Broadchurch Series 1 Episode 1 (ITV) Review

Coming from Torchwood and Doctor Who alum Chris Chibnall, the first episode of ITV’s heavily promoted Broadchurch gets off to a good, though flawed, start. The British channel have appeared hugely proud of this show, placing it at the forefront in recent ad campaigns, so the question was, first and foremost, could it live up the hype?

After seeing this first episode, we can see that the series is a solid and slick example of the well-worn small town crime drama, with its main asset being its stellar cast. Like with many shows that feature more than one well-known actor, Broadchurch is a bit of a who’s who of UK talent to start with; every supporting character portrayed by a recognisable and respected face. At the front there’s David Tennant and Olivia Colman, of course, but then there’s also Arthur Darvill, Jodie Whittaker, David Bradley, Vicky McClure, Pauline Quirk and many more.

But what of the story they’re playing out together? Well, it’s not a particularly cheery show, since we’re dealing with the mystery of a murdered child. With BBC3’s Mayday also showing on British screens this week, you couldn’t be blamed for announcing a mini-trend, but the vital difference here is that we know the child is dead from the start. A pleasing amount of information is revealed to us in this first hour, as we know by the end that the boy was strangled by large, male hands, and then arranged to appear as if he’d fallen from a cliff.

Colman plays a female cop passed over for promotion in favour of Tennant’s gruff and unkempt out-of-towner. This is a screaming cliché that almost derails the whole thing but, thankfully, the contrived circumstances for this arrival are made up for in other areas. The two of them are tasked with solving the crime, a personal matter for her because of her son’s close friendship with the victim, and Colman has to cry a lot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the female half of a police duo automatically being the irrational, emotional one, but then there’s the simple fact that Colman’s talent lets her get away with so much.

Whittaker is the boy’s grieving mother who hadn’t noticed his absence for half a day, and she is joined by a suspicious looking husband and distraught daughter with a secret, illicit boyfriend. Everyone in Broadchurch was made to look guilty in this episode, and the scene is certainly set for a juicy whodunit. The village is a character in itself, with a long, introductory tracking shot of the father’s walk to work establishing how tight-knit and friendly the area is. As Tennant’s detective says later, the village has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, and the residents’ reaction to the horrific incident is thus magnified ten-fold.

We do briefly leave the violated cosiness of the village to visit some ruthless journalists, and it’s clear that Broadchurch’s most interesting observation might be about the media’s often ghastly reaction to tragedy. This instantly offsets the slightly icky connotations of us enjoying a story about child murder, and we must then look on at the ruthless parasites and judge them. The trouble is, at least one of these characters is meant to be sympathetic, as his ambition to join a national newspaper overrides his moral compass when given the chance to tweet an exclusive. Another is tempted by said tweet, and both are now in Broadchurch.

Crucially, the tantalising clues and ominous parting shots that we’re left with as Broadchurch fades to black are more than enough to get viewers on side, and it’s refreshing to see a well-made and mildly challenging show like this pop up on a channel that is usually filled with endless talent competitions and lacklustre soaps. People will be tuning in for Tennant and Colman, of course, but the story is definitely strong enough to keep them coming back.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.