As I try to patiently ride out my days through the second wave of the Pandemic in London, Ontario, I dream of the day that I will be able to see live theatre, as well as to travel once again to foreign unknown lands and take in the grandeur of their landscapes and vistas. But most of all, I miss the exploration, and the excitement of taking in all the beauty that exists in those unseen wonders of the world. It seems so far away, remaining a distant fancy, this idle landlocked wanderlust, but I have discovered an escape, a remedy for it all, although it seems to be a bit bloody and murderous. That feeling exists, streaming in on my flatscreen via Netflix in the guise of the British equivalent of C.S.I.. I’ve never really watched one of those American shows, but I got hooked a month or two ago by the show, “Broadchurch”, that most excitedly, lead to “Hinterland“. And with those journeys coming to an end, the tonic now is “Shetland“. Inside these television shows, I am making my way around the United Kingdom, watching these small town detectives solve murders and crime at, somewhat, an alarming rate. Who knew so much violence went on along these beautiful country roads of England, but I must say that I am caught, just as neatly and firmly as those murderous souls that find themselves at the center of these investigatory cases, and I must admit I am truly grateful for this bloody Netflix gift.
I will admit, quite clearly, that I tend to only watch one (or maybe two) streaming shows at a time, never more. I start at the beginning, and just watch, usually, one episode a night at a time. I don’t really binge (although I will say that I did uncontrollably watch numerous episodes of “Dead To Me“ each night, ending the season in one weekend. A very unusual feat for me, and I couldn’t get enough). But generally, I like the hooks and the drive of each episode, especially in these procedural crime shows, pulling us along to a conclusion, either per episode (s) or per season. I like hanging on to the edge of those white cliffs for a bit, just as the show’s team wanted us to; desirous for more, but patient to wait until tomorrow night to discover what happens next. I want to start streaming “The Crown” (season four became available today), as well as “The Queen’s Gambit“, but they can wait. I’ve got a number of “Shetland” episodes to finish before I dig into either of those majestic and delicious treats. Furthermore, “Killing Eve” is waiting patiently in the wings as well as a few other crime series of the same voyeuristic nature. But all in good time, a wise man once said, all in good time.
It was “Broadchurch”, the very clever and emotional British police procedural television series that was broadcasted on ITV for three seasons between 2013 and 2017, that first got me going. Created by writer and executive producer, Chris Chibnall, the show crafted itself beautifully on the shores of a fictional English town in Dorset (my buddy tells me that a lot of it was shot close to where he lives in Weymouth). With gorgeously dangerous white cliffs rising up majestically and sharply from the beach town, the series focuses on the energy and drama between police detective DI Alec Hardy, dynamically portrayed by the compelling David Tennant (“Doctor Who“) and the homegrown DS Ellie Miller, most artfully portrayed by the magnificent Olivia Colman (“The Crown“; ‘The Favourite‘). The first moments find ourselves looking over those very imposing cliffs down to the sea in the dark of night, with blood dripping and tension electrifying the night air. Something terrible is about to happen to this person, but we aren’t given much to cling to. It’s not until the morning that the body of local 11-year-old Danny Latimer is discovered, knocking the town to its knees, especially DS Miller who knows the family of the boy. Suspicion and media attention fly about, landing tightly on his grieving father, his family, and various townsfolk. It’s tender, yet sharp, literally within seconds of each other, finding energy in the pairing of the two detectives who don’t actually get along all that well from the get go. DI Hardy isn’t easy to like. He has some pretty heavy out-of-town big city demons that he drags along with him as he makes Broadchurch his new home, colliding forcibly with Colman’s tender portrayal of the very likable local DS Miller who thought, for a brief moment, that Hardy’s job was going to be her’s once she returned back to duty. Sadly that wasn’t going to be the case, but luckily for us, she finds herself working alongside the brittle DI Hardy as they dig down deep into the compellingly difficult case, finding respect and a unique form of engagement that keeps us all tuned in so intently.
The series is sprinkled with fine nuanced performances, particularly within the young Danny’s family. The ensemble cast, including Jodie Whittaker (“Venus“); Andrew Buchan (‘All the Money in the World‘); Charlotte Beaumont (‘Jupiter Ascending‘); as well as Carolyn Pickles as the strong minded newspaper editor, Maggie Radcliffe; Arthur Darvill as the eager Rev. Paul Coates; Adam Wilson as the young determined reporter, Tom Miller; and Matthew Gravelle as the DS’s husband, Joe Miller, find connection and subtlety at every turn, as they wrestle with the death of the young boy, and the fervor that surrounds the town and the investigation. The clear first-season focus is on finding out what happened that fateful dark night, with peering eyes most particularly aimed at Danny’s family; his mother, Beth (Whittaker); his father, Mark (Buchan); and his teenage sister, Chloe (Beaumont). Media attention plays a secondary role, rocking the small village with accusations and twitter releases that send the case off down blind alleys into desperate dead-ends, with the townsfolk veering off into dangerous troubling pathways that don’t do the town proud. It’s tense and spot-on in its structure and alignment, finding grace and engagement in the snappy dialogue and dark twists and turns that are concise and powerful, all with those glorious white cliffs looking down over this smart procedural drama.
The third and final season finds its way back to the central construct, the one crime per season construct, while also never really abandoning the intense family dynamics of the Latimer family as they try to move on from Danny’s first-episode death. It’s heartbreakingly done, while gently and determinately focusing the two detectives’ eyes elsewhere, on the rape of a local woman at a festive grand birthday party. The woman at the center of the sexual attack resonates intensely, finding deep and upsetting energy and engagement within all the dark levels of trauma. Bravely embodied by the award-winning Julie Hesmondhaigh (“Coronation Street”), her portrayal and the writing bring authenticity to the challenging topic of rape and the rape culture that engulf the town. It’s a fitting and devastating end to the series, pulling us most tightly into the leads’ emotional tension with society and one another, as well as the problematic avenues of sexual assault, and the gender divide that polarizes our culture. The details that this last season of “Broadchurch” present, particularly that first episode of the third season, are delicately transcribed, and unflinchingly harrowing as we watch with our heart in our hands as they gather clinical evidence for the rape kit and report. It’s honest, unhurried, and straightforward, while also being completely emotionally connected yet never fetishizing the event in any way. The purity of the recreation is crushingly relevant and disturbing, shining its light on the subject matter with intelligence and a force that is born solely from its brilliantly devised plot and structure. The trilogy finds closure in both realms, the old trauma and the new, entwined and heightened by one another most delicately. The heart lies in its healing, and “Broadchurch” delivers a conclusion to the trilogy that bring honor and a sense of ease that leaves me wanting more and more, but feeling full to the brim.