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6 January 2015

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.

By Caroline Crampton

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.

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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.

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