ITV drama Broadchurch has been the hit of 2013, wowing the critics and pulling in an audience of almost 10 million for its denouement.
At a packed RTS event in late November, creator and writer Chris Chibnall revealed for the first time the influence of Dorset’s most famous novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, on Broadchurch: “That’s why it’s Wessex Police and [the policeman’s] name is Hardy; it’s why David Bradley’s character is reading Jude the Obscure.”
Conceding that he could be guilty of being “over wanky”, Chibnall admitted that the series borrowed heavily from both the Wessex landscapes of Hardy and his notion of a “wrathful god”.
At the RTS event, Chibnall was joined by Olivia Colman, who played DS Ellie Miller, director James Strong and executive producer Jane Featherstone to discuss the making of the eight-part series. Broadchurch is part whodunit – Miller and her boss DI Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant, are searching for the killer of a young boy – but is just as interested in looking at how a shocking murder affects a community.
Recalling the origins of Broadchurch, Chibnall said: “It was born out of pain. I did this show called Camelot for Starz in the US and it was the single most miserable experience of my life. Never again: 13 sets of producers; very unhappy with the show; a terrible process. And I got pneumonia and ended up in hospital.”
Chibnall took time off and wrote Broadchurch on spec, assisted by script executive Sam Hoyle. Strong, who worked with Chibnall on BBC Two’s United about Manchester United’s “Busby babes” and the Munich air crash, visited the writer – who lives a mile from the cliffs in Dorset that feature so heavily in the series – and was struck by the beauty of the landscape. “The premise of [Broadchurch] is that this is a terrible event happening in a beautiful place,” he said.
Chibnall took his script to (then-ITV drama chief) Laura Mackie, who called Kudos chief executive Jane Featherstone, suggesting that her indie produce the series. “It was an amazing script with huge heart,” said Featherstone, who immediately grabbed the opportunity.
Colman was the first choice of the producers to play Miller in the eight-part series. “Every now and again you get a script which you can’t put down, that you’re turning the pages frantically,” she recalled. “I loved the fact that [the character] was part of the community, and a loving wife and mother,” she continued. “You don’t often get to do that: to play normal and nice with massive amounts of drama.”
“Broadchurch: Anatomy of a hit” was a joint RTS early evening/RTS Futures event held at the Cavendish Conference Centre in central London on 28 November. The producers were Sasha Breslau, Sally Doganis, Anna Fern and Barney Hooper. A full report will appear in the January issue of Television.
Report by Matthew Bell
Pictures by Paul Hampartsoumian