The Vagenda

Broadchurch and the fallacy of the stay-at-home dad


In the small town of Broadchurch lies a deep, dark secret. And no, it’s not that everyone looks way too middle class to be plumbers. Don’t be distracted by the artsy silhouette shots fellow feminists! Whilst Broadchurch may present progressive female characters, they all, much like Colman’s West Country accent, eventually disappear.

Just in case you’ve missed the hype (where have you been bro?) Broadchurch is this new show (obv) about a kid who gets murdered and we don’t know why or by whom so we spend 40 minutes of each episode looking at pretty scenery of the town and 10 minutes thinking it’s the dog, or maybe the baby, or maybe both. It is in many ways a great piece of British drama. It overpowers my prejudice towards ITV and allows me to listen to Tennant say muhrrr duhrrrr at least 5 times an episode. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the characters, despite the fact the all seem to be either a pedophile, possibly a pedophile or related to a pedophile, are all well written and powerfully acted. One of the best parts of Broadchurch is the character Ellie Miller, and not just because she’s played by Olivia Colman. Miller is a unique portrayal of a working mum on contemporary television. Yet whilst the show gives a great female character, the entire plot seems to mock us, the audience, for even considering the possibility of a successful independent mother. ‘A stay at home dad? Pffff. Men aren’t fulfilled by feeding babies yogurt and going to skate parks. Put a man in that position and he’ll probably resort to grooming a child, secretly develop a relationship of rampant hug sessions and then kill him in a violent rage. Yeah, best stick to the old ways eh?’

As with all television shows, my fem-senses perk up, and my brain can’t seem let me just mindlessly imbibe the various cliff panoramas *curses brain*. At every turn, the show endeavors to undermine Ellie Miller. In the first episode, she loses her promotion to DI Alec Hardy, played by a moody David ‘Don’t Trust Anyone’ Tennant. ‘A Man?!’ she says ‘this area needs a female DI – what happened to I’ve got your back?’. The acknowledgement of her struggle only really seems to reinforce how they were probably right not to put her as the DI as she does do a lot of crying (because she’s a woman, obviously). Luckily, Colman does a fantastic job of turning what seems to be a weepy, Carrie Mathison-esque role, into a touching and funny character.

Unfortunately, this progressive female character only lasts for about 8 minutes. The show seems so intent on emphasising the fact that it is literally ONLY because Miller’s husband, Joe, had nothing to do that he turned to grooming Danny, the boy who is murdered in the first episode. Notably, his reasons for doing so are as follows: ‘I wanted something that was mine. Ellie has her job, Tom [their kid] does his own thing’. You can just imagine him running through the past time possibilities – ‘cycling?…nah. Embroidery? …too fiddly…grooming a boy? …cheaper than a gym membership…’

It’s not only Joe Miller who can’t maintain a non-conventional male character. Danny’s father is adulterous, whilst DI Hardy literally has a defective heart. Most of the men seem to be cold, unfaithful, or…er…a pedophile and the women, unsurprisingly, are almost all mothers. Although the show gives quite a good opportunity for female actors, the plot is just another example of a failed attempt at progressive depictions of female characters.

It’s just frustrating to see a successful television show make some attempt at inverting gender boundaries, only to undo it right at the end. From the beginning, I was deeply hoping that they’d just leave the stay-at-home dad character be. Don’t make him the killer. And certainly don’t make him the killer because he’s so fatally unfulfilled with his life. Sigh. Well I guess there’s always next series.


10 thoughts on “Broadchurch and the fallacy of the stay-at-home dad

  1. Pedophiles come in all shapes and sizes. I’m not really sure how making the stay-at-home dad the pedophile translates as a comment about ALL stay-at-home dads. Like men will watch it and go ‘oh shit, I better not be a stay-at-home dad because I will become a pedophile’. Wut…

  2. Jesus who wrote this article because it is utter bullshit. There are plenty of good/strong female characters (the two journalists and the mother of Danny). Additionally not all women are mothers (both journalists). Also why doesn’t this article mention that the majority of men in the show are fathers – suddenly it’s only relevant if women have kids but not men? ALL the main male characters had children. The show does absolutely not emphasis that Joe groomed Danny because ‘he had nothing else to do’. I try to support feminism but frankly whoever wrote this article has become jaded by the whole concept, looking for sexism in every nook and cranny when there is none.

  3. I would call myself a feminist but it’s reading articles like this that I understand why so many women wouldn’t want to associate with feminism. The whole article seems to be looking for reasons to be offended, but the part that got me the most was the part about Ellie Miller’s crying. Of course she cried. Of course Hardy didn’t; he’s the outsider with experience – it was Ellie’s first murder case, the son of her best friend! I really don’t think those tears make her pathetic, and it’s not a case of an anti-feminist portrayal of a woman. It was simply realistic.

  4. I only just read this article because I hadn’t finished watching Broadchurch (and though I’m about to defend its position, the title of the article itself was enough for me to suspect Joe halfway through and was a spoiler itself). I completely agree – a female officer is passed over for a male superior, only for it to turn out that actually he is better at the job anyway and she didn’t realise who the killer was because she seemed like she wasn’t cut out to be a detective. Fair enough, they were going for the Susan Wright ‘how did you not know..’ angle, but why do we end up with a bunch of female characters who are naive, foolish victims to the actions of men? I would have LOVED it if Ellie had solved the case, I thought it was going to twist to that at the end – even better because it was Joe and she was SO GOOD AT HER JOB that she would have figured it out and confronted it. The plot line insults men as much as women too – stealing, lying, cheating on their wives, hitting their kids, being paedophiles and former sex offenders. Oh and alcoholics.
    It’s such a shame to have to cut down the whole working-mum stay-at-home dad thing for the benefit of making us all shocked and weepy instead (bawling, I was, because Colman is awesome)

  5. As the author, I’m sorry some of you felt that I was ‘over-analysing’ the programme. For me, I felt like it challenged the idea of a strong female figure, and I thought this was a funny take on it. I think anyone who would get ‘turned-off’ feminism because of flaws in our popular culture should probably try and reassess their ideas, because even if you disagree with someone’s feminist interpretation – it probably shouldn’t turn you off a great and empowering movement.


  6. I also feel that Ellie Miller’s crying was justified and realistic. Not only was she personally close with the victim, she thought her own child might be in danger. Furthermore, from what I remember there are at LEAST 4 scenes of men crying within this programme, Danny’s dad, Millers husband, the dad’s friend, and at one point I thought Hardy was crying also. Why is that ignored?

  7. Very late to the discussion but…I thought this was hilarious. The cinematography, the “who done it?” (baby, dog, etc.). The Indian judge is what I usually view as the token black judge in American cinema. All the strong women. All the weak men. But mostly the cinematography. Beautiful once, twice, well, maybe six times a show but EVERY scene! It’s like rolling around in a bag of caramel corn. Sounds like a great idea at first but after a while becomes overwhelming. And heart surgery – everyone knows that Dr. Who has two hearts!