This spring ITV and BBC1 are both banking on strong comebacks from Broadchurch and Line of Duty – two behemoths of British drama. Standards are high and expectations even higher – let’s check in with them both…
ITV’s Broadchurch was roundly panned for a patchy second series where the writers tried to do two stories at once and did them both badly. The courtroom scenes were embarrassingly poor with very little in the way of reality, or even a coherent story. Strangely a solicitor friend of mine enjoyed it, but maybe she’s not looking for gritty realism after a full day defending people in the dock. Her giving it the benefit of the doubt was extremely generous; she was very much in the minority. Series 2 had terrible ratings and people gave up on it in droves (including Mr H who doesn’t have time for bad tv). It should serve as a warning to all broadcasters eager for a hit – one good series is always better than undermining it with a poor return.
With some trepidation we tuned in for the start of series 3 a few weeks ago and from the off it was different and much, much better. It’s a strong story with the victim front and centre. Julie Hesmondhalgh stars as Trish, a woman who is attacked and raped at a friend’s birthday party. She can’t identify the assailant. The first episode was almost a documentary of the procedure for reporting rape. It was realistic and frightening but ultimately reassuring, showing best practice and proper support from the police. There’s continuation with the elegant addition of Beth Latimer (mother to Danny, the murder victim from series 1) as Trish’s support worker into this new story. I’m not sure about Danny’s grieving father and his quest for a private prosecution – this may be a thread that doesn’t link up. And, as before, the population of Broadchurch are reasonable every-day people who at a second glance all seem sinister with dark secrets to hide. That authentic small-town feel is retained, which was so important and so heartbreaking in Series 1, when it turned out the murderer was someone everyone knew and trusted. The partnership of DI Alec Hardy (be-whiskered David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman, ready and waiting for National Treasure status) continues quite brilliantly, as colleagues and reluctant friends who wind each other up, and get on each other’s nerves but who respect each other deeply.
This series so far is “layered, clever, nuanced and wrong-footing” says Alison Graham at the Radio Times, everything a drama should be. It’s building on the phenomenal and well-deserved success of series 1. So let’s do our best to forget series 2 altogether. Writer Chris Chibnall is soon off to do Doctor Who, so this is the very last we’ll see of Broadchurch. Happily it seems like they’re going out on a high.
Line of Duty is an absolute ratings winner for the BBC since way back in 2012. Strong complicated stories and characters are its hallmark. This solid thoughtful drama was marred for me by the final episode of Series 3 which descended into gun-toting mayhem – deus ex machine gun if you will. It was a hell of a challenge to credulity in a show that’s all about realism. But I was a lone voice in the Twitter desert. Everyone else bloody loved it. Even the most ardent fan might say it’s not exactly well-balanced between the car chases, the gun fights, and the long drawn-out interrogations around the boardroom table. So if the viewers at large want more action I hope it can be delivered in a reasonable way without resorting to cartoonish escapades of newly-crowned action hero DS Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure).
In episode 1 we’re introduced to Operation Trapdoor headed up by DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton, a million miles away from frequently naked android Maeve in Westworld). Her team is investigating abductions and murders of women by a guy in a balaclava. In quick succession a woman is hit by a car and abducted, there’s a man hunt, an explosion, a house fire, and a rescue all before the credits are finished. It’s classic Jed Mercurio style and pretty damn gripping. If it was any other show I’d say it was trying too hard, but as Line of Duty is not set in the action but in the aftermath it does make sense. We see the surface but it’s up to AC12’s anti-corruption officers Arnott, Flemming and Hastings to work out whether the action was legal and fair.
As with DI Lindsay Denton before her (Keeley Hawes’ dodgy cop in series 2 and 3), Roz is a very capable leader. She manages her crime scene well and follows procedure to the letter. She gives the forensic co-ordinator short shrift in a snappy fashion whenever they meet. They don’t seem to get on at all – have they got a history? Tim Ifield has major concerns about the evidence from the crime scene. It’s great to see Jason Watkins being a proper creep, which he does so well. Tim seems to be part Being Human vampire cop and part dutiful Valco manager from Trollied trying his best to do the right thing. Quickly he’s sucking up to AC12’s investigator Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) as Roz isn’t paying attention to what he fears is compromised forensics. Have they fitted up Michael Farmer (played by Scott Reid, an amazing spot from Mr H as he looks quite different wearing nasty false teeth as Methadone Mick in Still Game) because he’s got learning disabilities and a pathetically lazy solicitor? And if so, was it intentional or accidental?
The truth seems pretty inconvenient to Assistant Chief Constable Hilton who just wants results. He and the top brass are worried about public trust and the baying mob on Twitter. Has he pushed his team too far in the pursuit of a quick resolution? Undercover specialist Kate is swiftly planted into a position in Roz’s team to dig up the truth.
There’s a discussion of the subtleties of how forensic evidence is interpreted. It’s never cut and dried. The experts are only working in probabilities, despite what other tv detective shows would have you believe. This series will be about truth, facts and evidence, and while we catch our breath, it’ll be interesting to ponder.
It all gets a bit out of control by the end of episode 1 – again a classic Mercurio tactic. Just when you think all the twists have been twisted and the turns turned he turns the dial again – up to 11. I’ve got high hopes for this series.
It’s a great time to be watching British drama. Long may it continue.
Broadchurch Series 3 continues on ITV on Mondays at 9pm
Line of Duty Series 4 began on Sunday 26 March on BBC1 at 9pm, so the first episode is available on iPlayer to catch up.