David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy and Olivia Coleman as DS Ellie Miller in Broadchurch. Photo: ITV
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It’s a miracle: the new Broadchurch avoided all the usual pitfalls of a sequel

It looks like the second series of ITV’s popular thriller is going to be far more interesting than we can usually expect from such a highly-anticipated follow-up.

Please note: spoilers for series one and two of Broadchurch

When I heard that there was going to be a second series of Broadchurch, my heart sank. Part of what made the first series of Chris Chibnall’s Dorset-based thriller such a success was its sense of containment – physically, in the form of the titular town’s isolated coastal location, and psychologically as its inhabitants found themselves trapped by their own history and connections. It was only after the horror had been revealed that the town could be linked with the rest of the world again, a reconnection that was given powerful visual representation in a final scene where a string of coastal beacons were lit in memory of the town’s murdered child. There wasn’t a sense of closure exactly, but a certain feeling of resolution. It was the end of a chapter.

Of course, it makes complete sense that ITV would want more episodes of the drama that made many viewers (including me) reappraise it as a potential purveyor of quality drama for the first time in about a decade. This is, after all, the channel that has kept commissioning Julian Fellowes to make episodes of Downton Abbey long after the characters, plot or dialogue ceased to make any sense whatsoever. But Broadchurch? A second series, and presumably a second major murder investigation in the same small town, would surely immediately peg the programme as “Midsomer Murders-on-Sea”, and destroy any possibility of recapturing the gripping tension that had been so successfully created in the first instalment.

Thankfully, Chibnall and his team seem, so far, to have resisted the easy options and avoided the glaring traps. The first episode of the second series, aired last night, moved us on in time but did not abandon the characters and plot we are familiar with. We rejoined the Latimer familiar and their neighbours at the pre-trial hearing of the man they (and we) believe murdered their son Danny. The grief is still raw and many characters seem still unsure of the full story that we, as viewers, were privy to.

The passing of time was slipped in everywhere. We saw Olivia Coleman’s character tell her therapist that she no longer fantasised about beating her husband (who we saw only in prison or in the dock) to death with a hammer quite as much. A romance seems to have developed between Arthur Darvill’s right-on vicar and the Australian hotel proprietor. The pregnancy that Danny’s mother discovered during the investigation is now nearly full term.

Not everything was quite so smoothly constructed, it’s true. The police don’t exhume bodies in broad daylight or in such a way that the family can march up and see it happening. It’s not particularly probable that a police officer could run an off-the-books witness protection programme for someone connected with a highly-publicised and controversial case without being discovered. But who wants probability from a thriller? Crucially, with this first episode, we’ve been reassured that Broadchurch isn’t about to become the Dorset branch of the CSI franchise – a repetitive procedural with a new corpse washing up on the beach every week. This town still has secrets to reveal.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit