‘Broadchurch’ Season 3 Premiere Postmortem: Creator Chris Chibnall on the Final Case

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo TV

The premiere of the third and final season of BBC America’s Broadchurch ended with a chilling realization: whoever sexually assaulted Trish (Happy Valley‘s Julie Hesmondhalgh) outside her friend Cath’s 50th birthday party came prepared to do it — carrying a condom, blue twine to bind her wrists, and some kind of cotton gag. The case will introduce DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) to new Broadchurch residents, but as we learned, familiar faces still abound in the series. Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) is now an ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) and will stand by Trish throughout the investigation, while Beth’s now-estranged husband, Mark (Andrew Buchan), continues to struggle both with the death of their son, Danny, and his subsequent decision to collaborate with local newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe (Carolyn Pickles) on a book.

Yahoo TV will speak with creator Chris Chibnall, who once again wrote all eight episodes, for weekly postmortems. Let’s begin.

What struck me straight away is how much we heard from the crisis worker at the SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) where Hardy and Miller took Trish to collect evidence. In most shows, that sequence would have been a montage, with no dialogue at all. It was obviously important to you to have the audience hear how a rape survivor should be treated and to understand each step of that process.
Chris Chibnall: It’s where the whole show started, to be honest. When I had the idea for investigating a sexual assault within Broadchurch, myself and my colleagues went to talk to people who worked in that field, so we visited a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, we talked to sexual violence advisors, we talked to survivors of these crimes, we talked to specialist detectives. I wanted to ensure that this was the right thing to do and the right way to tell this story. They all knew the show, and I asked, “Is it appropriate that we do this story in Broadchurch?” Unanimously, they all said, “Yeah, not only is it appropriate, but we think you should because we think this story needs to be told.”

What we wanted to tell — and what I wanted to tell — was an example of best practice of how a survivor of a crime like this is looked after, how there are heroic [people], mostly women within that area, who provide incredible support and incredible sensitivity and an extraordinary service for people who’ve been through these kinds of traumas.

Another moment that seemed very purposeful on your part was what Trish says to Hardy and Miller after she’s showered and changed her clothes: “Do you believe me?” That’s first, then it’s “Who did this to me?” Women worrying about whether they’ll be believed is definitely a theme this season.
I wanted to honor Trish’s experience, and I wanted to guarantee [it] to the audience. I wanted everybody to be in no doubt, this is not a story about was this woman raped or not; this is about a woman who has undergone that and now, how does she survive that and live through that? How is she supported and how do the police investigate that? I wanted to be very clear about the parameters of our storytelling, absolutely.

It’s also true that here in the UK the police currently operate from a position of believing the person who’s made the allegation. That’s under discussion here, at the moment. It’s a very controversial question.

Describe how you decided to you have the attack happen during a friend’s 50th birthday party and for Trish to wait two days to report the attack. It seems like you really wanted to hit head-on the things that we normally hear women wrongly being “blamed for” in these cases: “Well, you were drinking heavily.” “You waited to report it.”
I think, obviously, crimes happen to people when they’re living their lives. Not to sound too facile about that, but I really wanted to tell a story about a woman who’s going about her everyday life, who’s doing the normal things that people do. What I didn’t want to do was to show that kind of cliché of the 24-year-old girl in this short skirt running down a dark alley. It was much more about the quite common occurrences of women in their late forties who are being attacked and, obviously, parties are prime territory for things like that. I really wanted to ensure that we could discuss those issues and that there’s no sense of victim shaming or victim blaming within the show.

Miller gives her cell number to Trish, and Hardy is somewhat angry about that. He says, “She can’t be ringing you all the time.” Ellie shouts, “She’s been raped!” How did you approach their different approaches to the case?
Having that double act in Hardy and Miller and the humanity that David Tennant and Olivia Coleman bring to those parts enables me to offer quite nuanced opinions and perspectives on the approach. Both of them are clearly there to support Trish and want the best outcome for her. Ellie, historically and currently within the show, will break a rule in the cause of empathy and human sympathy, whereas Hardy is a little bit more by the book. He doesn’t want to break the rules. He’s very keen to do things properly.

Also, what’s key about that scene, there’s a couple of things: One is, they both kind of respect each other’s positions, too, and they both understand it. Also, the climax of that scene is the first time in the episode where we actually use the word “rape,” and it was giving the first use of that word the appropriate weight and power and force and just being very careful, generally, how we approached everything.

Beth working as an ISVA and Beth and Mark having, unfortunately, separated after the death of a child both feel like very realistic next steps for those characters. Why was keeping that family in the story essential to you?
I think the Latimers are the emotional center and the emotional heartbeat to Broadchurch as a complete series. I like to think of it as a television novel, really. I think the joy of returning television series is the amount of time that can pass, so the time that has passed off-screen has also passed on-screen. We’re now revisiting these characters three years after the events of Season 1, a year and a half after Season 2, so it becomes a real joy to be able to think where those characters might have gone, how the impact of the events we’ve seen on-screen landed in their off-screen lives. Also, I knew all along I really wanted to explore the long shape of grief that affects them both in very different ways. And, I really couldn’t imagine the show without Jodie Whitaker and Andy Buchan, who are just amazing actors and, like I say, the emotional core of the show.

Ellie’s son Tom (Adam Wilson) has also returned. He’s 15 now, and he and a friend have been suspended from school for supplying links and files of porn to other students. Again, that’s an issue we’ll see recur this season, and not just with teenage Tom but also with older men. 
As a parent myself, and for all the parents in the show and in the audience, a big thing is the access to pornographic material that our kids have and what that is going to potentially do to them and how do we stop it? How do we control it? I think the show has always been concerned with those matters. I think, really, this year, what we’re dealing with is, what is society’s attitude to sex in general and how is that changing people’s behavior?

Broadchurch airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on BBC America.