolves before our eyes into a true criminal investigator. She effortlessly conveys the loss of innocence that comes with law enforcement work, and the audience can see her leave behind small pieces of her soul along the way.

This is somewhat shorter than my usual reviews, but I have taken great pains to reveal none of the plot twists in Broadchurch, and this column is completely spoiler free. I have been fortunate enough to see all eight episodes before they air on BBC America, and I can attest that Broadchurch is one of the best things you’ll see on TV in 2013.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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