The methodical elimination of suspects

Dave Bartlett
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‘Broadchurch’ a different sort of whodunit

An 11-year-old boy stands on the precipice of the Dorset coast in England. It’s late at night and the waves pound the beach below. A drop of blood falls from his hand.

And then it is morning, and Danny Latimer’s family goes about its routine, assuming he’s doing his paper route. But when he’s not at his school’s sports day, his increasingly frantic mother tries to track him down. Soon his body is found on the beach.

“Broadchurch,” a ratings giant for the U.K.’s ITV earlier this year, premiered this past Sunday on Showcase in Canada before a mid-week debut in the States on BBC America. Showcase also aired Episode 2 on Monday night — which made me very happy — with the remaining six episodes scheduled for Sundays at 11:30 p.m. island time from here on in.

It is brilliant!

The show is beautifully shot and takes its time as the small English town goes from quiet tourist haven to grieving community. Like other shows of this ilk, there is paranoia and secrets as possible suspects are introduced. But the show has an intimate feel that’s completely unique.

The primary reason I wanted to check out “Broadchurch” is that it stars David Tennant, my favourite Doctor Who. But there is no whimsy here in his character, Detective Inspector (DI) Alec Hardy.

I was going to start this column by noting the show debuted in Canada on the day the next Doctor was announced — Peter Capaldi will soon take over from current Doctor, Matt Smith — but “Broadchurch,” and Tennant as Hardy, deserves all the attention.

Hardy has just moved to the town of Broadchurch, and taken the job as lead investigator, much to the disappointment of Detective Sgt. (DS) Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). He brings with him the baggage of a scandal that hasn’t fully been explained yet, but we know his name is a bit of a household name and he was exonerated of something.

He’s tight-lipped, smouldering with anger and bearded, and seems bored as he investigates the theft of fuel from a farmer’s tractor before Danny’s body is found.

But as he walks down the tawny beach towards the uniformed officer and medical examiner with the body, the camera closes in as he sighs deeply and tries to stay in control.

“Oh God, don’t do this to me.”

When was the last time a cop on TV said that? Or showed how much serious crime emotionally affects the officers who investigate them?

When Miller shows up she’s almost hysterical. It’s a small town, she’s never worked a murder before and the boy is her son’s best friend. Hardy snaps at her that they’re working a case now and to “shut it off.”

The entire first episode takes place during the day the body is discovered, as the investigation begins and the news starts to spread through the town.

Hardy and Miller interview Danny’s family, and officers start going through his room and computer. Beth Latimer had her daughter, Chloe, when she was 15 and her (now) husband Mark was 17. Danny came along several years later. Beth’s mom lives nearby and is a fixture at their home.

The police then reveal Danny’s death is suspicious.

The local paper was planning to run pictures of the school’s sports day but ambitious, provincial reporter Olly Stevens — who earlier in the day gets an email turning him down for a job at a major paper — is sent to find out why the town’s beach has been closed.

When he arrives he tries to get what information he can from Miller, his aunt. In a small town, family and professionalism can blur, but Miller refuses to give a comment. Hardy is noticeably antagonistic.

Later, Hardy tells all the officers at the station that information is to be kept quiet and no gossip is to get out.

However, when Olly sees Danny’s sister Chloe leaving a teddy bear at the beach, he calls Miller and tries to confirm the identity of the victim. He puts two and two together when Miller tries to avoid his direct questions.

He then has to decide if he should Tweet what he suspects — that Danny is the victim — his finger hovers over the send button, but he can’t resist. Word makes it to one of the big papers and soon a journeywoman reporter is in town.

Hardy is furious. “Bloody Twitter!” he bellows at his officers before ranting at how this may lose the family’s trust and goodwill. Olly’s editor is none too pleased either.

The cast of “Broadchurch” portray their characters like real people; they never overact and situations are palpable. The premise is simple, but the fallout complicated. It’s artfully done, well-cast and keeps you guessing. Though rewatching Episode 1, I’ve eliminated one key suspect.

I can’t wait until Sunday.

Dave Bartlett is a desk editor with The Telegram. Contact him at dbartlett@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, England, U.K. States on BBC America

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