‘Broadchurch’ Episode 1 review

BBC and ITV pitch two Kudos Productions head to head.

Broadchurch

It’s always interesting when an ITV drama goes head to head with one on BBC (see the recent cancellation of ITV’s ‘Monroe’ which struggled in the ratings against the BBC’s ‘New Tricks’), especially when the storylines are so similar. In this case, ITV’s ‘Broadchurch’ (the story of a small community torn apart when an 11 year old boy is found dead) went up against episode two of the BBC’s ‘Mayday’ (the story of a small community torn apart when a 14 year old girl goes missing). I would be hugely surprised if the disappointing ‘Mayday’ doesn’t lose a large amount of viewers as the shows continue to the infinitely more classy ‘Broadchurch’.

It was a veritable Who’s Who (pun intended) of Doctor Who alumni, starring David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy and also featuring Arthur Darvill (in a blink and you’ll miss him role of local vicar – although I understand we’ll see much more of him as the series progresses). Add to this the fact that it’s written by Chris Chibnall (Torchwood) and you begin to wonder why they didn’t film it in Cardiff as opposed to Somerset’s Portishead and Clevedon. ‘Twenty Twelve‘s Olivia Colman takes the female lead as DS Ellie Miller, a policewoman recently returned from leave to find the job promised to her given to newcomer Hardy. DS Miller (“call me Ellie”) is an integral part of the community and her son is a close friend of the deceased boy, Daniel (Oskar McNamara); she is therefore, in Hardy’s eyes, too close to the tragedy to be able to deal with it professionally. This, understandably, leads to a lot of tension between the two, and their relationship will be interesting to watch as it progresses. Towards the end of the episode, Ellie finds CCTV footage of Daniel skateboarding through the town, casting doubt on the theory that he had been abducted from his bed. Her finding elicits a “good” from Hardy, indicating that the ice may be starting to thaw.

The episode opens with Daniel standing on the cliff edge at night, blood dripping from his fingertips. Later in the episode, he is found lying prone on the beach below – although as it transpires, forensics believe he did not jump or fall, but was in fact placed on the beach in an attempt to make his death look like an accident. Daniel’s parents, beautifully played by Andrew Buchan (‘The Nativity’, ‘Garrow’s Law’) and Jodie Whittaker (‘Attack the Block’, ‘Black Mirror’), do not find out about Daniel’s death until late in the morning, having checked on him before bed and thought nothing of his absence that morning due to his paper round. The identity of the deceased was kept under wraps until local journalist (and nephew of DS Miller) Olly Stevens (Jonathan Bailey, ‘Leonardo’, ‘Me and Mrs Jones’), as part of his efforts to move from the Broadchurch Echo to a national newspaper, tweeted his discovery of Daniel’s identity after seeing his older sister Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont, ‘Skins’) placing a toy bunny at the scene. His tweet attracted the attention of Daily Herald reporter Karen (Vicky McClure, ‘This is England’, ‘Line of Duty’) who travelled down from London to investigate further. At the end of the episode she is seen removing the toy that Chloe had left, indicating that her intentions are less than honourable.

Daniel’s mum, Beth, made for very uncomfortable viewing; a credit to Jodie Whittaker‘s acting. As a mother myself, I found it very difficult to watch the grief rack through her when she realises her son is dead, and again when it is revealed that his death was being treated as suspicious. His father, Mark, when identifying the body, seemed already resigned to his fate, despite telling DS Miller that he hadn’t expected it to actually be Daniel. His goodbye speech, while moving, seemed a little too rehearsed, and he seemed a little too ready to say goodbye to his only son. Beth later casts suspicion on him in relation to Daniel’s disappearance, asking why he was out until 3am and why he didn’t check on his son as usual when he came in. However, as we all know, the usual suspect is very rarely guilty in such situations – in fiction, at least.

Chibnall employs the usual technique of the whodunit writer in that the episode both opens and closes with a montage of the community’s characters – the 5-a-side team member vicar, the lonely old newsagent, the silently sneering caravan dweller – all of whom the suspicion will no doubt fall on throughout the next 7 episodes. Given that these three are played by, respectively, Arthur Darvill, David Bradley (‘Harry Potter’, ‘Prisoner’s Wives’) and Pauline Quirke (‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Missing’), we know that they will play large parts in the story as it develops.

There’s also a lot more to come out about Tennant’s character Alec Hardy. His involvement in a previous murder case seems to lie heavily on his shoulders, and Hardy whispers “not again, not again” to himself as he approaches Daniel’s body for the first time, the shaky camera work and jump cut shots adding to the tension of the scene. Whether this previous experience will break him or, as he states, make him the “best man for the job”, is yet to be seen. Either way, I’m sure Tennant, as usual, will be incredible.

I’ll definitely be back for more next week – and I can’t wait to see how many of ‘Mayday‘s viewers will follow suit.