This review contains spoilers.
It’s taken three episodes, but weaving the Sandbrook case in to Broadchurch’s second series has finally served a purpose other than tantalisation. Up until now, the Claire/Lee subplot has been a juicy diversion, a narrative trick to keep our heads bouncing excitedly from side to side like a crowd at a tennis match. This week though, Sandbrook really started to pull its weight.
The penny dropped for me in that moment of enlightening irony when Miller called Hardy a fuckwit and reeled off the reasons that make Claire a viable suspect in the Sandbrook murders. Ellie’s arguments – proximity, inconsistencies of story, likelihood of collusion – are exactly those being used against her by Joe’s defence team, arguments we know not to be true. Suddenly, the point of Sandbrook becomes clear: writer Chris Chibnall is showing us the same case as seen from the inside and the outside. Contrived as some may find them, the many parallels between Sandbrook and Broadchurch are crucial to the comparison.
A comparison to what end? An examination of truth’s malleability and how justice is or isn’t served by the legal system. To show how public opinion of a suspect’s guilt can be swayed by suggestion, insinuation and outright lies concocted to rattle witnesses. (It felt like a personal affront when Ellie was accused of having an affair with Hardy because we know and love her. If the same suggestion was made about relative stranger Claire, it’d just be one more tick in the ‘I always knew she looked shifty’ box).
By drip-feeding us evidence and alternately shoring up and eroding our certainty over Lee or Claire’s guilt – Broadchurch is positioning its audience as the jury on the Sandbrook case, a mirror of the one currently sitting in Wessex Crown Court. Judge Sharma may trust her jury to make the right call, but will we? The viewers condemned Lee from the moment he arrived, and now we’ve heard enough to lock up Claire to boot. Imagine having nothing but Sharon Bishop QC’s ferocious line of enquiry to go on in the Broadchurch case. How easily might the audience decide that Ellie was in on Danny’s murder? It’s thought-provoking stuff.
Episode three showed a change of pace for series two. It may have started off with more aggression than a rugby scrum – Hardy screamed at Miller, Miller screamed at Beth, and Beth just screamed and ended with Miller losing her rag on the stand – but what came in between had a quelled, melancholic sense to it. Chloe and Ellie’s conversation on the stairs provided touching respite from the action, as did Mark’s monologue to his new daughter. (The camera drifting over to Danny’s photograph as Mark promised to protect baby Lizzie though, thumped the pathos out of a quite lovely moment).
There was no cliff-hanger this time around – thus nothing to fizzle out disappointingly in the early moments of next week’s episode. A couple of simmering mysteries were resolved early on too. We now know that Bishop’s son is in prison (presumably as a result of the case that Knight refused to work on), that Jocelyn’s invalid mother is living in a pricy care home, and the QC’s eyes are failing her, a condition she’s attempting to keep secret in an echo of Hardy’s deteriorating health in series one.
Incidentally, what a beautiful shot that was of Charlotte Rampling walking away from her smoking car under the streetlight. Kudos to this week’s director Jessica Hobbs, to cinematographer John Conroy and to er, Kudos for that.
Less sophisticated but no less fun to watch were Lee Ashworth’s continuing adventures as an Albert Square exchange student. (Actor James D’Arcy sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch in real life. Those dropped ‘t’s and ‘babes’ are fooling no-one). Looking fit in his flashback vest and sucking a roll-up with the intensity of a man storing five episodes’ worth of intrigue in his lungs, Ashworth proved his resourcefulness by using the stinking system against Hardy. Cue another unlikely meeting on a stunning coastal hillside, and yet more brilliantly purposeful striding across splendid backdrops from David Tennant, his auburn mop glinting in the spring sun.
As ever, the episode was at its most compelling with the camera trained firmly on Olivia Colman. From her Cagney & Lacey undercover work on the razz in Weymouth to the skin-prickling tension of her time on the stand, via that awful, awful shag, she was nothing short of magnetic. Again.
Those courtroom scenes fulfil an important role in this series, replacing series one’s press conferences and church services in gathering together the drama’s major players under one roof so we can compare their reactions. Notable for its absence this week was any word from Joe Miller, who sweated inscrutably and silently behind that Perspex. How does he feel to see aspersions cast on his wife’s innocence as a result of his plea? The Sandbrook revelations have cleverly have kept us distracted from asking one of this series’ central questions: just what game is Joe playing?
While we ponder that and wait twitching for next week’s instalment, won’t you join me in one of Reverend Rory’s slightly posh biscuits? The kettle’s just boiled.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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