Warning: this review contains spoilers.
Emerging mercifully intact from under the geological pressure of its own success, the first hour of Broadchurch series two was a work of expert manipulation. Chris Chibnall’s script orchestrated the audience response with a conductor’s precision, sweeping down his baton before each ad break, cueing a collective gasp or note of creeping suspicion. The end result? We’re all hooked of course. As was ITV’s plan.
The first episode was more a mathematical achievement than anything else. Its geometric design neatly re-erected Broadchurch’s major playing pieces, unpacked a box of newcomers and strung up lines of enquiry between them all leading off into the horizon.
The hour reminded us – a little too forcefully and too often perhaps – that nobody’s innocent and everybody’s hiding things. Not least Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle), who sprang a surprise Not Guilty plea on both his counsel and the frayed remnants of the town still reeling from the child murder he confessed to at the end of series one.
Yes, like Danny Latimer’s body, the corpse of series one was dug up to be investigated anew. As well as retconning things so we’re now to believe that DI Hardy (David Tennant) was harbouring a secret Welshwoman throughout the first run (has he stashed any potential series three characters in another idyllic country cottage do we think?) we’re being asked to consider whether or not Joe Miller is really Danny’s killer after all. Or at least, whether or not the evidence exists to convict him.
Bearing the brunt of her husband’s plea is DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), who proved once again an unmatchable presence on screen. Colman spits out dialogue so naturally it feels as if it’s never even touched a page. Somehow, alchemically, she finds humour in the bleakest sentiments, and nothing Ellie says feels anything but real. There’s such joy to be had in her reunion with Tennant’s irascible, eternally irritated Hardy that I could happily watch nothing but those two slamming car doors and sniping at each other for the next seven weeks.
But needs must have a plot, I suppose, and this one’s a doozy. As the town limbers up for a painful trial picking over the discrepancies in Joe Miller’s prosecution, fresh intrigue enters with the return of Hardy’s last bungled case. The suspect in the Sandbrook Murders is back on the scene and in prime position either to fall into Hardy’s expertly laid trap, or to terrorise him, wife-in-hiding Claire (Eve Myles), and now Ellie, whom Hardy has let in on his Welshwoman secret – presumably hoping they’ll bond over the parallels in their situations as the wives of suspected child killers.
Speaking of parallels, in the few months since we last saw him, Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) has retraced Joe Miller’s steps by befriending young Tom Miller and meeting up with him in secret. One of many questions we’re prompted to ask is whether the friendship is just the act of a grieving father, or something more sinister? Knowing Mark as we do, every sign points towards the former, but the point is that Broadchurch doesn’t want us to rest easy in any of our knowledge. Everybody’s hiding things, remember.
One such is QC Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling), a retired local who reluctantly enters on her white steed as the Latimer family’s defender. Another is defence QC Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who’s looking for a win in the Bishop vs. Knight chess game to make up for an earlier, as-yet undisclosed, past deed. We can forgive Broadchurch the cliché of pulling the old pro out of retirement for one last case to express gratitude for it bringing Rampling back to UK TV (and for the host of great women roles series two promises, for that matter).
Setting all that up in just fifty minutes while giving the performances room to breathe took some doing, so perhaps it’s little wonder that the episode lacked the tenderness that stood series one apart from TV’s glut of murder mysteries. Hopefully Broadchurch‘s human insights won’t be eclipsed by incident in the coming weeks.
It takes either supreme confidence or clumsy stupidity to pick at a thread that – as Joe’s Not Guilty plea does – threatens to unweave your great success. Which is it? Well, as this carefully plotted hour of drama showed, Broadchurch’s creators are no fools, nor are they careless. It looks as though TV crime fans are in for another serious treat.