Broadchurch | Grieving is more difficult when nobody can be trusted
If all hearts were open and all desires known — as they would be if people showed their souls — how many gapings, sighings, clenched fists, knotted brows, broad grins, and red eyes should we see in the market-place!Thomas Hardy
A beautiful cliff in Dorset, England, overlooking the sea. The green of nature, the blue of the waves crashing on the beach. A small English town called Broadchurch whose inhabitants go on with their lives, as always, and as it always has been in such small and peaceful English villages.
But one day the body of a child, Danny, is found at the foot of the cliff. Maybe a suicide, or maybe an accident, but too many things don’t add up. Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman, award-winning actress, already seen in productions such as The Favourite or The Crown), detective sergeant, begins to investigate full of good intentions, afraid of the situation, but determined to find out what happened. However, having to follow the directives of Alec Hardy (David Tennant, often remembered for his iconic characters in Doctor Who or Harry Potter), the grumpy and cynical newcomer, who moved to Broadchurch after not being able to solve his latest murder case.
And the cliff stands there, imposing, observing the situation, spreading its shadows on every roof of the small town of Broadchurch.
Broadchurch is a British TV show created by Chris Chibnall and produced by Kudos Film and Television and Imaginary Friends. It is a show with Nordic tones (like The Bridge TV show) characterized by slow and reflective tones, with characters whose problems become metaphors for social problems. It consists of three seasons and aired on ITV from 2013 to 2017. Winner of several awards (including BAFTA awards and TV Choice awards), it has repeatedly established itself as one of a kind in the crime drama genre.
The shadows of an entire town
The tranquillity of the town is certainly disturbed by the murder of little Danny, but also by the arrival of the investigator Alec Hardy, who creates further havoc especially in the life of Ellie Miller, the protagonist. She is immediately presented in an open and sincere way, a down-to-earth, caring, trusting person, a loving mother and wife. She wants to bring the killer to justice, aware that the monster could also be hiding among the fellow citizens she has known all her life.
Alec, however, points out something even more shocking. No one in Broadchurch is innocent. Not everyone will be embroiled in the murder, but everyone has their secrets, mysteries that don’t want to be revealed. Ellie therefore begins to doubt everyone, even herself and the life she has always lived. She begins to wonder if she can really trust others, if she really knows deep down who she’s always considered a friend.
This is the point of Broadchurch: are we sure we can really trust those around us?
Investigations remain the engine of the story, but the focus is the characters, their psychology and what they hide, and how Alec, who came from outside, disrupts Ellie’s perfect life with his cynicism. They themselves are two sides of the same coin, two partners who can’t stand each other at first but who, together, will be able to unravel the threads of more than one mystery.
Like in Twin Peaks, where the viewers are immediately hooked by the murder of Laura Palmer, but then, moving forward in the story, they find themselves eager to know the life of every character in the town. Murder, both in Twin Peaks and in Broadchurch, goes hand in hand with other types of drama that make the dynamics depicted even more real.
Facing the ghosts of the past
It’s not just about crime, it’s always been about the aftermath of crime and how that affects the lives of the people that are left behind.David Tennant for Indiwire
The Broadchurch TV show ended in 2017 after three seasons. Although Danny’s killer is arrested at the end of the first season, it is not, as one might think, a standalone season, with a new case to solve every year. Or rather, it’s not just that.
For example, in the second season there is not a new crime, but the aftermath of the discoveries made previously. In the third, however, something new happens, but it’s not like putting an end to past events. In the third season the topic of rape is tackled in an innovative way, dissecting it in all its nuances without ever falling into gore, but also talking about how it is perceived on a social level and the personal and emotional backlash that the victim herself has to face inside of a small community.
Every time, not only are the detectives always Ellie and Alec, but, the citizens of Broadchurch as well. And, in their narrative framework, it hasn’t been long since Danny’s murder. How are the people who were directly involved, primarily his parents, doing?
It’s not an obvious question. Often, in other crime TV shows, once one mystery is solved, they move on to the next without looking back.
Hope is the keyword
As Thomas Hardy said, “Who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst”. The creator of Broadchurch, Chris Chibnall, a fan of the English author (Alec’s surname is not Hardy just by chance), expresses the same concept in the TV series. The characters face not only new mysteries, but a path of inner growth to truly come to terms with what they’ve already faced. To finally process the mourning.
Broadchurch doesn’t have an ending where the characters start living happily ever after again, because life isn’t a fairy tale. But the viewer is left with a sense of hope. The hope that, sooner or later, with a little effort, things could settle down. Maybe happiness will come again.
Knowing when to stop
Broadchurch has revealed itself, over time, as a unique series of its kind, a pearl within the crime genre, one of the most prolific genres of television and cinema.
Given its success, the TV show could have continued for much longer, perhaps really changing the town or introducing new characters, as often happens for other similar series. The creator Chris Chibnall is not new to a possible narration of this type, having himself also worked on the prolific Law & Order. For Broadchurch it was not like this, however: he knew how to stop once he reached his goal. The murder has been solved and its aftermath has also been explored. Now the characters have to fend for themselves.
At the same time, several novels have been published that delve into what is already happening on the show, deepening knowledge already possessed by the viewer. An attempt was also made to take the next step with an American remake, Gracepoint, starring David Tennant himself again in the role of the detective, but failed to match the originality of the product from which it draws inspiration, receiving mixed reviews.
Indeed, the strength of Broadchurch is difficult to imitate, and even today, despite ten years having passed since its first season, it continues to attract viewers and amaze with the clarity of its characters, the amazement of the concatenations of actions and reactions and, last but not least, with the beauty of its locations. The Broadchurch cliff continues to watch over the town, casting its shadow on the clarity of the sea, a reminder that nothing is ever what it seems, and that everyone is always hiding something. Even to themselves.