Judge Erich Asperschlager is a BBC original.
"We were happy here."
When it comes to murder mystery series, no one does it like the Brits. Detective Inspectors are as commonplace on UK television as spurned Bachelorettes are on American TV. The latest best BBC murder mystery is Broadchurch, created and written by Chris Chibnall, whose previous credits include Doctor Who, its spin-off Torchwood, and Life on Mars. On the surface, Broadchurch sounds like more of the same—a shocking murder, police partners who don't get along, a small town with big secrets—but it rises above the rest with sharp writing and two stellar leads.
Facts of the Case
Set against the cliffs on the Dorset coast, Broadchurch is a small, tight-knit community. That all changes when the body of 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) is found on the beach. The case goes to Broadchurch native Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman, Twenty Twelve) and her new boss, outsider Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant, Doctor Who).
A few months back, people went nuts for HBO's True Detective—a gripping character-based murder mystery in a distinctive setting. Broadchurch is all those things and it scratches a similar itch (minus the creepy cult stuff). The key to both series' success is the relationship between the leads. Like True Detective, Broadchurch pairs two cops with very different personalities. Olivia Colman's Miller is an empathetic officer who loves her job, her family, and her hometown. She has a difficult time processing the brutal murder of a young boy because she doesn't believe things like this happen in Broadchurch. David Tennant's Hardy is a hardened outsider with no connections to the locals and no patience for anything that gets in the way of solving the case. He comes with secrets and baggage from a previous, similar case. They butt heads, learn to appreciate each other, and ultimately combine their incomplete skill sets to build a partnership that lets them solve the case.
I was excited to watch Broadchurch largely because of Colman and Tennant. I know Tennant primarily from Doctor Who—his run on that series proved his ability to play funny and dramatic. Colman is best known for her comedic work in Hot Fuzz and Mitchell & Webb's brilliant first person sitcom Peep Show; but perhaps her finest role is Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur—a brutal film anchored by Colman's depiction of an abuse victim on the edge. It's a shame American audiences aren't more familiar with her, because the multitalented Colman is one of Britain's best actors.
Broadchurch leans heavily on Hardy and Miller, but it surrounds them with an impressive ensemble—a supporting cast with no weak links. Every actor and character is compelling and well-rounded, making the coastal town feel lived in and fleshing out the mystery: the murdered boy's mother (Jodie Whittaker, Attack the Block), father (Andrew Buchan, Nowhere Boy), and sister (Charlotte Beaumont, 6 Bullets); a young priest (Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who); the elderly news shop owner (David Bradley, Game of Thrones); a menacing loner (Pauline Quirke, The Elephant Man); Ellie's husband (Matthew Gravelle, Son of God) and son (Adam Wilson, Mr. Selfridge); the hotel proprietor (Simone McAullay, Home and Away); the editor of the local paper (Carolyn Pickles, Emmerdale) and her too-eager protégé (Jonathan Bailey, Leonardo); the big city journalist who brings national attention to the case (Vicky McClure, Line of Duty). Everyone's got a secret and they all come out over the course of the season, destroying the illusion of an idyllic close-knit community.
Chibnall expertly balances the many characters and twists without turning the townspeople into Clue game pieces or mere set dressing. Most impressive is the way he handles the Latimer family. They grieve in a believable way, especially David's mother. Other series handle grief by making characters near-catatonic, a surefire way to kill story momentum. It was a big problem on AMC's The Killing—a similar, inferior, series. Broadchurch never stops moving, but also never feels rushed.
The character development ties directly into the mystery. Those of you who watch a lot of murder mysteries will be able to spot the false leads and red herrings, but the story still has satisfying twists and turns. Broadchurch plays with mystery tropes, approaching the expected then veering away. The ultimate revelation may leave some viewers cold—landing these kinds of stories is extremely difficult. Whatever you think of a whodunit, it's hard to argue Chibnall hasn't earned his ending. This series puts in more effort and pushes the emotional journey further than most, building to its conclusion with clever foreshadowing and an understanding that answers don't equal closure. The murder may be solved but it's torn the town and its residents apart.
Broadchurch: The Complete First Season's U.S. debut on DVD spreads the eight episodes across three discs, with all bonus features relegated to the last disc. The 1.78:1 digital transfer captures the gritty beauty of Matt Gray's cinematography. The series has a distinct look with a strong sense of place. Audio is in 2.0 stereo, but like the image Broadchurch looks and sounds better than the format it's on.
The extras begin with "Broadchurch: Behind the Scenes." The 27-minute featurette is made up of candid interviews with the cast and crew at the first read through and throughout the early filming process. The other bonus feature is nearly half an hour of deleted scenes, ranging from quick shots and slightly longer versions of scenes to extended sequences that fill in gaps in the story; the only option is to watch them all mashed up together. There's also a two-minute trailer if you're into that sort of thing.
An American adaptation of Broadchurch is in development for Fox with David Tennant signed on to play the lead. It could be great, but I recommend checking out the British original first. There's no replacing Olivia Colman and the rest of the rock-solid cast, and there's no place like Broadchurch. There are plenty of fine BBC murder investigation series, but none like Broadchurch. With memorable characters and a chilling mystery, writer/creator Chibnall balances plot with people to create something honest and devastating.
Someone's guilty, but it isn't this DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Deleted Scenes
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