This smart, beautifully acted British crime drama, which premiered in the U.S. yesterday, is a tear-jerker.
An 11-year-old boy is murdered, in a picturesque English seaside town, and we see the effects of this tragedy begin to ripple through the community. Meanwhile DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman — Tyrannosaur; Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour) returns from leave to find a promised promotion has been yanked out from under her. “Her” job was given to Scottish DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant — well known to my fellow nerds as the Tenth Doctor, but without the cute hair and quirky charm). Hardy comes with a dodgy history that is not yet explained — something went very wrong with his last big case.
Ellie — openly warmhearted and already well integrated into this close knit little community — is a foil for outsider Alec, who is taciturn, acerbic, and just outright rude. He is not without compassion, though. It isn’t reflected in his words, but we see it in his eyes. He seems to be a clever, focused, very driven man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and cares not one wit for niceties.
Sadly, this crime hits too close to home for Ellie. The victim, Danny, was her son’s best friend. Watching her reaction to learning the identity of the victim is heart wrenching. Seeing the effect on Danny’s parents, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan), is — needless to say — even more devastating.
I’m a big fan of mysteries and detective stories, on both page and screen, and at first glance, I felt I was looking at a character and premise I’d seen many times. A small community riveted by a senseless tragedy. A tough, ornery detective who seems to be recovering from some sort of dodgy incident in which — possibly — he didn’t play by the rules. I briefly wondered whether this series was going to show us anything new.
However, I quickly decided I was watching something different. First, I was riveted by the outstanding performances. I knew Olivia Colman was brilliant after seeing her in Tyrannosaur, but she still impressed me. I’ve always loved David Tennant (who doesn’t love David Tennant?), but I hadn’t known how gifted he is until now. He portrays a character who, thus far, has expressed very little with words. (He considers a harsh “Go away!” to be an adequate response to an interpersonal problem), yet his eyes convey volumes.
Secondly, instead of focusing tightly on the mystery, the show lingers on the interconnections among the characters and the effects of the tragedy on the community. It accomplishes this without losing the forward momentum of the mystery. Already, in the introductory episode, we can see this community is full of secrets, and some of them will cause tremendous pain.
On that note …
(Warning, Mildy Spoilerish!)
this series has concluded in the UK, and today while surfing the internet, I accidentally stumbled upon the identity of the killer. I didn’t mean to spoil the whodunnit for myself, but it can’t be unseen. To make matters worse, it’s a character I’m already predisposed to like … a lot. Excuse me while I go stand in a corner and cry.
(End of Mildly Spoilerish Remark)
Other faces to look out for (for Fans of Harry Potter and Doctor Who) — because that’s how we Americans become acquainted with many of our British actors 😉
David Bradley (Harry Potter, Another Year (I’m a big fan of Mike Leigh’s films), Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Game of Thrones) as store owner Jack Marshall
Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who) as clergyman Paul Coates