There are no finer TV actors working today than David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Co-stars on the recent, phenomenal Broadchurch, the pair have taken very different but no less accomplished paths towards this watershed moment argues Mark Lawson, in a lengthy and praiseworthy treatise of their individual talents as actors in The Guardian.
For Tennant, there was the unenviable risk of over-exposure. With Just 71 hours between the climax of Broadchurch and the start of The Politician’s Husband, the actor risked the exposing any limitations he might have been hiding.
Instead, the moment proved revelatory:
The copper in Broadchurch explores the brooding, tragic notes that made Tennant a great stage Hamlet in a performance also thankfully preserved on film, while the thwarted minister in The Politician’s Husband is positioned somewhere lighter – skittish, darkly comic, closer to the tone of his Doctor Who.
What connects the characters is that they have public and private selves – Hardy and Hoynes both have to give press conferences or interviews while dying inside – and these are often the best parts to play on screen because of the tension in the character between what is being said and what is being felt.
This tension was writ large in the one of television most exploratory weapons in its arsenal; the close-up:
Such inner conflict also leads naturally to devastating moments of repose when the protagonists are later alone and we see in burning, churning closeup what they are thinking. In that sense, the silent closeup is the TV equivalent of the Shakesperean soliloquy.
But if Tennant is notable for the ability to move between tragedy and comedy, then his Broadchurch co-star matches him in such adaptability. Although what’s remarkable about Colman (who you should recognise from many shows, not least The Eleventh Hour) was never marked, out of drama school in her early performances, to be the powerful screen tragedian she has become.
It’s this inaction, the ability to transmit complex emotions in nothing more than a look and a gesture that marks the pair out as greats in their field:
The finest television actors – Guinness, John Thaw, Ronnie Barker, and more recently Benedict Cumberbatch (in Sherlock and Parade’s End) – have all had this ability to transmit inner life through expression: to speak a page through a variation of their face. And I think we can now add to that list Tennant and his Broadchurch co-star, Olivia Colman.