Roush Review: ‘Broadchurch’ Continues to Set a High Bar for Mysteries

Olivia Colman and David Tennant in Broadchurch
BBC America
Colman and Tennant in Broadchurch

It’s a rare crime drama that makes you want to weep not only for the victims but with the survivors.

Broadchurch, back in top form in its third and final season, works on so many levels. It’s a classic mystery, with writer Chris Chibnall introducing a surplus of deeply flawed suspects, each more convincingly culpable than the last. As a study of a prickly partnership, it’s hard to imagine one more entertaining than that of the explosively cranky outsider, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant), once again teamed with the more empathetic local, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), nagging at each other’s faults as they work toward a shocking truth. And at its best, this is an emotionally grueling psychological thriller that delves deep into the lingering effects of crime as it ripples through a community.

Five years after the murder of a young boy shattered this seaside town, Broadchurch is again wracked with gossip and suspicion when Trish (the elfin Julie Hesmondhalgh), a 49-year-old shopworker, is brutally sexually assaulted on the lush grounds of a country estate during a drunken birthday revelry. A pattern soon emerges in the complex investigation, but the focus stays tight on Trish’s trauma and painfully slow recovery. Though hardly a saint, she can’t help wondering, “Why did he choose me?” The answer, when it comes, is chilling.

Counseling Trish is Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker), the mother of the murdered boy, whose family still hasn’t healed from that tragedy. The most affecting parts of this terrific season deal with the estrangement of Beth from haunted husband Mark (Andrew Buchan), still seeking justice against the acquitted killer in hopes of attaining peace of mind.

The new case exposes a sordid subculture of casually shared pornography on mobile phones, with more than one character declaring “It was just sex” when their nasty secrets are revealed. Exasperated by the web of lies they must unravel, Hardy barks, “You know what’s bothering me about this case? It makes me ashamed to be a man.”

Broadchurch sets a high bar for the British mystery, sustaining its mournful suspense over eight hours without ever lapsing into cheap sensation or shock. I’ll miss this place.

Broadchurch, Season Premiere, Wednesday, June 28, 10/9c, BBC America