At a recent screening for ITV Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall assured journalists that he had always envisioned his crime drama to be a trilogy. What utter poppycock. The first was a massive critical and ratings success, which spawned the second and the third was commissioned because viewers still love Olivia Colman and David Tennant.
I don’t need to spend time going over old ground, my feelings on the mediocre and completely unnecessary second series are well documented. Even though those feelings are still roar it has been almost two years since we last spent any time with DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). The majority of the success of both series can be placed at the feet of those characters and particularly at the wonderful chemistry between Tennant and Colman. Broadchurch is at its best when the focus is on them. It’s when the script veers off to cover Broadchurch residents that the cracks begin to show and my interest begins to wain.
Chibnall’s decision not to have his dynamic duo investigating another murder is a smart one. However compelling it was first time round, the idea of another body laying lifeless on that gorgeous but deadly beach would be hard to swallow. For this final installment Hardy and Miller are called in to help a woman who is sexually assaulted.
Another thing to applaud about the opening episode is the fact that it gets to point immediately. Chibnall wastes no time introducing us to the victim: Trish Winterman. When we first meet her she sits dumbstruck obviously in deep shock. We hear Colman’s Ellie Miller before we see her offering Trish words of comfort. It’s a very understated and quiet way to begin the third series but it’s all the more gripping for it. The opening moments that see Miller and Hardy taking Trish through all the initial checks they need to do to preserve any DNA of her attacker are compelling, clearly well researched and intense. The second series (sorry I’m aware I’m breaking my own rule here) saw our police pairing running around Broadchurch like headless chickens so it is refreshing to see them behaving like policemen and carrying out procedure. Chibnall and his team have clearly researched the procedure and every detail of these opening scenes feels authentic. Julie Hesmondhalgh does a steller job with Trish. She is an ordinary woman, a victim and someone you instantly empathize with. She interacts with Miller and Hardy through a series of little nods and the occasional comment, but her memories of her attack are hazy and she’s visibly shaken. We’re also quickly reminded why we love Colman’s Ellie Miller as she delicately guides Trish through the process with the promise of nice cups of tea throughout.
As compelling as the opening moments are, they are quickly ruined by the inclusion of some familiar Broadchurch regulars. My little heart sank when the focus shifted onto the sulllen face of Mark Latimer. I appreciate they still live in Broadchurch but part of me wishes that Chibnall would stop trying to force boring Mark Latimer and wife Beth on us all the time. He told their story in the first series, embellished on it in the second and I don’t need to know more about them now! Chibnall has a love for these characters that I don’t believe is shared by the viewers.
When we meet boring Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) again he has written a book with the equally boring Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) who runs the local newspaper. The book, which Mark regrets even agreeing to,charts his grief after loosing son Danny. Mark was never a particularly well drawn character in the first series and try as he might Andrew Buchan has very little to work with here. In the time between the two series Mark and his wife Beth have split and Beth has decided to channel her loss into something positive. In the gap between the series she has found the time to qualify as a ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor). A cynic (here I am folks) may call that a neat way of shoehorning Jodie Whittaker into the main plot of the series.
When the action shifts back to Hardy and Miller actually trying to find Trishs’s attacker it ticks along nicely. We’re slowly introduced to some of the new characters. There’s Cath Atwood (Sarah Parish) Trish’s best friend who works with her at a local farm shop. The pair discover that Trish’s attack occurred at Cath’s Birthday party. Then there’s Cath’s husband Jim (Mark Bazeley) who has ‘suspect’ written all over him throughout this first installment. There’s also Ed Burnett (Lenny Henry) Trish’s abrupt boss who is a man more tolerated than liked. We know other familiar names like Charlie Higson and Jim Howick are set to make an appearance as the series progresses.
It’s a peculiar thing to say but I struggled with a ‘whodunit’ of this kind. It’s strange isn’t it? We’re used to seeing horrific things in crime dramas and I’m perfectly accepting of them. It doesn’t matter how gruesome the murder or murder scene I’m not phased. But somehow the idea of spending an entire series to discover who raped a woman seems different and bit more of an uncomfortable watch. That being said, the subject matter is handled sensitively and Julie Hesmondhalgh is utterly captivating in a very tricky role.
So is my faith in Broadchurch restored? It’s difficult to say to be honest. There were elements of this I really enjoyed. Hardy and Miller’s argument in the car when Hardy discovers Miller has gone against protocol and given Trish her mobile number. Miller’s reaction when she’s called to her son’s school. “I won’t have you being your father’s son” was a nice nod to what had come before. I’m intrigued by the introduction of Georgina Campbell as a feisty new PC who has joined Miller and Hardy’s team.
What I wasn’t so enamored with was the clunky inclusion of Mark and Beth Latimer, dodgy performances from Lenny Henry and Mark Bazeley and some quite bad pieces of dialogue. To be fair, the majority of the episode is quite well paced and if the focus remains on Tennant, Colman and
Hesmondhalgh I’ll be happy. If it strays into ridiculousness of the second series I’ll have to part company with it.
It’s far too early to say if this series represents a return to form. I don’t personally believe this story will grip as much as the first did, having said that it’s far more compelling and interesting than any strand within the second installment. One thing’s for sure: Julie Hesmondhalgh has a BAFTA in her future and it’ll be her performance that we remember about this series.
Broadchurch Continues Monday at 9.00pm on ITV.