Last night the final series of Broadchurch begun on ITV, and its set to become a staple of UK living rooms for the next seven weeks. After a monumental first series, and a somewhat questionable follow-up, there has been a great deal of debate on whether this final trip to the fictional coastal town will be a success or a failure.
If the opening episode is anything to go by, then the show looks to be going out on a high.
Based around the sexual assault of an older woman, played by former Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh, this new series sees DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) team up once again to uncover what happened on the night of the attack and put the culprit behind bars. This series still retains some focus around the characters of the original mystery, namely that of the Latimer family whose troubles still persist five years after the death of young Danny. Their problems look set to entwine with that of the overarching storyline given Beth Latimer’s (Jodie Whittaker) involvement with the sexual assault response association.
It is not the show’s connection to its past characters that made the first episode of series three so great, though. Instead, it was the separation from the old storyline and the dedication to the new one that gave Broadchurch it’s shining moments.
The portrayal of rape in television and film is nothing new. It’s use as a plot device in many soaps and dramas has become so common it almost feels overused, and in turn that has dampened the impact it has on an audience. Despite the serious nature of these attacks, the portrayal on screen (and to an extent in the broader media) has made it all seem less serious than it truly is.
That changed last night when scenes were aired that have been praised by many rape counsellors and police officers for raising awareness of the reality of sexual attacks. Although there will always be people who don’t agree with how something like this is dealt with on TV – everyone’s personal experience with the aftermath of rape differs in both good and bad ways – the show provided a very intimate and upsetting view into how these procedures are carried out. The first thirty minutes of last night’s episode was probably some of the greatest in the show’s history, all because the fantasy was taken out of this fictional town.
There was one moment in particular that I found to be extremely poignant, and that was when Julie’s character asked the police if they believed her. It was only four words, but it captured so much of what many sexual assault victims feel when it comes to reporting the crime. The fact that there should even be any doubt that they would believe her says a lot about the society we live in. It’s not pleasant to think about.
Broadchurch really excelled in these moments, though. When DI Hardy starts berating DS Miller for giving Julie her personal phone number, she responds with the justification that this woman was raped. The exclamation led to a moment of silence, and it was the first time in almost half an hour of the show being on air that the r-word was used. Little things like these did a lot more than any big dialogue pieces could ever do.
With another seven episodes to go until Broadchurch bows out for good, there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns to sustain the mystery of the attack alive. Unlike the first series, the desire to uncover the secrets of what happened that night are unlikely to be what keeps the audience gripped. Rather, it will be the exemplary performances of the main cast and reality of their story. I am, however, slightly concerned about how the writers can retain the integrity of the first episode for another 5+ hours without selling out for compelling drama. Only time will tell on that one though.