Chris Chib­nall is bring­ing down the cur­tain on his hit who­dunit af­ter three sea­sons. Crimescene quizzes the Broadchurch creator for clues about the show’s last case.


Chris Chib­nall might be the most fa­mous TV writer in Bri­tain right now. When Crime Scene is granted an in­ter­view with the 46-year-old be­hind Broadchurch, he’s about to re­gen­er­ate into the showrun­ner for Doc­tor Who. But for a man who has to sat­isfy the ex­pec­ta­tions of mil­lions of view­ers – of both the ITV crime drama and the BBC sci-fi in­sti­tu­tion – he’s re­mark­ably laid-back.

Our con­ver­sa­tion even de­vi­ates into Down­ton Abbey names – a se­cu­rity pre­cau­tion used on the scripts in case they fell into the wrong hands. Ap­par­ently Series 3’s fake ti­tle was Re­turn­ing Home by Mar­garet Cedars. As Chib­nall ex­plains, his Down­ton name for­mula is grand­mother’s first name fol­lowed by pri­mary school. For the record, Crime Scene’s is “Joan Pad­dock”. “You can then fig­ure out whether you were up­stairs or down­stairs – and I think you were down­stairs in the kitchen,” laughs Chib­nall.

But the se­cu­rity on the shoot was a se­ri­ous busi­ness: Chib­nall is de­ter­mined to pro­tect his TV thriller’s se­crets. “The pur­pose is to try and get a show on air that is es­sen­tial live view­ing and has got sur­prises,” he ex­plains. “I think what the au­di­ence brought to Broadchurch was a sense of com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence, they made it that for which I’ll be for­ever grate­ful. So that’s the aim, a good old-fash­ioned sit in and watch the telly.” Mil­lions of Broadchurch fans are al­ready do­ing just that...

Was it im­por­tant to write about a rape case for Series 3?

I re­ally wanted to give the is­sue of sex­ual as­sault the weight and at­ten­tion and de­tail that we gave to a mur­der in Series 1. Broadchurch is al­ways a show about the af­ter­math of crime and it’s a show about the vic­tims of crime, as much as it’s a show about in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We spent a lot of time re­search­ing with Dorset Rape Cri­sis, Dorset’s Sex­ual As­sault Re­fer­ral Cen­tre and spe­cial­ist po­lice. I asked them: should we be telling this story in Broadchurch? And they all unan­i­mously said that not only should you, you have to, be­cause it’s on the rise.

Were you im­pressed with Julie Hes­mond­halgh’s por­trayal of a rape vic­tim in this series?

Julie is an amaz­ing ac­tress. She un­der­stood the re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing on the part and she em­braced that. All the peo­ple that we talked to in our re­search are ad­vi­sors on the show, they ad­vised on all the scripts, they were on set, they’ve seen ed­its and came to a screen­ing. We’ve talked to sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. They have been our part­ners in the whole process and they’ve re­ally sup­ported Julie through the whole thing. I think Julie has re­ally put in so much work and care and pre­ci­sion. It’s a re­ally strong, beau­ti­ful per­for­mance.

Af­ter the Series 2 res­o­lu­tion, will we learn more about the orig­i­nal char­ac­ters?

Yeah, one of the de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sions was to set it three years later, be­cause what’s al­ways in­ter­ested me in writ­ing the show has been how peo­ple’s lives con­tinue to go on in the af­ter­math of emo­tional trauma and life-chang­ing events.

Does Series 3 feel like a bit of a fresh start too?

Yeah, I think if you’ve never seen an episode of Broadchurch, the first episode of this series is a re­ally good place to start. And if you’ve seen both pre­vi­ous series, then there are ex­tra re­wards and res­o­nances that you will get.

How was it re­turn­ing to work with Olivia Col­man and David Ten­nant?

It’s the biggest priv­i­lege of do­ing Broadchurch, see­ing this cast work and be­ing able to write for them. Olivia and David never stop work­ing, they never stop shap­ing the char­ac­ters. They’re bril­liant at find­ing hu­mour, they’re bril­liant at find­ing warmth and em­pa­thy, and I think so much of this year’s story rests on their shoul­ders in terms of the dy­namic with them and Tr­ish, Julie Hes­mond­halgh’s char­ac­ter.

The cast­ing has al­ways been strong. Tell us about Lenny Henry in this series…

He’s amaz­ing. He’s a very ac­claimed stage ac­tor – he does Shake­speare at the Na­tional. What I re­ally love to see as a viewer is ac­tors in roles you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect, do­ing things you haven’t quite seen them do be­fore. Peo­ple are go­ing to see a dif­fer­ent side to Lenny – and he is mag­nif­i­cent.

How do you get big names like Sarah Parish in sup­port­ing roles?

We’re al­ways as sur­prised as any­one, to be hon­est. I think it’s a slightly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter to those she’s played re­cently, and she is mag­nif­i­cent. The thing about Sarah is she’s so funny, she’s so emo­tional, but she’s also not afraid to go to the dark places and the bleak places.

Are you proud of the cast­ing over the three series of Broadchurch?

I look back and can’t re­ally be­lieve it. I was re­ally proud last year to have Char­lotte Ram­pling, Mar­i­anne Jean-bap­tiste and Meera Syal as the three pillars of British jus­tice in the court­room. It will be a long time be­fore you see that again on ITV. The cast we have across the 24 episodes, I think that’s go­ing to make a nice, rich box set at

It’s about the vic­tims and af­ter­math as much as in­ves­ti­ga­tion

the end. That’s what peo­ple tune in for – great per­for­mances by great ac­tors. You can talk about the writ­ing, but ac­tu­ally what peo­ple love are char­ac­ters and ac­tors.

Was Broadchurch al­ways planned in your head as a tril­ogy?

Well, it makes it sound like a mas­ter­plan. As I think any writer will tell you, we just wanted to get the first series made and onto air and then hope that it stayed on air for eight weeks and wasn’t pulled af­ter episode two. At the back of my head, I was think­ing if we got a sec­ond series I’d want to do the trial. So when we started to have that con­ver­sa­tion, I said to ITV, “I think there are two more series in this – one is the trial and one is the story of a sex­ual as­sault – and that’s it”. But it makes me sound like more of a mas­ter­plan ge­nius than it ac­tu­ally is in re­al­ity.

Did you want to end the show leav­ing peo­ple want­ing more?

At the mo­ment, I don’t have an­other story in the world of Broadchurch. So it feels like the right time to stop.

Can we ex­pect an emo­tional fi­nale?

I hope it is an emo­tional end­ing. The aim is to be emo­tional and sat­is­fy­ing for the jour­ney this year and for the three-year jour­ney, re­ally. So you will have to tell me once you’ve seen it. I wasn’t wrestling with two or three [ end­ings], it felt quite clear to me where we’d be end­ing.

Go­ing back to the first ever episode, the open­ing scene was quite Agatha Christie.

Yeah, ab­so­lutely, I think we wear our Agatha Christie-ness very proudly. That scene you’re talk­ing about with Mark walk­ing down the street is ex­actly that: it’s telling you that you’re in a who­dunit. It’s also set­ting up the com­mu­nity – you have got all of these sus­pects in and out of each other’s lives. So the engine of Broadchurch has al­ways been the who­dunit or thriller or page-turner, plus things that the series wants to say, and great per­for­mances.

Do you still shoot episodes in or­der and keep care­ful con­trol of the scripts?

Yes, we were more para­noid than ever. We pass­word-pro­tect ev­ery­thing, we put fake ti­tle pages on by fake writ­ers, we use Down­ton names for the writer. It’s just be­ing care­ful, re­ally. Ev­ery­body has their own in­di­vid­ual pass­word on the cast and crew for their doc­u­ment. We don’t write cer­tain things down, we film al­ter­na­tive scenes, we film stuff we don’t put in cuts.

Is Ice­landic mu­si­cian Óla­fur Ar­nalds’ sound­track a big part of the show?

It re­ally is, and I think Óla­fur has re­de­fined what sound­tracks are and what they do on tele­vi­sion in this coun­try. Be­cause I hear a lot of sound­tracks now that I think: “Oh yeah, that’s very post-ar­nalds”. He’s one of the key cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tors on the show. He has such a mas­sive im­pact – the sound and mu­sic is so im­por­tant. I think he’s done some­thing re­ally spe­cial and he’s done a re­ally beau­ti­ful new end song. We do a dif­fer­ent one ev­ery year and I think this is the best of the three.

Will you be able to com­bine any other projects with Doc­tor Who?

I’ve got a play on tour [ Worst Wed­ding Ever]. I kept writ­ing theatre through­out my ca­reer, and I re­ally love that. But no, I feel rel­a­tively con­fi­dent in say­ing Doc­tor Who will take up most of my en­ergy.

Fi­nally, did you en­joy the French ver­sion of Broadchurch, Malaterra?

Oh, my god, yeah. In fact, some­where in it I’m on a wanted poster in the po­lice sta­tion. Yeah, I loved Malaterra, they did such a great job on it – beau­ti­fully shot, set on Cor­sica, amaz­ing cast. And Béa­trice Dalle is Pauline Quirke!

Lenny Henry plays soli­tary shop­keep­ered Bur­nett, wid­owed 12 years ago.

Chris Chib­nall (fac­ing cam­era) on set.

It’s three years later, and Di hardy has spent some time away...

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