Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Broadchurch - Season 3 (Weekly Reviews, Episodes 1-4)


Broadchurch became the name on everybody's lips in 2013 after the first season of ITV's crime drama, starring a terrific cast led by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, debuted to huge rating figures, critical acclaim and a burning passion from audiences, sustained throughout the series initial eight-episode limited run. A second series followed in 2015 but the road was a little more rocky - the numbers stayed high but the acclaim declined - leading some to believe the series should have remained an open-and-close eight episode story. I had a few qualms about the second season, but I'd go as far as to say I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than the first - mainly because of the complex, excellently-executed Sandbrook trial that haunted season one and so marvellously paid-off in season two. A third season, subtitled 'The Final Chapter', is set to close the Chris Chibnall's trilogy, with many hoping the show returns to its former glory as one of, if not the, best crime drama on British television in years.

Every week, I'l be delivering a mini-review for each episode, complete with an grading, hopefully no more than a few of hours after broadcast. Bookmark this page because it will all be unfolding here - see you for the next eight weeks!



Episode 1 (27th Feb 2017)

There is something quite ethereal about Broadchurch: The Final Chapter's debut episode; whether it be the almost lucid way it is shot by director Paul Andrew Williams, the haunting and sensitive thematic material it deals with so expertly or the stunning locations that ensure this is an absolute marvel to look at, it is really rather graceful despite the grimness of the content. Season three begins on incredibly positive footing, acting as a springboard for a brand new case that never feels restrained by previous characters but wonderfully infuses them into the main body of the story. Whereas season two represented two distinct narrative strands only occasionally crossing, the first episode of season three demonstrates a more solid, consistent example of storytelling, intertwining characters old and new in inventive ways that feels like the right step forward. No distractions, no preferences, just class storytelling.

Season three's new case revolving the severe sexual assault of a woman named Trish, (played superbly by Julie Hesmondhalgh - one of many new additions to the cast) investigated by Hardy (Tennant) and Miller (Colman) that spikes concerns in being the first rape in the area by an apparently unknown assailant in Miller's lengthy career. It goes without saying that Tennant and Colman continue to portray the excellent dynamic of the once mis-matched pairing with absolute ease, striking a balance between between the dark, serious side of the story and the downright hilarious interludes of comedy sprinkled throughout; this masterful move, besides excellent casting, is down to showrunner Chris Chibnall's script - despite the promise of a plethora of new, unseen characters into the Broadchurch fold, Chibnall understands the importance and delicacy required of the first harrowing scenes that reveal the rape allegations and skilfully sets the tones for the episode and presumably the series, with the first half of the episode largely involving only Tennant, Colman and Hesmondhalgh. In fact, only a handful of new characters are introduced in its hour slot, usually is a shrouded mystery typical of the series. It is thorough writing and an outstanding demonstration of self-control, particularly compared to the first episode of season two which appeared to throw everything at audiences in the very first hour slot, crafting an intense atmosphere that so richly conveys the seriousness and darkness of the case at hand. It marks a completely different side to the Broadchurch saga than we have ever seen before-  but by god does it work, in its first outing at least.

A step in the right direction, Episode One delivers on the promise of a return to its roots after an admittedly complex second run of episodes (again, please remember that I really loved the second season, much more than many others), with the incredible elements - beautiful locations, superb acting performances and fantastic direction - slotting back into place. Despite a couple of concerns, largely whether an eight episode run can be sustained by this one story (then again, Broadchurch certainly nailed it with season one and we do not know what tricks they have up their sleeves) or whether it can continue to incorporate the prior season's characters without ever seeming forced, there is little here to suggest that season three will be anything less than an utter triumph. With the way things are going (and it is early days), our final return to Broadchurch could very well be the best.

A-




Episode 2 (6th March 2017)

The second episode of Broadchurch's third and final series undertakes a notable shift into the investigative proceedings at a surprisingly quicker pace than expected. Wasting no time in transitioning into the main investigation and introducing some of the shifty suspects at the centre of the sexual assault case, this second chapter reveals more than a handful of new information to the case that gives this second episode a snappy but occasionally jolty pacing and structure.

It's terrific work again from our leading detectives, with a hilariously deadpan Hardy and a snarky side to Miller unearthed after two seasons of being somewhat of a push-around; she really found her confidence after cracking the Sandbrook case and we have that to thank for her new found confidence-come-arrogance, displayed in the opening scene in which she squares off with Leo Humphries (Chris Mason, playing the new suspect). Despite the camaraderie nailed by the pair, this week's episode belongs to two other people - Julie Hesmondhalgh's Trish is unflinching and heartbreaking in the two most memorable scenes from the episode, including the moment she breaks the news to her daughter of her rape, profusely apologising to her, and her anxious disposition at her police interview, in which she is forced to relive the harrowing events of the attack. It's truly marvellous work, anchored by supporting work from Jodie Whittaker's Beth Latimer, who projects a continued vulnerability after her experiences over the previous two seasons. Another stand-out moment from the episode is her meeting with Andrew Buchan's Mark Latimer, in a devastating two-hander that portrays the trauma experienced by couples who lose a child; we are given so few details regarding the eventual break-down of their relationship, beyond the obvious, leaving audiences to fill in the gaps (for the time being, at least). Buchan is absolutely terrific and heart-wrenching in his scenes and I do hope he has even more opportunities to showcase this damaged side to Mark in future episodes. It's a fine example of subtle, touching writing, as is the explanation of where past characters are in their life...

Speaking of the writing on a more general scale though, the script occasionally felt a little heavy-handed this week, particularly following the meticulous and precise work of last week's script, in which the writers so expertly detailed the procedure of collecting evidence of sexual assaults and launching an investigation. It presents a few cliched terms that can be ignored for the time being but won't be as easy to forgive if they persist. And, as we bounce from suspect to suspect - we cover at least four in this episode alone - you do wish the episode strayed from the unfolding conventions a little. That said though, second episodes are always at a disadvantage: second episodes must complete a lot of the heavy-lifting, especially character-wise, as last week's terrific first half-hour was so deeply rooted in the victim and procedure that everything else took a step back, leaving episode two to juggle a lot more. It's a difficult balancing act but it gets away with it. As ever, and this feels like it should be put in a footnote from this episode onwards unless noted otherwise, the handsome locations and scenery are stunning on screen, with a beauty and awe still found eighteen hours into the series.

It's not as solid an hour as last week's determined opener but they admittedly have a lot to get through in this second chapter, mainly establishing suspects and building on the case, so I don't waver in my hope that this will be an equally strong Broadchurch season. I'm beginning to get an inclination as to where this season may wrap up (I don't want to spoil it here, so do contact me if you wish to discuss/predict!) but as long as the remaining six hours are as gorgeously-shot, sensitively told, generally well-written (let's just drop those cliches) and superbly acted as this first quarter, then we're in for some more fine work from Chris Chibnall and co.

B




Episode 3 (13th March)

"It's not narrowing down", Olivia Colman's Ellie Miller tells us mid-way through the third episode of Broadchurch's third season and if that doesn't sum up this chapter three of the eight-part series, I don't know what will. Broadchurch continues to be engaging and absorbing television but it seems to be ambling throughout the early part of the final series without a real clear direction, as if it is constantly on the edge of a huge revelation without ever playing its hands. We know something monumental is coming (and I've already got my theories) but nothing is really coming together this early on all that cohesively.

I cannot speak for everyone here, but my heart is still with the returning Broadchurchers, Julie Hesmondhalgh's Trish aside. This week afforded less screen time to her emotional play-out and more to the increasing number of suspects, building on the foundations of the case without giving us too much to gnaw on narrative-wise; that may work in the long-run, and you cannot complain that these characters aren't being fleshed out and developed, but they are simply not as compelling as those of the first two seasons, and so your heart remains with the Latimers and our two leads. Mark Latimer (Buchan) continues to be the series' greatest revelation; previously Beth Latimer has received the majority of the acclaim, thanks to Jodie Whittaker's tender and heartfelt performance and while she continues to amaze, Andrew Buchan has surprised this series, delivering a similar heartbreaking portrayal with a slight anguish, summarised terrifically during the scene in which he vows to continue fighting for his son and his memory. Aside from this scene, Trish and Beth's pier-side conversation is the stand-out of the episode, with the pair connecting over their misfortunes in a way that continues to reveal more about their characters and the inner strengths they channel in getting through each day - it's one of the most remarkable demonstrations of fragile, broken women discovering their strength even in the darkest of circumstances.

Focusing on the case, the suspect list has expanded as the detectives focus all their energy on documenting the men at the party; I can't help but think this sole focus on the X-chromosome will play some part in the future, but don't ask me how. The script builds on Sebastian Armesto's Clive Lucas particularly and his possible involvement, with a nice development towards the end of the episode with the rest of his family in the picture - but any headway this early on cannot help but feel like a red herring designed only to throw us off the scent. It's an uphill battle for this scriptwriters at this juncture, requiring both mystery and progression to keep us both intrigued and satisfied and while the character building is appreciated, the lack of direction seems to be the most glaring fault; how are you developing this season in its own right, away from the main Broadchurch cast from seasons one and two, while harking back to the likes of the Reverend and Dan the Barrister? It appears to disconnected. It seems that whenever the new case is lacking a little spark, we cut back to those returning to the fold, whose storylines occasionally struggles to connect (Tom Miller's porn addiction feels mishandled and oddly convenient and I'm not convinced Elle's father has much of a place here either). It will all eventually collide, no doubt, and come to a head in a way that like infuses both plot strands more efficiently, but the lead up to that moment so far seems a little messy and directionless.

If I appear to be overly harsh on Broadchurch, it is because I know the heights the series can hit when  everything is working smoothly; until then, I'll keep pushing the show to reach that level during its weaker moments. Despite my criticisms, we have some more beautiful shots (whenever we focus on the ocean, the beach or the cliffs, it never fails to make me gasp in amazement and awe) and David and Olivia - and her scotch egg and brilliantly sarcastic face - continue to impress both dramatically and comedically, powering the script past moments when it begins retread water and narrative ground. The writer's nail the character development and beats but struggle to find a satisfactory balance between these new and old characters, despite such positive signs in episode one. It needs a little more narrative-oomph too but surely that will come when we enter the main bulk of the show. Broadchurch still has time to find a clear direction and I am still enjoying series three, perpetually remaining one of the most compelling dramas on television - but the sooner the show plays its hand, the better.

B



Episode 4 (20th March)

The end of tonight's episode - the fourth of eight - marks the mid-way point of the final season of Broadchurch and it's a step in the right direction; an assured, focused hour of television that develops both narrative and character while actually playing some of its cards at a remarkably early stage. Some really exciting developments and revelations take place, convalescing into a solid episode that rivals some of the best of Broadchurch's first and second season.

Opening with a series of flashbacks to Cath's birthday party, we see Trish retrace her steps of the night with Hardy, Miller and Beth close-by, delivering one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the series, where she lies down on the ground in which she was raped, smells and senses reawakening both buried memories and the trauma of the event. The five-minute long opening excellently recaps what we know about the night in question while teasing new revelations, including the suspect venue-housekeeper and property on the edge of the waterfall-owner. This week's stand-out performance comes from Olivia Colman, with her face-curdling disgust at the sex offender who has moved into town, her elation at discovering Hardy's out-of-hours activities and her heartbreaking and emotion regarding Trish's recollection of 'wet leaves'; she's constantly brilliant but it may be some of her best, and most diverse, work in episode four. Katie Harford has developed more of a role this week and its great to see her talent given the ground to shine and Andrew Buchan is continuing to impress me.

We see a couple of beats that feel predictable here, with the uncovering of Joe Miller's address and Mark's refuelled lust for revenge clear from the very first episode, with the mysterious light described at the beginning of the episode appearing very obvious to me (although only time will tell with that one). That said, this is by far the most assured and promising episode since the premiere, and while we still have far too many characters ambling in the frame - and I've given up trying to remember their names - a more solid picture of the series as a whole is finally beginning to emerge. We get answers and more questions, the biggest progression we have felt in three weeks, with a number of new suspects emerging and once-suspects disappearing from our focus somewhat, a way for the screenwriters to keep us on our toes. We see some returning faces if only for a drop-in and it's nice to catch-up with them, despite the script still having no idea with what to do with Rory The Vicar (oops, wrong show). It's a stunning, stunning episode - possibly the prettiest of the season so far - with some wonderful sweeping shots and pops of colour, enhanced by terrific work from the director and cinematographer, although the score appears to have faded from significance slightly.

Broadchurch gets back on track with the fourth episode, with a marked confidence allowing the show to propel forward with a more confident, balanced hour that juggles both character and narrative, answers and questions really efficiently. As standard, the performances are excellent, the beauty of the piece excels and the script is mainly sharp, albeit floundering a little around a couple of characters, who presumably must have more of an impact further into the series. It sets up a plethora of interesting paths to follow, including Mark's determination to track down Joe Miller, a second victim coming forward and suggesting somewhat of a serial perpetrator, and a change in dynamic regarding Miller's possible opinions of Trish, after offering her unconditional support. Finally the series is juggling numerous elements really effectively and is beginning to feel like more like a sum of its parts.

A-

Episode 5 coming in a new post next week...

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