The second season of Chris Chibnall’s Dorset set hit ITV drama starts pretty much where the first left off, with the town in shock after the arrest of Joe Miller (Gravelle) for the murder of Danny Latimer.
There are two story strands: the murder trial and D.I. Hardy’s (Tennant) continued investigation of the Sandbrook case which brought him to Broadchurch in the first series.
Season Two is more exciting than the first series, with more twists and turns in events, perhaps even too many. But, despite the court room drama element and the move Somewhere Up North to cover the previous investigation, the series keeps faithful to the focus, treatment and approach of the first season.
This is Broadchurch’s surprisingly hi-concept appeal: it’s a crime drama that, like The Killing, reaches for a universality of sorts, in this case celebrating the sense of community that characterizes parochial Little Englands all over the country.
Broadchurch is helped to this goal by the picturesque Dorset setting and the resonances with a melancholic, Hardy-esque sense of the environment and the way it impacts individuals. Broadchurch is a community – and a world-view – of victims rather than evil perps, of lived experiences that are of a different quality to the law that judges them. It is also a comfortable community full of ´squeezed´ middle-class characters.
Broadchurch is smart, well written and filmed with a sort of moody gravitas that is unusual for UK tv. One of the best, most fully developed ideas is to focus not on the ´outsider cop´ (Tennant) but on the local cop, Ellie (Colman). Hardy has the maverick ideas, Ellie becomes the credible hate figure for her community, especially when she moves from investigating the murder to investigating her husband as murderer. Her ethical dilemmas are well brought to life by the serious side of Olivia Colman’s acting (though her off-beat comic timing in exasperated outbursts at Tennant especially is much more joyful to watch).
Broadchurch explores an environment. The environment is social and natural: there are many ‘figure in a landscape’ shots that emphasise the connections between and the shared preoccupations of the characters. But the environment is also thematic, rendered explicit in the storyline resonances that shoot through both seasons, for example: spousal guilt, underage sex, non-sexual libidinal attachments between generations.
These resonances emphasise the similarities between people rather than their differences, enabling, even in the midst of a divisive murder investigation, the ideological construction of a community identity. Of course, as those challenging examples make clear, this is a community obsessed with sexuality and the denial of its less clear-cut actings out, tending less towards Daily Mail mad barking, more to Guardian contorted optimism: it is coincidence not evil deviance that kills; the crime is the cover up, as the socio-economic human animal seeks to protect what it still has.
Concerning the acting: Tennant is fun to watch, especially during his short Malcolm Tucker style outbursts; but it’s the female actors who score for nuance and credibility and character interaction, especially Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker. Andrew Buchan is very watchable and it’s good to hear a West Country drawl in serious drama; although his down-at-heel good looks may bring on fits of cute aggression.
Broadchurch is full of resonances. These resonances are visual and script-based; they are also both ethical and aesthetic. These visual and narrative resonances act as a mood enhancer for both series – they give Broadchurch its signature gravitas, its UKIP meets Terrence Malick atmosphere.
Broadchurch celebrates a slightly weird notion of community, understood as something greater and stranger than the sum of its parts. Let’s hope it continues to do so in the third season now being made.
Review by Colin Dibben
Broadchurch Season Two is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 March. You can also buy a box set of both Season One and Season Two on DVD and Blu-ray. Buy from Amazon