This review contains spoilers.
Now more thrilling fairground ride than compassionate drama, Broadchurch kept the narrative spins and drops coming this week while we all held on tight and tried not to lose our lunch. We’d have been in good company had we done so, because everybody was losing something. The case against Joe lost his confession, Grandma Liz (RIP) lost her part, Hardy lost his Sandbrook witness, and Beth lost her mucus plug as her waters broke all over DS Miller.
‘If in doubt, have a woman go into labour’ is to soap opera what Raymond Chandler’s ‘if in doubt, have a man walk in holding a gun’ is to crime writing, proving what soapy stuff Broadchurch’s second series is. Its dialogue swims in exposition and cliché (on the stand, Beth actually asked “who’s on trial here?”), its drama is filleted by doof-doof-doof cliff-hangers, and its suspense comes right out of the Puffin Book Of Dramatic Irony. (See Reverend Rory lying about his prison visits, or the camera swinging over a row of guilty-looking faces as Beth confidently declared, “None of us have got anything left to hide”.)
None of which, it should be said, makes it any less compelling. The episode’s full-volume dramatic moments did exactly what they were designed to – provide the sugar-hits that keep us hooked.
Did Lee Ashworth kill the Sandbrook girls? Who was at the other end of Bishop’s tense phone call? Will Hardy and Miller’s legal snafus exonerate Joe? They might not be as pressing as the question of who killed Danny Latimer, but they’re enough to bring us back next week and the week after that and the week after that, which is surely ITV’s goal.
Things were gained as well as lost in the episode, not least the reappearance of Brian SOCO (hooray!), and Meera Syal’s arrival on a fold-up bicycle (double hooray!). Other TV dramas, please take note of the beautiful ease with which Broadchurch has stuffed its second series with proper roles for women over forty.
The shafts of humour that spot-lit even the darkest moments of series one were back too, from Ellie’s Scotch Egg and Kit-Kat, to Maggie and her “proper coffees”, to that most British of moments when the defence team’s complaints about the Traders Inn became beaming endorsements when questioned by the owner.
We didn’t come to Broadchurch for the comedy though, we came for the drama, and that was delivered in the form of a court case. After a half-hour run-up during which everyone asked everyone else if they were ready, and wig-sniffer Jocelyn Knight explained the rules as if none of us had ever seen an episode of Rumpole, the trial of Joe Miller began.
No matter how faithful it is to Broadchurch’s focus on the aftermath of a murder, a trial is never going to be as electrifying as the search for a killer, hence the Sandbrook sub-plot adding some real-time suspense to proceedings. Granted, if this week’s cliff-hanger – Claire being spirited away by murder suspect and apparent teleporter Lee – is resolved with the speed of last week’s – Danny’s body being exhumed – then we should next see Claire in episode three sat on her floral upholstery with a crossword saying ‘Oh that disappearance thing? Nothing really came of it’.
Why did Claire go with Lee? She and her cleavage are addicted to him, we learn. Why did they have to meet at the Miller house? To force Ellie home for some artificially moving flashbacks and because the low ceilings on that bucolic Hobbit hole Claire’s been hiding in wouldn’t accommodate 6ft 3” actor James D’Arcy, presumably.
At least they met indoors. The majority of Broadchurch’s pairings – and legal work, for that matter – takes place impractically against a backdrop of starkly beautiful Dorset landscapes. The time those people could save hiking up cliffs and positioning themselves dramatically on beaches if they’d just go to a nice Caffè Nero.
Stop wittering, Mellor.
However wise it proves to have kept telling the Latimers’ story after most of us had drawn a curtain around Danny’s coffin, at this point, little can persuade me away from Broadchurch. Implausibilities, melodrama, manipulation… I’ll take it all in exchange for the joy of that cast and the promise of a juicy trial.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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