Season 2 was something of a disappointment in the muddled way it portrayed Britain’s legal system and tried to blend Joe Miller’s trial with the Sandbrook case in Alec Hardy’s case. This was the polar opposite: taut, focused and emotionally charged. Writer Chris Chibnall has very sensibly chosen to return viewers to the Wessex coast for a new storyline that requires no active knowledge of past seasons, a storyline which shocks and engages right from the off.
Two things particularly impress about Chibnall’s approach. The first is leaving words unspoken and scenes unseen. In an age where so much poor TV is sunk by flat, over-earnest dialogue or gratuitous violence, the decision to open with tight, unfussy camerawork framing the bloodied, tear-stained face of Trish Winterman (an outstanding Julie Hesmondhalgh) in the aftermath of a sexual assault speaks volumes.
She is not a statistic or a case-of-the-week. She is the focus, the camera tells us. Chibnall and director Paul Andrew Williams keep us with Trish every step of the way for the first fourteen harrowing minutes, from meeting support workers to police investigation, from the sweet (“we do the mouth swab first – basically so you can have a cup of tea”) to the heart-breaking (that Trish’s first question to the police is “do you believe me?” is both awful and so, so important).
The second point in this episode’s favour is the extent to which it has been so painstakingly researched. It’s common knowledge that Chibnall spent a year talking to Dorset police, particularly those specialising in sexual assault cases, as well as collaborating with advisers, support workers, and charities, many of whom were on set to guide actors through the right decisions.
That he went to such lengths to ensure the story told is accurate – and for making sure a TV representation of such events does right by any real-life victims – is what makes the show stand out. There is not an ounce of glamour or sensationalism to this, not anywhere, and rightfully so. It is painful and sensitive simply to write a review of Broadchurch, let alone the process of making it, let alone the terrible real-life traumas which have informed the storytelling: that all involved have taken so serious and mature an approach is to their credit.