During one of the opening scenes from last night’s second series premiere of Broadchurch, young journalist Ollie Stevens (Jonathan Bailey) accused David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy of having no reason to still be in the eponymous seaside town.
The same could be said of Showrunner Chris Chibnall. The first series of Broadchurch, which aired in the summer of 2013, became a national talking point and gained an audience average of 8 million per episode. It became the epitome of water cooler TV, with a mystery that wrapped round you like a Boa constrictor and proceeded to crush all the air from your lungs as the tension grew ever more tangible. It was an indelible and incredible show, which would be talked about for years to come.
It was not however, one that was crying out for a second series. By the end of the final episode, the case of Danny Latimer’s murder had been solved and the community that had been engulfed with secrets and suspicion began to try and move on. For all intents and purposes, the story was over. But, this being the age where TV execs abide by the mantra that if less is more, just imagine how much more “more” would be, a sequel to one of the biggest shows in recent memory was inevitable (there are even rumours of a third series being greenlit). So it is back to the Dorset coast that we travel, with great trepidation but also quiet excitement, to see if Chibnall could work his magic once more.
As was apparent by the time we went to the first of the show’s many ad breaks, the only guilty individuals were those (this writer included) who ever doubted Chibnall’s capabilities. Aided by the assured directorial hand of James Strong, we were plunged into a world far removed from the one that greeted us at the start of series 1. Sure the sun still shines and the sea still glistens, but the atmosphere pervading it was one of heartache and loss. The urgency of John Conroy’s camera, juxtaposed with a booming score, built the tension as we reacquainted ourselves with the main characters while they headed to the courtroom for Joe Miller’s sentencing.
The revelation that Joe was to plead “not guilty” and thusly force a trial was perhaps no big surprise by the time it happened, but that didn’t stop it being a shock punch to the gut that left you winded. As ever, much of this is down to the performances, which remain universally excellent. Olivia Coleman once more stole the show as Ellie, her break down during counselling being a moment of muted magnificence likely to leave you in pieces.
Indeed, many of the performances left their mark during the lightening paced hour. Jodie Whittaker did a great job of trying to retain an element of composure, even as Beth’s life continued to spiral ever downwards. Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling brought a delicious aggression to their roles as two warring lawyers about to battle it out in the courtroom. And Tennant once more managed to balance gravitas with the odd giggle, allowing some light to shine through while the clouds grew darker.
It did feel at times like there was an overload of plot. The impending trial augmented with the concept of exploring how such a small and idyllic little town would continue to cope after such an extraordinary event should be enough to sustain the series, meaning that there’s a chance the whole Sandbrook story could cause the whole show to be swept out to sea.
Based on the evidence provided though, it looks as if Broadchurch will be able to stay the course. The fusion of Chibnall’s superbly orchestrated writing and the cast’s universally exceptional performances is enough to keep you hypnotized, even when the odd reservation creeps in to your head. Like Hardy, Chibnall has every reason to still be in Broadchurch, and so do we.