Broadchurch was a hugely popular crime drama when the first series was broadcast in 2013. The first series focussed on the murder of an 11 year old boy from a tight-knit community in a fictional town in Dorset. No character was free from suspicion and the series progressed with the community growing further apart due to grief and a lack of trust. The whodunnit proved to be a surprise hit for ITV and spurned a lot of cultural tourism to the Jurassic Coast and West Country locations used in the programme.
I was a little late to the first series. Initially, I didn’t watch due to the hype surrounding the programme. I thought that as when many programmes become suddenly popular and hyped up that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations and quality that people have raved about. Other reasons for missing most of the series included simply missing it due to other commitments. Eventually I caved in following the finale due the high praise regarding the series’ resolution of the whodunnit and the acting. Unfortunately, by this time I could only watch the last two episodes so I found out the killer was Joe Miller, the father of murdered boy’s best friend and watched in awe at Olivia Colman’s brilliant reaction to this news as Ellie Miller, the wife of the murderer.
Having been impressed by the two episodes that I had managed to see, I set time aside every Monday evening this year as series 2 of Broadchurch was broadcast (from January to February). However, whilst I was on the whole enjoying this series, many fans of the first were disappointed by its sequel and took to the internet to complain about absolutely anything they could! This week, Chris Chibnall the writer of Broadchurch has responded to some of these complaints.
The main complaint was about the court scenes. Whilst the first series was all about the mystery and speculation of a murder, the second series took an unusual turn as it slightly changed genre from murder mystery to courtroom drama. However, there was still an element of murder mystery to the series as Hardy and Miller returned to Hardy’s previous case from Sandbrook concerning cousins; one missing and one killed.
I thought the shift to a court setting for the second series was a brilliant idea. The non-guilty plea at the beginning of the series was a shock move which saw the rest of the series half focussed on Joe Miller’s case and half on the Sandbrook mystery. I suppose some fans may have viewed this series as pointless because Joe Miller had confessed to the murder at the end of series one and therefore, the trial would ultimately just confirm what we already knew. For me, I think it was the right move by the writers to revisit the case through a trial despite the audience already knowing the murderer’s guilt and the circumstances. Having known someone who was murdered (her killer being the only suspect and guilty), I found the first episode in which Joe Miller pleads not guilty very emotional as the situation I knew was similar; a guilty suspect pleading non-guilty and subjecting the pain of a trial onto family and friends. It was an ambitious move by the writers to have the court case follow the original murder mystery as most crime dramas focus on solving the crime and don’t explore the aftermath of trials, appeals and life post-crime.
The court scenes came under criticism from fans of the first series for apparently not being realistic enough and for flouting legal conventions. The criticism came not only from fans but also from lawyers. When asked about the complaints, Jodie Whittaker, the actress who plays Beth Latimer i.e. the mother of the victim, replied that it was a fictional drama and not a documentary so “artistic license” should be considered when watching it. I think that the court scenes should have some basis of reality so as to represent the legal profession in a credible manner but understand the nature of drama needing to embelish or change some factors to suit its narrative.
Similarly, Chris Chibnall has defended the court scenes in his article on the Guardian website. As expected, Chibnall as a writer researched legalities, court proceedings and typical scenarios before settling on the narrative. A good writer always researches! Additionally, Chibnall states that he had a team of legal advisers including police, practising and experienced lawyers who guided him through the process of a trial and what would be likely cases for prosecution and defence. This team were continually consulted throughout the process. Therefore, in their opinions, the court scenes were credible.
Personally, I know that some legal aspects may have been changed or exaggerated for the sake of drama and this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the series at all. For me, Broadchurch is very character driven and any flouting of legal proceedings was done to highlight the emotional impact and physical pain of the trial on the Latimer family and local community. I connected with the emotional material offered to us by the brilliant actors as their characters’ were tested by the trial and this emotion totally overrode any concerns I had about the validity of the case.
The only disappointment of the series for me was the non-guilty verdict of the trial as I don’t think Joe Miller would have been acquitted in reality. However, this did give the opportunity for the community to come together against him and banishing him to Sheffield so as not to ruin their lives further. I liked the Sandbrook case although I found Eve Myles fairly unconvincing at times. The Sandbrook case was a good counternarrative to the court case giving me mini-heart attacks at every advertising break (just how many cliffhangers can Chibnall manage?!) and it was neatly wrapped up in the final episode as it emerged that both girls were killed and Claire, Lee and Ricky were all culpable through a tangled web of deception.
I think many of the complaints about the second series of Broadchurch were down to the unexpected success of the first series and the expectation placed on the sequel. Sequels are always very hard to get right. I enjoyed the second series. Having said that, I may be disappointed like the current fans at series three. As the credits rolled following the finale, it was announced that Broadchurch would have a third and final series to complete the trilogy. This was hinted at as we did not see Hardy actually get in his taxi or give the destination of where he was moving on to. The second series worked as it was a continuation of the first series’ case and resolved the Sandbrook case which was apparently mentioned throughout the first series too. With both these cases now resolved I am unsure of what narrative the third series can follow.