Four British series that outshine “Broadchurch”

Broadchurch Tennant and Whittaker

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Two episodes down and we at borg seem to be the only viewers utterly underwhelmed by BBC America’s hotly-anticipated new import, Broadchurch.  Lured in by trailers featuring some of our genre favorites, including Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block), David Tennant, and Arthur Darvill (both, Doctor Who), we eagerly cleared our schedule and tuned in, expecting the sort of dazzling drama that series like The Hour and Life on Mars have led us to expect from BBC.  We won’t tell you what happened next (it makes reviewer Elizabeth C. Bunce seem soulless), and we won’t waste the bandwidth trying to shout over the accolades.  Instead we’re putting our energy into giving other disappointed viewers what they really wanted from the eight-part series.  Unfortunately for many American viewers, several of these shows have not yet made it to Region 1 (U.S.) DVD, but they are well worth tracking down.

If you tuned in to see…

Whittaker in Marchlands

Jodie Whittaker as a grieving mum, try Marchlands (reviewed earlier this year here at

The luminous Jodie Whittaker gives a haunting, nuanced performance as a young mother trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her daughter, while stifled by life at her in-laws’ home and the judgement of local villagers.  Also starring Denis Lawson (Bleak House, Star Wars) and Doctor Who’s own River Song, Alex Kingston (Arrow), Marchlands is a complex look at the lingering resonance of one family’s tragedy.  Plus there are ghosts, which in’s opinion is always a bonus.  (And if you love Marchlands then you’ll want to see the follow-on series Lightfields we also reviewed here).

Morrissey and Tennant in Viva Blackpool

David Tennant investigating a murder in an idyllic seaside village, check out Viva Blackpool (just Blackpool in the UK)

Ok, stay with us a minute.  Yes, it’s zany, bordering on the absurd, but just try to turn away from this almost indescribably weird yet somehow brilliant musical from 2004.  A pre-Tenth Doctor David Tennant co-stars as a relentless big-city cop brought in to solve the beating death of a teenager, who then falls into an affair with the lead suspect’s wife.  All while lipsynching classic pop tunes like Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler.”  Viva Blackpool coincidentally also stars one of the leads of our next pick, the astonishingly versatile David Morrissey, as well as Law & Order: UK newcomer Georgia Taylor.  (If, however, you actually did want to see David Tennant in a frustratingly maudlin performance, then we recommend his last episode of Doctor Who, “The End of Time.”)

Morrissey State of Play

The influence of the media in a murder investigation, watch State of Play

This masterful 2003 miniseries (not the watered-down American big-screen adaptation) follows investigative reporters (John Simm, Life on Mars and Kelly MacDonald, Brave) as they uncover the truth behind two seemingly unrelated murders—and the growing political and personal scandals at the heart of both stories. It may well be the best newspaper story brought to film since All the President’s Men, and also features stellar performances from Bill Nighy (everything), David Morrissey, Polly Walker (Warehouse 13, Rome), James McAvoy (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), Philip Glenister (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes), and Marc Warren (Doctor Who).

Case Histories Isaacs and Abbington

A gloomy but gripping crime drama featuring tortured investigators, we recommend Case Histories

Starring another favorite, Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter franchise, Awake), as well as Mr. Selfridge’s Amanda Abbington (who could be the doppelganger of Olivia Coleman from Broadchurch), this Edinburgh mystery series was adapted for the screen by Ashes to Ashes writer Ashley Pharoah.  Follow former-cop-turned-PI Jackson Brodie as he drags himself through one depressing case after another, while struggling to keep his head above water and maintain a relationship with his soon-to-be-estranged family.  It all sounds terribly dismal, but it’s not without its levity, and the plotlines are twisty and fascinating.  Good news for Isaacs fans: a second season aired this spring, and if life is fair, it will be picked up by either BBC America or PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery (which aired the original season from 2011).

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