Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

“Broadchurch” and Religion

After running to great popularity in Britain, the BBC series Broadchurch is now showing on BBC-America. It’s a brilliant if sometimes grueling series. Distantly reminiscent of HBO’s The Wire, it focuses on various institutions in the resort town of Broadchurch—including the police, the press, and, in a welcome addition, the church.

The story focuses on the murder of an eleven-year-old boy, Danny Latimer. Two months after the shocking crime, the police have still not found the culprit. They throw their net wide, and bring under suspicion a number of persons in succession. One man who is wrongly accused  becomes a town scapegoat, suffering cruel harassment. In last week’s episode this man, Jack Marshall, committed suicide.

The town gathers for Jack’s funeral. Parish priest Paul preaches that the town let Jack down. “We let him be smeared and intimidated. We weren’t there when he needed us. So, today, in celebrating Jack, we also have to admit that some of us failed him. Just as we failed Danny Latimer. The second commandment tells us, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ In this, the darkest of times, we have to be better. If we are not a community of neighbors, then we are nothing.”

In an earlier episode, Danny’s mother Beth sought the priest’s counsel. Why would God let her son suffer and die so horribly? The priest offers no glib or easy answers. In fact, he professes that he has no answers. The best he can do is listen—and perhaps that is the best he should do. In any event, the murdered boy’s parents come to appreciate the priest and his presence. Originally planning only a memorial service for Danny, they change their minds and decide for a full funeral—and ask Father Paul to preside.

I should add that the priest, like so many others in the town, becomes a suspect in Danny’s death. I don’t know how the series will unfold, but I hope Father Paul doesn’t turn out to be the killer. If—heaven forbid—he does, that in itself will offer grist for the theological mill.

In the meantime, Paul is a defender of faith. In a testy exchange with a detective, he declares, “You have no concept of faith, do you? . . . Look, you can accuse me . . ., belittle who I was in the past. But you do not get to belittle my faith just because you have none. People need hope now and they are certainly not getting it from you.”

In a time when faith is, generally, totally absent as a theme in film and television, Broadchurch presents a welcome exception. If you haven’t already, check it out.


  1. Yes, the best clerical fidei defensor since Father Ted.

    Clergy don’t feature, but keep an eye out for two further recent outstanding short UK series: Southcliffe (about the lead-up to and fallout from a shooting in a nothing-ever-happens-here English town, as seen through the eyes of the journalist, a hometown boy, covering the story) and What Remains (about the unfolding disclosure of the sinister secrets of the residents in a block of flats after the discovery of a decomposing woman’s body in the attic).

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