Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 1

A few thoughts on the opening episode of ITV's new crime drama

In this post The Killing televisual landscape, crime thrillers have their work cut out to bring something new to the genre. Despite its poor start, Broadchurch shows signs of have something to offer in this opening episode.

Set in a coastal Dorset town, Broadchurch centres around the suspicious death of an 11 year old boy, Danny Latimer (Adam Wilson). DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Miller (Olivia Colman) are tasked with solving the mystery whilst this small close knit town comes to terms with the tragedy.

Olivia Colman & David Tennant in Broadchurch
The first 15 minutes of Broadchurch were really quite frustrating. Small niggling inaccuracies that shouldn't have bothered me were too strange to ignore. When Danny doesn't turn up at the school sports day, no one contacts the parents to find out where he is. A journalist returns from the sports day and is told to "get yourself some fresh air" a few minutes later. I couldn't help notice these things because Broadchurch's overly stylish opening hadn't captured my attention like it should've done.

A little slow-motion camera work goes a long way but Broadchurch deployed it every few minutes. The laughable slow motion run down a congested road was followed moments later by a slow motion run onto the beach. Over bearing music accompanied overly staged shots of people looking and thinking every five minutes. Every use of these techniques served only to diminish their impact.

After the worrying start, Broadchurch began to find its feet. The amount of talent in front of the camera is astonishing. David Tennant brings a moody and troubled aura to his 'big city cop in small town' character. When she's not running in slow motion, Jodie Whittaker shines as the grieving mother who begins to question her husband's movements on the night of the tragedy. Olivia Colman looks to have a great role as the local cop. She has a lot to do in this opening episode and it will be interesting to see how her character develops as many of her friends and family are potential suspects.

Vicky McClure in Broadchurch
Aside from the mystery itself, Broadchurch looks to have something to say about the involvement of the press and media during such cases. One of the more surprising moments came towards the end of the episode where journalist Karen White (Vicky McClure) takes a teddy bear from the memorial at the beach. Does this indicate she's somehow involved or is she just being a ruthless journalist? I personally hope it's the latter.

One decision that a crime drama has to make early on is whether or not to keep the audience ahead of the police investigators. In The Killing, the audience got the information as and when the police discovered it. Broadchurch seems to be willing to give the audience some extra information, such as watching DS Miller's son Tom deleting text messages and computer files from Danny. I'm not saying this is a mistake, but with many claiming similarities with The Killing, it's important to note that Broadchurch doesn't stick to one of the aspects which made the Danish crime drama so refreshing.

Each episode of The Killing ended with a quick look at all of the characters at work. Broadchurch attempts to pull off the same trick, but doesn't quite succeed. This episode is focussed on a small number of the characters involved. Yet at the end, we get to see all of them doing some thinking, some looking and even some thinking whilst looking.

In The Killing, it worked because all of the characters had been carefully woven into each episode. Characters and suspects only appeared when they needed to and  there was very little attempt to create obvious red herrings. In Broadchurch, this final move felt like the writers teasing the audience. "One of these people did it, can you guess who?"

Personally, I don't want to guess who did it. I would much rather watch a compelling and convincing investigation rather than get the cheap thrill of guessing the murderer. Hopefully, Broadchurch will deliver on the signs of promise seen in this opening episode.

Broadchurch airs on Monday at 9pm on ITV for a further 7 weeks. Episode 1 is available for catch up online.

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