As someone who was very content with a portable black and white television until I was thirty-two (well, the news is the same in any colour), I never thought that I would someday find myself reviewing a television programme. However, one recent series had me captured for all eight of its weekly episodes; not just because it was a slow burning ‘whodunit’ type of mystery story, but even more so because of the magnifying glass it held over the emotions of a small community deeply affected by the death of one of its children. I refer, of course, to Broadchurch.
The writer of Broadchurch, Chris Chibnall (who has also written several episodes of Dr Who), has stated that he never intended it to be a murder-mystery suspense story, but had wanted to look closely at how the murder of a child has the capacity to stir up the whole spectrum of human emotions within a close-knit community. Well, my own take on the situation is that he managed the feat of pulling off both aspects with considerable acclaim.
Repeating the plot here is superfluous for anyone who saw the series, and I have no intention of spoiling it for anyone who did not and may wish to find out what they have been missing by other means. What I will comment on is how the story started with the anguish of a child’s death, and went on to evoke scenes of grief, numbness, shock, bewilderment, panic, anxiety, suspicion, envy, passion, anger, depression, doubt, compassion, betrayal, resentment, hatred, ambivalence, confusion, indecision, trust, mistrust, rage, bitterness, pity and forgiveness. The whole gamut of human emotions was entwined throughout the plot, as they weaved their way from character to character like the threads of an invisible spider, until everyone was captured within its sticky web of sentiment and sensation. The 19th century English novelist Thomas Hardy would have been proud. Set against the backdrop of his native Dorset, Broadchurch was a 21st century mix of all the human passions stirred up by Hardy’s books such as Jude the Obscure and the Woodlanders.
However, for all of that, the one emotion standing out from all of the others was, for me, the ability for anguish to turn to forgiveness. We saw several examples when individual characters, once thrown upon the helter-skelter of distress, spun for a while in uncontrolled frenzy, only to be rescued by the soft landing of an overwhelming sense of forgiveness. Even the anger of the dead boy’s father turned to pity when finally confronted with the confused, emotional wreck that was the person responsible for the death of his son.
Forgiveness is a layered reaction and is given in degrees. In essence, ‘to forgive’ is to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offence or mistake. It is not synonymous with a state of unconditional love and trust; such feelings are entirely different. Forgiveness is more a state of neutrality and acceptance. As the 20th century psychiatrist, Thomas Szasz wrote, ‘The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget’. Broadchurch held a mirror up to us all, and in so doing, reminded us that it is best to be wise.
First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, 2 May 2013
© Copyright Robert M Jaggs-Fowler 2013