NB If you haven’t watched it and still want to – then read on – I’ve tried my hardest not to include SPOILERS!
So BROADCHURCH (series1!) has come to an end but I couldn’t let it go without a few more thoughts – about just why it has been so successful.
It felt so strongly character-driven. The story was simple but compelling – but it’s the sort of story that has filled countless (uninspiring) hours of TV drama in the past. What raised this to a different level for me was the depth and complexity of the characterisations. It was telling that it had the confidence to identify the killer halfway through final episode – and then play out the character responses to this.
And the nature of the murder was believably messy and inconclusive. I loved the moral ambiguity that you still felt some sympathy with the killer at the end of the story. The conventional approach would have been that the killer is revealed as a psychopathic paedophile – but the reveal here was far messier, far more human.
What I also liked was that it broke lot of the ‘rules’ of investigative drama – the rules I thought about so carefully when working on two series of WAKING THE DEAD! – rules like – make sure that the investigators (the central characters) drive the story and the investigation. I was struck by the fact that the discovery of the killer was down to the killer himself – he actually just gave himself up! But in character terms this worked very well. In fact, throughout the series, the police really weren’t very good at their job – but this never mattered because they were such multi-layered, complex, engaging characters. We believed in them as people.
Until I read in an interview about the decision not to include ‘teasers’ for the next episode at the end of each episode, I actually hadn’t noticed they weren’t there. But thinking about it, I’m struck by how much more satisfying and enjoyable this was a story because we weren’t given tasters of next week’s episode at the end of each episode. However hard these ‘teasers’ try to be just that, and try to hook you into the next episode without giving too much away – they inevitably do give too much away, and take the sheen off the viewing of the next episode. It was only through their absence here that I thought about what a very unhelpful thing they are – they betray a lack of trust in both the material and the audience.
One of the things that was so good about Broadchurch was that it had confidence in how good it was – and delivered on that promise without needing the window-dressing of end of ep ‘teasers’. I wonder if more series and serials in the future will now follow BROADCHURCH’S lead and ditch ‘teasers’. Broadchurch was so much better for the lack of them.
Speaking as a script editor – I was perversely delighted to see a show that is run creatively by a writer have such success . This is still very much the exception in the UK – but the success of Broadchurch can only speed up the process by which writers wrest control from executive producers. And even if – as a script editor – I’ve been part of the system that has up until now limited the writer’s creative control, in TV drama, I hope there is a real momentum now for things to keep moving in this direction. In my opinion, the quality of drama will only get better if this is allowed to happen. It is also dependent though on writers honing their producing skills – an idea that will bring a lot of writers out in a cold sweat! But the bottom line is – Writers need to run shows. So many ground-breaking US shows have proved it. So, in Broadhcurch, it was great to see an indie and a broadcaster trusting a writer to such an extent – and the writer delivering something beyond their wildest dreams.
Broadchurch also reminded me of not just the power of television – but the power of TELEVISION SERIES DRAMA.
There’s a reason why my London Screenwriters Festival script lab is specifically about CREATING TV DRAMA SERIES – because it’s the hardest thing to get right; but when it’s done well for the viewer it’s the most richly rewarding. And Broadchurch – like The Killing, The Bridge, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad – should remind us in the UK that we can do it too just as well as the Americans and the Scandanavians!
A successful piece of television drama like this demonstrates the all-encompassing power and universality of story-telling. All our lives are about stories – and a series like Broadchurch – for whatever reason – spoke to a lot of people.
The actors – this is something else that we should be hugely proud of in the UK – the depth af acting talent. There are so many fantastic actors in the UK – but even in this exalted company (David Tennant, David Bradley, Pauline Quirke, Jodie Whittaker, Carolyn Pickles, Vicky McClure etc) Olivia Coleman stood out – this was just a wonderful, moving, hugely credible and engaging performance that should win her a load of awards. I already thought she was great from shows like REV, TWENTY TWELVE and the feature film TYRANNOSAUR – and when I saw that she was playing a cop in a primetime ITV crime drama, I sort of wondered why…but she’s never been better.
I produced Chris Chibnall’s first ever TV work (I think – I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong!) – a 30 minute monologue in which a London underground driver played by James Bolam reflects on his life while driving his last shift on the central line from Ruislip to Leytonstone. That was a wonderful script and it’s great to see that Chris has gone on to have the success he deserves. Victor Lewis-Smith’s not-to-be- forgotten (by me anyway!) review of STORMIN’ NORMAN in the Evening Standard included the phrase, ‘Until yesterday I never thought I’d use the words ‘Carlton’, ‘drama’ and ‘excellent’ in the same sentence…’ Which made me smile, even if the Carlton Head of Drama wasn’t so impressed…
What is great about Chris is that in this very tough industry he has always been relentlessly positive, upbeat and collaborative.
This tweet he did this week (April 22nd) sums up his positivity and generosity.
‘Note to writers:
#Broadchurch was a spec script. I wrote it for myself. It’s taken on a life I never dreamed. Get writing. Things do happen.’
So let that be an inspiration to you all! Be positive, look for inspiration and as Chris says, ‘get writing’!
Until next week
All the best
PS Tomorrow – Saturday April 27th – is the last day that you can get the ‘early bird’ price of £197 for our May 11-12 weekend screenwriting course. So if you’re thinking of booking a place, don’t hang about!