Tuesday, 28 March 2017

TV Review: A slow but stunning Broadchurch favours atmosphere over plot

Contains spoilers.

This episode of Broadchurch felt slow. Moments seemed to last longer than they needed, the cinematography felt more subdued and quiet, not that much narrative ground was covered. By the time the hour was up, I almost felt tired by it all, as if the episode had pulled me into a deep slumber and its events had unfolded in a dream.

Here's the weird thing: it felt intentional. The slow, ground level zooms through a silent corn field. The quiet nature of the episode, no big events unfolding or being revealed until the last act. This Broadchurch combined its pacing and its visuals to form an atmosphere, to craft something different amid its ongoing investigation. That, or I just didn't get enough sleep last night.

Take the episode's opening sequence, for instance, which continues almost immediately from where episode four left us. Laura Benson is being interviewed about her sexual assault from two years ago, coming forward now for the first time, motivated by the news of Trish's rape. It's a beautifully performed scene from all involved, particularly Kelly Gough, but the episode's consistent close ups and slow repeated cut ins turn it into something more. It isn't just an investigation or an interview, it's a woman bearing her soul and talking about a scarring experience. The scene lasts several minutes, drawing closer and closer to Laura's face with every cut. It's harrowing, but hypnotically so.

Other scenes this week take a similar approach, even if they don't display the emotional fragility of this episode's opening moments. Trish and Cathy's conversation about the former sleeping with the latter's husband seems to last longer than necessary, while the escalation of its words starts with two friends and ends with two people who merely know each other, as Cathy says. Hardy and Miller's interview of Aaron Mayford also follows this trend, it's a long sequence consisting of nothing more than escalating dialogue and close ups, and it essentially reveals nothing new.

Maybe eight episodes is just too much for Broadchurch to work with, and so the show feels the need to drag its most important scenes on for longer than intended in order to give the impression of a consistent plot. Cathy and Ed's conversation about whether or not she's attractive is irrelevant to the plot, and therefore isn't granted the same slow burn treatment. The same can be said for Mark Latimer's talk with Maggie Radcliffe, as well as the brief sequence in the Lucas household.

I can only have faith that Broadchurch knows where it's going with all of this. There's an awful lot of stuff being thrown around and we have suspects here, there and everywhere but not that much focus on moving things forward. Last week gave us a handful of answers, but episode five simply picks up the pieces without really saying anything about them. It's as visually stunning as always, and the episode's cold, slow atmosphere is certainly welcome, but that narrative ball needs to keep rolling or the series will slip into unstable territory once again.


  • Katie Harford wanting to perform the arrest on Aaron Mayford makes a lot of sense, and Georgina Campbell acts the hell out of that scene. Between her side glances over to Ellie and her subtle smugness about the whole scenario, it's her strongest moment of the series to date.
  • This whole Mark Latimer plot just isn't working. It makes logical sense that he'd want to track down Joe Miller, but the timing isn't right. Every time we cut to him and his plan, the already slow episode grinds to a halt. Would he really abandon his family for this right now? When all of this is happening to the community that supported him through the whole ordeal?
  • On a related note, parking your van on which your name is displayed in bold letters directly outside the work place of the man who killed your child isn't very subtle is it? Come on, Mark. You're better than this.
  • Alec's daughter and her little reveal this week also seems odd. I feel like thematically it will end up connecting with the series - especially if my biggest theory does end up coming true - but right now, like the Mark plot, it feels jarring and inconsistent.
  • Do I need to mention in every review just how great David Tennant and Olivia Colman are? Do you mind if I do?
  • David Tennant and Olivia Colman are great. So so great.

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