Broadchurch – a personal reflection

Margery Hookings looks forward to the new—and final—series of Broadchurch, coming to a television screen near you this month.


When the first series of Broadchurch was broadcast on ITV in early 2013, I was away in Greece, having exchanged my life in west Dorset for a year in Corfu, just because I could.

With my newly-retired husband by my side, we let our cottage near Beaminster and rented a house in the heart of a village in Corfu’s north-west corner. I’d given up work and hoped to find inspiration to write fiction to my heart’s content.

I knuckled down and got on with it, but something very strange happened. I was incredibly, tremendously, homesick. Here I was, doing something many people can only dream about and all I wanted to do was go home and run in the fields and take a stroll along a windswept beach. I was astonished I felt like that—I knew I loved my part of Dorset and the West Country with all my heart but being away from it for twelve months made me physically sick.

It didn’t help seeing friends’ posts on social media of photographs of Dorset and Somerset, where I have lived all my life. And then learning that a new show called Broadchurch, which was set in West Bay, was going to be on and I was going to miss it. I felt disconnected and rootless. I wanted to be there in Bridport, to be a part of all the excitement.

I avoided looking at any spoilers which is just as well because before returning from our year away, my son sent me a boxed set of Broadchurch on DVD.  In the heat of our Greek living room, my husband and I were glued to it, sometimes watching two or three episodes at a time. It was the countryside that grabbed at my heart the most: those beautiful shots of East Cliff in all its glory, the slow, lapping waves on the shore, the sweeping vistas of the hinterland beyond. The wonderful, haunting score by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds underlined the melancholy melodrama being played out in front of us.

Writer Chris Chibnall, who lives in Bridport, has described Broadchurch as his love letter to the place, an area he says he has felt more at home in that any time his life. And it showed.

The series’ backdrop was as familiar to us as the backs of our hands, although the magic of television spliced the geographical areas of North Somerset and West Dorset with surgical precision, so that the dramatic East Cliff on the south coast suddenly loomed on the distant skyline beyond Clevedon and the Bristol Channel.

And then there were the locations that were so familiar—the local newsagents’ on the corner at West Bay, the ‘police station’ in one of those new buildings overlooking the west beach, and the huts beside the Riverside Restaurant. It was must-see television as far as this local was concerned.

The story itself—the script, the characters, the actors—was one to which I could relate very well, having seen my fair share of tragedy in this corner of Dorset since arriving here as a young reporter in 1982. There were chilling echoes of past cases I had written about, ones involving the whole community coming together, in a supportive chorus to the main players.

Unlike Harbour Lights, its West Bay predecessor, Broadchurch was a series of many layers, with lots of shade and not much light. As with any good whodunnit, every character seemed to have a secret to keep the audience guessing right up until the end. And they all had a depth to make you care about what happened to them next.

As the first female editor of the Bridport News back in 1999, I was pleased to see the Broadchurch Echo editor was a woman with a conscience, someone who worked at the heart of the community and never took that position for granted.

And then we rolled on to series two. It wasn’t as good as the first one but it was good, nonetheless. I was pleased to have had a hand in helping organise the public screening of the finale at Bridport Electric Palace after a chance conversation on Twitter with Chibnall and composer Ólafur Arnalds, who just happened to be playing there that night. He brought his concert forward an hour, filling the quirky venue with loops and refrains, seemingly simple piano and ethereal violins.

And after ninety minutes and a standing ovation, the curtains were drawn, the roadies moved in and the stage was set for the finale of the second series of this show, as the audience, which included Chibnall and actor Jodie Whittaker, who plays Beth Latimer, settled down to watch the big screen and find out what really happened.

There were gasps in the audience as the verdict was announced. Surely not? And then the programme went on, with twists and turns, including the unexpected and the entirely predictable. Anyone would think Broadchurch was for real. Well, for those of us who live here, it’s felt a part of everyday life.

It was a magical evening, and a very Bridport one. It was the sort of thing the town does very well.

As the end credits rolled, there were cheers when it was announced that Broadchurch would be back. The third and final series is now within watching distance. At the time of writing, the ITV teasers tell us it’s going to be this month, although we don’t yet know the date. Here in west Dorset, we wait with bated breath.