(This blog contains minor spoilers for Series 3 of Broadchurch)
I watched the final episode of Broadchurch last night. The three series have been compelling, with strongly-written mysteries and, mostly, interesting characters (the third series could have lost Mark and Beth Latimer without any significant change to the plot). Some of the most interesting and best-written of these characters were the three I’m going to talk about in this blog – Broadchurch‘s three teenage girls, Daisy, Chloe, and Leah.
Outside of YA novels, teenage girls often get terrible representation; we’ve all seen them portrayed as shallow, giggly, and stroppy, more likely to roll their eyes or scream “It’s not fair!” than be given any kind of character depth. Broadchurch could easily have fallen into this trap, and made its three significant teen girl characters stick to the stereotypes. Instead, though, it gave us three strongly-written individuals with the same kind of nuance as the rest of Broadchurch‘s cast.
Leah Winterman, whose mother Trish is brutally raped in an attack that forms the central plot of series 3, is shown as supportive and mature, being there for her mother during her darkest moments and mediating between her bickering parents even while she herself is still hurting from their separation. Even so, Leah isn’t written as ‘wise beyond her years’, but instead like many of the teenage girls I know – caring, kind, and strong even when vulnerable.
These traits are also apparent in Chloe Latimer. Still adjusting to life after the death of her brother Danny at the beginning of series 1, Chloe demonstrates an incredible level of unselfishness and empathy. Like Leah, she supports parents going through trauma, and does her best to hold her family together; she also steps up for others, helping Daisy Hardy in her time of need. Chloe’s strength doesn’t stop her from showing vulnerability; instead, her wavers and dips are a part of her strength, showing how she’s affected by the terrible things she’s suffered and how, nonetheless, she keeps on going.
Daisy initially seems closer to the mainstream media teen girl stereotype; her interactions with her father, DI Hardy, often seem antagonistic and petty. As series 3 goes on, however, we learn that Daisy isn’t being stroppy just for stroppiness’ sake; instead, she’s awkward, unhappy, and going through some traumatic experiences of her own – in this case, dealing with the aftermath of having private photos stolen and shared by boys at her school. The series not only refuses to victim-blame Daisy, placing responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the thieves themselves – it also shows her reaction as realistic, understandable, and sympathetic. If I could make a change to the series, I would have shown Daisy choosing to stay in Broadchurch for herself, instead of being made to stay by her father; however, the fact that Daisy isn’t demonised for any of the choices she makes is refreshing.
The teen girls in Broadchurch are given a freedom to be individuals, and a nuanced range of portrayals, that we don’t normally see in mainstream TV. On top of this, they’re set up alongside a cast of well-written and believable women; brave and cowardly, kind and cruel, funny and dour, the women and girls in the series are very different and very real. Broadchurch‘s girls and women sidestep the trap of the Strong Female Character, and instead show us women and girls as people, as flawed and individual as the series’ boys and men.