Did it matter that so many people correctly guessed who the killer was in ITV’s smash hit drama Broadchurch? Not according to its writer, Chris Chibnall.
“It was never supposed to be a conjuring trick or something where I was cheating the audience,” Chibnall said in an interview with Den of Geek. “It was supposed to be, ‘You can work this out, we have laid it out for you.’ That dawning, creeping realisation of dread really should be the thing that plays through, very deliberately.”
Chibnall said Broadchurch, which is out now on DVD, was designed to withstand viewers predicting the ending: “It’s interesting now, because it’s being shown in other countries and at festivals, to watch those opening episodes again because it does play as a drama. Even if you know what happens at the end, you can watch it again and it feels like a very different piece. It was very deliberately designed like that so it’s no less compelling on a second watch.”
He added: “It was always Ellie’s story and it was always Beth’s story, and that was very deliberately bedded in there right from the moment you meet them on the street in that big long tracking shot, everything’s there. It was also to show that it’s not just one family who are the victims of that death and that murder.”
Asked whether the huge popularity of Broadchurch, and the intense speculation about who the killer was, had turned the series into something it was never intended to be, Chibnall said: “I don’t think it was warped. I think it’s an inevitable process of a show going to the screen. As a series, it feels like a fixed object until it transmits, and then it becomes this malleable, shifting, shape-changing thing in the hands of the audience. It becomes like mercury.
“I think I understand why the whodunit became a big obsession, because it was playing with that genre and those tropes. There were a lot of cliff-hangers and a lot of plot points, but equally, I think there were lots of signifiers and clues we laid down saying, ‘Just be careful’, because it’s working within that genre but it’s hopefully saying, there is a cost. At every point in Broadchurch you’re continually told and pulled back into the emotional cost.”
Chibnall refused to give any details at all about series two, saying: “The process I go through will be exactly the same. Nothing changes through success. It’s about being surrounded by people who challenge you and who are tough on you, and we have a team who are all tough on each other. We’re all good friends and colleagues so it’ll be about making the second one better. It will be very different. The plan is that there are things about the next one that are hopefully just as exciting and fresh and different as the audience felt the first one was… it’s not about getting ten million viewers again, it’s about doing something that is worthy of the name Broadchurch.”
The writer also tied up some of the loose ends that were left hanging at the end of the final episode, explaining that some explanations had been cut to make room for the emotional fallout of the murderer being unmasked. A scene between Olivia Colman’s character and the postman who had been seen arguing with Danny, the victim, was omitted – as was an explanation of how the killer obtained the keys to the beach hut where the murder took place.
“Once you get to episode eight,” said Chibnall, “all you care about is finding that emotional through-line… you’re so tight for time that you have to go, ‘What’s more important?’ The little plot pick-ups: some are important and we answered a lot of them; some you just have to take a deep breath and say, ‘We have to let that one go.’
“You make that decision, which is it: emotion or plot? And emotion is the thing.”