From Broadchurch to Coronation Street, let’s not confuse art with life

Whatever happened to the willing suspension of disbelief?

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The Independent Online

Previously on Broadchurch. A nation watches with rapt attention a murder mystery set in a sleepy Dorset town. The series is acclaimed as a masterpiece of British television, as good as anything the Scandis could dream up. It wins a slew of awards (including a hat-trick of Baftas) and tourists flock to the newly-glamorised Dorset seaside.

We then join the action in the second series. Viewers are abandoning the series in their millions in the wake of much criticism about the programme's inconsistencies, factual errors and lack of realism. The cast is largely the same, the picturesque, haunting scenery is as captivating as ever, but, within a Hollywood minute, a soaring example of home-grown drama has become a turkey.

Since when did a fictional drama series have to be a documentary? Sure, there are factual mistakes in this series - the courtroom drama which is the backdrop to the action has played fast and loose with legal process - and there are times when the programme demands quite a serious suspension of disbelief, like when one of the central characters, having that day given birth at home, turns up at court carrying what seems to be a six-month old child.

I am fully aware that it is a feature of the British media, and indeed the British psyche, to turn on that which they previously loved, but I find the relish with which Broadchurch, once venerated, is now excoriated rather baffling. It is still one of the most beautifully shot, most powerfully acted domestic dramas for many years. David Tennant and Olivia Colman portray multi-layered characters with outstanding skill and, yes, realism, while the photography is breathtaking - this week, there was a long shot of people on a hillside that was a superb realisation of what Thomas Hardy meant when he described a figure in the Wessex countryside looking like "a fly on a billiard table".

It all seems pretty realistic to me - the first series of Broadchurch was criticised for its lack of ethnic diversity, but those who know this part of the English countryside will confirm that the human landscape is irredeemably Anglo-Saxon. In any case, I think we are slightly losing the plot, if you like, when it comes to confusing art with real life. For instance, I found it rather hard to make out yesterday whether people were talking about Deirdre Barlow, the character from Coronation Street, or Anne Kirkbride, the actor who played her and who died at the age of 60.

Clearly, when someone who has been playing the same character for more than 40 years, we can be excused for confusing the two, but in some of the encomia of Anne Kirkbride, it appeared that the qualities of Deirdre, her strength of character, her fortitude in adversity, her human weaknesses and her sharp humour, were morphed to be indistinguishable from those of Ms Kirkbride.

It was only reading the obituaries when the real Anne Kirkbride emerged: the gravelly voice that was the result of a lifetime chain-smoking, the compulsion to clean and scrub (even the lavatories at the Granada studios), the diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 39 and the long battle with depression. How's that for realism?  

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