When plans for Gracepoint, the American remake of the much loved UK series Broadchurch were announced in 2013, it was clear that the series was always going to have a difficult task ahead to prove itself as a valid project. Even the addition of original leading man David Tennant to the cast in essentially the same role did little to quieten the voices of consternation, raised even before a single frame of the new version had been shot. There were inevitably going to be comparisons. Promoting the show to an American audience, who more than likely hadn’t seen the original was one thing, but viewers of both shows have found it is difficult to be objective. This seems to have been the case in presenting the series back to audiences in the UK.
However, on its own, Gracepoint is a perfectly serviceable drama. The ten-part series follows the hunt for the killer of a twelve-year old boy in a sleepy Californian town, as two mismatched cops have to join forces to solve the crime before the community disintegrates under the pressures of the investigation and press scrutiny. The plot is certainly powerful enough. Viewers worldwide were gripped by the unravelling mystery of the first series of Broadchurch, and it has intrigued French TV executives enough to prompt them to commission their own remake, Malaterra. As with the original there is a rich cast of characters set in a believable, everyday community. This is the sort of tragedy that could hit any neighbourhood. What sets Gracepoint apart from other murder series is the focus on that community, giving the impact of the crime on the family and their wider circle as much attention as the solving of the mystery itself. The ripples of the event touch those close to the family and those who barely knew them and time is given to all, from the boy’s family, to the traders whose livelihood relies upon a healthy tourist industry, to the lead detective’s daughter, whose visit to spend some quality time with her father is disrupted by the demands of the case.
The two lead investigators, Emmett Carver and Ellie Miller, played by David Tennant and Anna Gunn, represent opposing views of the town of Gracepoint, its population and the terrible event that has struck it. Outsider Carver is suspicious of all and believes that anyone could have committed the crime. His colleague Ellie is born and bred in the town and takes her role as its protector very seriously, to the point of defending it from Carver’s accusations. Their journeys to appreciate the viewpoint of the other is a central core of the drama. The series also shows how stress and suspicion can bring out the worst in people as, through fear and ignorance, the ‘usual suspects’ come, one by one, under the spotlight: the mentally disturbed drifter, the perceived paedophile, the adulterous father, the creepy vicar, the young drug dealer. In the end, Carver is right – the big reveal shows that the killer could have been anyone – but the circumstances of the crime (not the same as in Broadchurch) are so shocking and surprising that he almost misses his culprit altogether.
Gracepoint reaps the benefit of a strong ensemble cast with some powerful performances. David Tennant has always been a fearless actor, ready to turn his hand to anything, so it’s fascinating to watch his take on Carver and how he creates such a different character that is distinct from Alec Hardy, the British counterpart. Anna Gunn’s Ellie makes the journey from downbeat doormat to lioness, growing stronger and more in control as the town around her falls apart. Virginia Kull’s performance as pregnant, bereaved mother Beth Solano is utterly heartrending, as is her regret over the life she never got to live and her fear that she cannot be trusted to bring a new life into this world. Veteran star Nick Nolte, though almost incomprehensible at times as sea dog and wildlife expert Jack, is spot on perfect when it counts as the character’s life is torn to shreds. The confrontation between Jack and the men of the town is also one where Michael Peña as Mark Solano truly comes into his own. Kevin Rankin as Paul Coates and Jacki Weaver as Susan Wright both up the creepy stakes – there’s something quite disturbing when either of these characters is on screen.
The pace of Gracepoint can at times be frustratingly slow, certainly early on when there’s a lot of visits here and there to check clues and, of course, to establish characters. It also has to be said that episode one is almost shot for shot identical to Broadchurch and the déjà vu carries on for several episodes plotwise. However, once the twists and turns and cliffhangers begin and characters are put into jeopardy, the excitement levels grow and the momentum remains right until the end of the series. The final episode is as gripping and shocking as any crime drama could hope to offer. Even the final shot, which arguably left the show open for a second series (Fox have now confirmed that this will not happen) actually has quite a pleasing quality to it. It is up to the viewer now to decide the consequence of that final twist.
So, in short, should British audiences bother with Gracepoint? The answer is yes, whether as a fan of David Tennant or Anna Gunn, or of crime dramas in general, there is plenty to enjoy in this series. Even for Broadchurch fans there’s several new plot twists and new and expanded characters, and, of course, that different ending. Plus it’s thought-provoking, as with a play, to see a different actor’s interpretation of a familiar character. Gracepoint was an interesting experiment that was sadly written off too quickly by too many people as second class or unnecessary. Fortunately many who have taken a look for themselves have happily discovered otherwise.
Gracepoint will be released as a 3-disc DVD set on Monday 8th June.
Preorder your copy here
When Danny, a young boy, is found dead on the beach of a small resort town it throws the community into turmoil. Soon deemed a homicide, the case is taken up by a new-hire Detective Emmett Carver (David Tennant, Broadchurch) taking a job promised to Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad).
Danny’s parents Mark and Beth Solano are distraught as, from the father to the local priest, friends and acquaintances, all become suspect. Now the two detectives must learn to work together, drawing on their strengths against the odds and within a town that wants to keep its secrets to itself.
A powerhouse supporting cast including Nick Nolte (A Walk in the Woods), Michael Peña (End of Watch), Virginia Kull (Boardwalk Empire) and Kevin Rankin (Breaking Bad) contributes to a drama that draws on and echoes the TV phenomenon Broadchurch, but the path of which leads to an altogether different and more devastating conclusion.
- The Making of Gracepoint
- Who Dunnit?
- The Art of Visual Effects
- Picture Gallery