Review: Broadchurch: Season 3 and the elimination of mystery clichés

I just watched the eight-episode third series of the British detective drama Broadchurch and it is excellent, maintaining and even exceeding the standard set by the first two seasons. The third series takes place three years after the second one and features the return of detectives Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) to investigate a new crime of the rape of a woman after a party, but it also weaves in some storylines and characters from the previous seasons.

The Hardy character is even more tightly wound, irascible, misanthropic, and acerbic than before, rebuffing any attempts by Miller to get him to lighten up even to the extent of going for a coffee or getting a snack, only showing his human side with his teenage daughter. It is a credit to Tennant as an actor that he manages to make such a character likable despite the harsh exterior.

The way the show dealt with what rape victims go through was done with great sensitivity and little sensationalism. They spent considerable time on how victims are helped after their ordeal. I am not sure if the way that the police and social services deal with rape everywhere in the UK is done as considerately as shown in the show but if so, the UK seems to be light-years ahead of the US where the victims often encounter skepticism and shaming from the very people assigned to find the criminal.

This show dispenses with many of the standard murder mystery clichés, showing how unnecessary these are in creating suspense or a gripping narrative. There is little wandering around in the dark and into abandoned buildings accompanied by with sinister music where someone may suddenly jump out of the darkness. Events take place pretty much in broad daylight. The focus is on the slow, painstaking work of collecting evidence and putting the squeeze on suspects and witnesses to reveal more. Some tropes are inevitable in mystery series like these, where the culprit is revealed only at the end. In such stories it becomes necessary to spread suspicion over many people during the course of the investigation. This is done by making many people harbor secrets that are embarrassing to them and that cause them to either lie or not tell the investigators everything they know, thus making them act and look as if they may be the guilty party.

There were some interesting minor storylines. The priest of the local church who longs to be of assistance to people in need but finds that the community is largely not religious and sees little need to come to church or seek his counsel was quite poignant. Miller’s father with his outdated views on rape and gender relations and her son who is addicted to internet porn present her with some domestic tension. The long-time editor of the local newspaper finds herself in conflict with the media conglomerate that wants to eliminate the local office and reduce local news and instead fill the paper with fluffy feel-good items. I have noticed a tendency recently to have detective shows spend a lot of time of the personal crises and neuroses of the detectives and I find that distracting. I think this show has the right mix of the personal lives of the detectives with their work, using it to shed some light on their motivations or provide some light relief.

One thing that I noticed in the show is that when any of the suspects are taken in for questioning, they ask for their solicitor to be present but the lawyer never seems to do anything, instead simply sitting by the side of their client and taking notes, not stopping them when they may be incriminating themselves or even confessing, whereas in a US setting they would likely tell their client not to answer most of the questions.

The acting in the series is excellent, especially by the principals Tennant and Colman. I had not seen Tennant in anything before this series but I first noticed Colman in small roles in the sketch comedy series That Mitchell and Webb Look. Now she seems to be everywhere.

Here’s the trailer


  1. Rose Turnbull says

    I agree with your review. This season of Broadchurch was very well written and acted. But how could you neglect to mention the extraordinarily affecting performance of Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays the rape victim Trish?

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