‘Broadchurch’ offers chilling summer entertainment

This publicity image released by BBC America shows Jodie Whittaker as Beth Latimer, right, and Andrew Buchan as Mark Latimer from the series
This publicity image released by BBC America shows Jodie Whittaker as Beth Latimer, right, and Andrew Buchan as Mark Latimer from the series "Broadchurch."

These may be the long, limpid days of summer, but this week original TV programming remains vibrant. That will inevitably wane in the new few weeks as networks break from unveiling new shows before the start of the fall TV season in September. But at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, BBC America debuts a compelling new murder mystery, Broadchurch.

Set in a seaside community, this drama written by Chris Chibnall (Law & Order: UK, Torchwood) succeeds in creating a strong sense of place, a raft of suspects and the chilling grief that attends the murder of a child.

The premiere episode begins with Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) standing over a cliff before the scene moves to his home where his mother, Beth (Jodie Whittaker), wakes up late.

Beth’s husband, Mark (Andrew Buchan), and daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont), haven’t seen 11-year-old Danny that morning, which isn’t unusual. He delivers the morning newspaper and is routinely awake and out the door before the rest of the family.

So the Latimers begin their day as usual with Broadchurch following Mark for an extended period as he walks along the town’s main street. He greets Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman, The Iron Lady, Twenty Twelve) and her husband, Joe (Matthew Gravelle), on Ellie’s first day back to work after maternity leave, and then Mark stops in assorted shops before getting picked up by his plumbing company co-worker. It’s a fantastic introduction to the Broadchurch environs and several characters that will play important roles in the series.

Beth has no inkling that Danny is missing until she goes to his school’s field day only to learn he never arrived at school. Then she starts to worry and eventually finds herself on the town beach where Danny’s body is being secured by Ellie Miller and Detective Inspector Alex Hardy (David Tennant, Doctor Who), a newcomer to Broadchurch.

Not only is Beth grief-stricken, but so is Ellie. Her son was Danny’s best friend in a tight-knit community where crimes of this nature simply do not happen. A crowd gathers behind police tape at the beach and director James Strong (Downton Abbey, Doctor Who) allows the camera to linger on some faces in the crowd just long enough that viewers will scratch their heads and wonder, could she have done it? The choice to focus on these characters was intentional and Broadchurch eventually returns to better establish who these people are, what they do in the town and how they may be related to the murder victim and his family.

While Broadchurch is primarily a murder mystery, it also builds in stories about its characters. Ellie loses an expected promotion when she returns from maternity leave as the job goes to Hardy, whose reputation was tarnished by a scandal on a prior case.

Ellie’s nephew, Olly (Jonathan Bailey), works for the local newspaper but dreams of moving on to a larger media outlet. His tweet about the murder draws the attention of London reporter Karen White (Vicky McClure), who might be able to help Olly reach the next rung on his career ladder.

One of the themes that looms over Broadchurch is the notion of good versus evil and a willingness to see the ugly in the world.

’’I live here, we don’t have these kinds of problems,” Ellie says, defending the uprightness of Broadchurch.

’’Anybody’s capable of murder given the circumstances,” Hardy says, siding with the notion that man is inherently selfish and evil.

’’Most people have a moral compass,” Ellie challenges.

’’Compasses break,” Hardy shoots back.