Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall: “series two has a different shape and energy”

"We’ll never replicate the way the first series took hold, but we’d love people to see the pieces of the new story fall into place," says the ITV drama's showrunner

It’s amazing where a walk can take you. In 2011, I was pacing the beach in West Bay, Dorset — a mile from where I live. The sun was out, I was mulling over ideas (or, more likely, staring vacantly ahead) and basking in the extraordinary landscape. Someone should film something here, I thought.

Advertisement

Fast forward to the end of March 2013. My dad is on the phone. He says “People are talking about your show in the doctor’s waiting room.”

Fast forward to May 2014. I am standing on stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, holding the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. I’m looking out into the audience thinking “I sat in the back row of that far balcony as a student, watching Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon”. Then I realise I have to give a speech on live TV. (I miss out our amazing casting directors, Victor and Kelly, and this is still keeping me awake at night with shame)

People ask now, “Did you know Broadchurch was going to be a hit?” We didn’t have a clue. It’s still bewildering to me. Maybe in ten years time, I’ll be able to make sense of it, but so far I feel like I’ve been at the eye of a storm. Coming in to that first episode, we were all nervous: a heavily serialised show in eight parts was a big risk for ITV (what if nobody watched that first episode?).

Luckily, enough people came – though it wasn’t a huge audience at first. Episode two was steadyish. And then, at around episode three, it started to grow. Word of mouth seemed positive. By episode five, articles about the show were appearing in the news section of the papers. The day after episode eight aired, the actor who played Danny Latimer’s killer called me and said “There’s pictures of me and you, above the Boston Bomber, on the front page of the Daily Mirror”.

Since then, the show has made its way round the world, to over 135 territories, it’s been remade (first for the US, next year for France) and adapted into a novel by Erin Kelly. We couldn’t have predicted any of it.

But my focus has always been on the writing, on the question that I kept getting asked: what’s next for Broadchurch?

First of all, we’re not going to replicate what we did before. This year’s series doesn’t open with another dead body and present a fresh community of suspects. I never imagined Broadchurch inhabiting that territory in a second series. Not least because, since our first series transmitted, long-form mysteries and whodunnits have abounded – even EastEnders has “done a Broadchurch”. 

It’s always been my intention to tell a different type of story this time round. The story has been in my mind since before we even started filming the first series. Series two is a very different journey, it has a different shape and energy, a different rhythm. It’s a new story, but hopefully still laced with the same characteristics of mystery and emotion.

We’ve always tried to take a character-driven approach to our stories: what would it really feel like? What are the emotional consequences to these events? How do the ripples spread out? We’ve carried that through into this year’s story. Some characters from series one return: others don’t. And there are new characters for you to get to know.

New characters mean new actors coming on board. But it was going to be hard matching the quality of actors we’d assembled for the first series. We started dreaming a little, which meant asking our amazing casting directors (who were, still speaking to me) questions like “Do you think Charlotte Rampling might be interested?”  Yes, I knew I was being over-ambitious. But sometimes it’s just worth asking.

With Charlotte, we were lucky with our timing. The first series of Broadchurch was just transmitting in France and she had been watching the programme in French before I spoke to her on the phone. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more nervous than dialing that number. As I talked her through one particular moment in the story, she said “Oh, I just had a little frisson.” The wonderful thing you soon discover about Charlotte is that she’s the most enormous fun: sharp, mischievous, generous, energetic, precise and a wonderful team member.

The same is true of Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Sometimes when you’re writing a character, an actor lodges themselves in your head and refuses to let go. The process of casting then becomes a bit heartbreaking as the actor isn’t available or isn’t interested. Marianne is based in Los Angeles, has a thriving career and I never thought we’d be able to tempt her back from the West Coast of the US to the South West coast of England. When she said yes, my heart leapt. Marianne is – as one of our other cast members describes her – the coolest woman on the face of the planet. And her character really shakes up our fictional town.

But that’s just two of the actors joining our ensemble for series two. I should be telling you about James D’Arcy, Eve Myles, Shaun Dooley, Meera Syal and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Who are they playing? How do they fit into the show?

All will be revealed, very soon. We’ve been keeping our lips tightly sealed all this time, because we loved how audiences connected with Broadchurch the first time round. We’ll never replicate the way the first series took hold, but we’d love people to see the pieces of the new story fall into place.

We also have an extra component to the Broadchurch world this year, which I’m very excited about. After each episode, a brand new Broadchurch short story, written by Erin Kelly (author of the Broadchurch novel) will be available to buy as an ebook single. We’ve been working on these alongside the series: each story will focus on a character from that night’s episode, adding further details and dimensions to the characters and the world. We think this is the first time something like this has been done, in tandem with the show’s broadcast – a chance for us and the audience to go deeper into the characters, with material not seen on screen, released as the series is transmitting.

So, welcome back to Broadchurch. And hold on tight.

Advertisement

Broadchurch is on Mondays at 9:00pm on ITV