This is not a review of Gracepoint. Are you thinking about watching Gracepoint? Don’t. Watch Broadchurch. It is like Gracepoint, but good. In fact, it is exactly like Gracepoint, but good.
This is a breakdown of how the two are different, and what it says that the exact same people made the exact same show for two different audiences, whom they clearly saw in two very different ways.
Let’s go over that one again: this is a BREAKDOWN. I literally compared scripts, and then scenes, shot-by-shot, to write about them.
If you need me to say there are spoilers, congratulations! You are the target audience for Gracepoint.
Once upon a time one year ago, Broadchurch, a British show, with a British cast, became a British critical and popular hit. Naturally, the US wanted a go, (don’t we always) and one year later we received the Gracepoint premiere. Shows have crossed the pond for remakes this fast before, i.e. Life on Mars or the Lucy Liu-starring take on Sherlock (not technically the same show, but, yeah, it yearned to be deep down in its idea-borrowing little soul), but generally, they try to make them seem a little different.
Gracepoint is the single most direct translation of a show ever attempted. It has the same plot, save for the final episode (the whodunit must remain a mystery, after all…though I would bet my lunch I can guess what change they made and why). It has the same director for the first few episodes, the same writer for the premiere, the same arty cut-aways to water washing onto beaches to break emotional tension, the same overdramatic slow-mo running scenes, and actors doing their very best imitations of their British stand-ins.
That last bit is taken to the extreme with David Tennant, who is literally imitating himself. He walked off the set of Season 2 of Broadchurch, buried his accent in a ditch, and went straight onto Gracepoint Season 1. To his credit, his accent is gone, almost disconcertingly so, but that has to be the single strangest creative choice in television today.
So why did the creative minds behind Broadchurch decide they needed a different version for America, rather than a heavily advertised BBC America airing? Perhaps it was an executive decision. Perhaps Fox is terrified of British accents. We may never know. Stranger, though, is the choice to use the same writer, director, and actor for the remake. The dialogue (and those artsy touches that made it seem intellectual and deep in the original, and hollow and copied in the remake) is virtually identical in many places, and more was cut out than added or changed.
However, whatever else the remake may have done to a show which deserved better, it serves as an excellent statement on how the British and Americans involved in this project see the American people. The tiny changes to characters, the omission of sentences in otherwise word-for-word scenes, the changes in inflection by Tennant, and the subtle differences in the performances of the actors playing the same roles are incredibly telling.
They tell us Americans are ruder, less intelligent, less interested in our fellow man, repressed, and chauvinist. Really, really chauvinist.
There are subtle changes, from the way Tennant’s American detective ‘Emmett’ treats his new partner with contempt and indifference while his British ‘Alec’ is brusque, but still relies on her perspective and counsels her on how to treat the bereaved, to the way Oliva Coleman’s British Ellie lets tears shine in her eyes when she is sad and barely pauses from punching cars with simmering rage to acknowledge a passing co-worker, while Anna Gunn’s Ellie, though styled into an eerily precise replica, sobs and tries to hide her locker-kicking from the equivalent cop.
When Ellie heads onto the beach towards Danny’s body in Broadchurch, Alec goes to stop her, then takes her ID and briefly checks it after she says she’s a cop. In Gracepoint when she says she’s a cop, Emmett, disbelieveing, says ‘Seriously?’ (…and that is the point where I get fired for kicking my new boss in the shin). After Ellie’s cousin Oliver tweets the name of the victim, Emmett and Alec both rage, and both order her from the room, but Oliva’s Ellie calmly takes responsibility for being related to him, for taking steps to restore the family’s trust, and calls him a ‘little shit’. Anna’s Ellie stresses that she didn’t tell him anything, is borderline in tears, and phrases the same ideas in a way that make them panicky promises to fix something she let happen, rather than fixes for a regrettable event loosely connected to her. The result of these subtle shifts is that the relationship between the two leads is greatly redefined, with Emmett becoming cold and detached from her as a partner, and Ellie becoming a weaker liability.
That isn’t to say Ellie is made into a weak, submissive character; she still pushes back on being called by her surname, she is still angry when she is pushed aside for promotion to make way for a man, she still introduces herself to Emmett by telling him he took her job, and she still does her job well. There is a strong female running the local paper, and the out-of-town reporter remains female and determined as well; by, well, American standards, there are quite a few strong females in the cast. It is when viewed in comparison to its predecessor that it becomes clear that the women were watered down to a significant degree.
Additionally there are other changes, to casting and to portrayals, which are telling. When the American Ellie is told about the promotion, it is by a male chief of police, and she references his saying the area ‘needed more women in leadership’, while the British Ellie was told by a female police chief, who was promoting her because it was ‘about time the area had some female DI’s’, and she is aware of the ‘case gone wrong’ seemingly haunting Emmett/Alec’s past, yet chooses not to mention it to him, while her counterpart is apparently not aware of it at all. The British Ellie is returning from 3 weeks pregnancy leave; the American comes back saying she loves vacation, and apparently has no baby to go with the 2 weeks she took off (her younger son is much older).
The British big-city reporter is a classic hard-boiled writer, ordering the man who tells her about the Broadchurch murder to leave her alone, then offering him a gnawed-on muffin as a sarcastic reward. She tells her boss she is going to cover the story, overcomes his resistance, and goes with his support. She uses Oliver to get a cheap hotel room, and almost certainly will use him for information later, knowing he is an ambitious reporter looking to move to a bigger paper, flusters him, and steals Danny’s bear from the beach (for unknown reasons). The American reporter sees the murder on TV, and sneaks off to Gracepoint when her boss overrides her request condescendingly. She treats Oliver neutrally; whether she continues to do so remains to be seen, but his ambition to move up in the world goes unmentioned at all by the show.
Likewise, all the supporting characters in the show have been ‘Americanized’. This is true of the minor characters in general, but of the men in particular; they are less emotional, less characterized, and less affected by the murder.
Oliver’s boss at the local paper appears only briefly in Gracepoint; she primarily functions to be stern and reprimanding in a scene where Oliver is seemingly forced to apologize toEmmett for reporting the victim’s name. In Broadchurch, Oliver is a reporter, commended for showing initiative and taking photographs when the photographer didn’t show. He hesitates to tweet the name of the victim, but is driven by ambition, and sincerely apologizes. His boss is a formidable woman, but she also keeps an unreliable drunkard on as a photographer because people in small towns ‘look out for each other’. She is characterized; she can’t work a cell phone, she is rooting for Oliver to succeed in his applications to other papers, and she sends him to the beach to distract him from his rejection letter.
The grieving husband isn’t a loving, devoted family man with an alibi that turns out to have funky holes in it later; his evasive, I-am-in-the-mob-or-else-cheating-on-you-baby attitude is present from the start, even in front of the cops. He tries to put the blame for not checking on their son back on her when she asks. The family is not a united front; it comes pre-fractured, with discord and strife built in. (This is possibly the most logical assumption about American families the show makes, but then I don’t know enough British families to say for sure that they are any different.)
Likewise, British Ellie’s husband is a stay-at-home dad with a partnership-style relationship with his wife; he knows her well, listens, and asks follow-up questions. He asks if she needs a hug, then offers comfort. He did not tell their son Tommy about the death of his friend because Ellie texted and asked him to hold off on it.The American husband’s job status is unclear; though he is clearly responsible for much of the care-taking, it is Ellie who shows affection for the younger son. He questions her, not in a supportive manner, but for information, and she breaks down immediately, rather than turning to him for comfort later in the conversation. The task of telling Tom is implicitly hers as the mother.
The Broadchurch scene where Ellie tells Tommy it is ok to be upset about the death of a friend is moving; she tells him twice that crying is not something to be embarrassed about, and he tears up then, and continues to do so as he hesitantly, reluctantly destroys the evidence of his conversations with Danny after Ellie leaves. In Gracepoint, he looks saddened, and tears up somewhat, but he asks to be left alone, then immediately stops looking so upset and determinedly deletes the data.
Jack, Tommy’s job supervisor in Broadchurch, and his Wildlife Club teacher in Gracepoint, is clearly being set up to seem suspicious in both series, but in Broadchurch he pauses to reminisce about the boy being brought into the store by his mother as an infant, while in Gracepoint he is all business.
Tennent also participates in this de-emotionalization; Like Oliver, Alec hesitates and shows feeling at several points in the episode; walking towards the scene of the crime he whispers ‘Oh God, no, not again, don’t do this to me again…’ and tells himself to get it together, much as he later tells Ellie. His face shows emotion, and registers understanding as well as firmness when he tells Oliver to stay out of his way, or tells Ellie to get out. At the press conference, his voice waivers.
That the same actor, playing the American version of himself, chose to (or was told to) go with the gruff hollywood stereotype version of the tortured cop with a past is fascinating. He registers no emotion but crankiness, irritability, and occasional rage. The scene where he approaches the corpse is cut, as was much of the interaction between Alec, Ellie, and the bereaved family, and his attitude at the press conference is best described as stoic.
Finally, with the exception of one brief, quickly dismissed discussion, the possibility of suicide never arises again in the American version of the series. Alec pursues the possibility in Broadchurch, asking the family how Danny was feeling and acting, and despite Ellie and the family’s vehement denials continues to treat it as a possibility until it is ruled out by the coroner. In Gracepoint it is ruled out far faster, and questions about the boy himself and his state of mind are barely touched on. In both, Tommy asks if he will need to speak to the cops, and is told yes; in Broadchurch, Ellie asks if he wants to tell her anything about how Danny had been acting and feeling lately, and he says no, but in Gracepoint, she does not ask. This is probably a very sound choice, given how incredibly taboo youth suicide is in the age of internet bullying and the need for things like The Trevor Project, but again it detracts from the emotional tenor of the show as a whole.
Gracepoint is a bizarre creature, of the sort never to be seen again, but it does a fascinating job of painting a portrait of Americans as seen through British eyes. The only logical way to explain the changes made to the dialogue, characters, and acting (other than cutting content for ad time, which is a legitimate point, but will only get you so far when slow-motion running, hysterical sobbing, and lingering shots of the ocean are routinely left in) is to make the characters match the expectations of the typical American audience, so that the show is accessible and understandable.
The fact that the writer, director, and lead actor of Broadchurch, not to mention Fox executives and everyone else involved in the process of exporting and redoing the show, apparently felt that the way to make the characters seem relatable and American was not just to remove their accents or make the town seem more Roanoke than parochial British village, but to weaken the female characters, make them more emotional, remove them from positions of power, make the men less willing to express emotions and ambitions, and generally de-characterize anything that stood still long enough expresses better than anything else I can imagine how little people in general, British, American, what have you, think of the American viewing populace.
And on THAT cheery note, I hereby request that you, the people who bravely soldiered through this whole article, and the TL:DR crowd who scrolled straight to the end, weigh in on the show. Do you agree that Broadchurch is the better show? Do you think I am so unimaginably wrong that you shudder with horror at the very notion? Click the link to make your selections and tell me why in the comments below!
(I promise this link will not send you to Mordor.)
(Unless the internet really, really hates you.)