Before you ask, yes I did watch episode seven of Broadchurch. I had a bit of a busy week and wasn’t able to watch it until Wednesday and couldn’t find any time to write it up. No matter, we headed into this finale – not just the series three finale, but the actual finale of the whole thing – still not knowing who raped Trish Winterman or who had carried out the historical sexual assaults in the town. Jim Atwood was still in custody, but episode seven ended in high jeopardy for Lindsay Lucas (the excellent Becky Brunning, a revelation in this series) when she found a stash of what looked like trophies in a drawer in her husband’s garage. He was just pulling into the driveway as she stood agape at her findings. Pray for Lindsay.
NB: Spoilers all over the shop
Twelve minutes into this finale, I was already in a cold sweat – it was a masterclass in suspense, of pace quickening, things happening. The bag of twine found by Ed Burnett outside his shop meant that he was again brought in for questioning (he was later released after revealing he had heard Trish being assaulted but did nothing to help), Clive Lucas was arrested before he could do anything to Lindsay (thank god) and revealed himself to be a liar in his interview. But then, after some CCTV footage examination and brilliant police work by Miller, our dynamic duo found out it was Leo Humphries who had left the twine at Ed Burnett’s. It was beginning to become clear that someone had been planting evidence around the town – could it have been Humphries (or “cocky little shit” as Miller called him). All this in 12 minutes.
The next act was pure, thrilling procedural. Miller and Hardy worked through the night, guzzling energy drinks with a grimace, to try and make a connection between Clive Lucas and Leo Humphries before their lawyers arrived and they shut up shop. They pored over phone records, they searched through reams of paper, and scrolled through page after page on their computers until they found what they were looking for: Clive Lucas contacted Leo Humphries on the night of their arrest on his mobile. Furthermore, it was established that Lucas had driven to the vicinity of Humphries’ house on the night of Trish’s attack. And, furthermore and in flashback, it was revealed that Lucas picked up two people on that fateful night – Leo Humphries and his own step-son, Michael.
Act three showed us how Leo and Michael became friends during the five-a-side kick-abouts, and how Leo took him under his wing after his step-father had belted him, and how Leo ‘loaned him’ his girlfriend to ‘make a man of him’. It showed us how Leo was grooming this lonely teen and asked him to come along with him to Trish’s party, with the promise of booze and girls. We saw them outside at the party, we saw them attack Trish, we saw Leo instruct Michael to have sex with her as she lay unconscious on the ground. We saw Leo goad him and punch him when Michael said what they were doing was wrong and told him to ‘be a man’. It was Michael who raped Trish Winterman, but it was Leo Humphries who had raped the two previous survivors.
During the interview:
“It was only sex,” Humphries calmly explained when asked why he had done the things he had done.
“Their bodies are not yours!” snapped an exasperated, disgusted Miller.
We were also exasperated and disgusted. Throughout the series, there have been hints that one of the teenage boys – Michael Lucas and Tom Miller – had something to do with the attacks, and my worst fears were realised (it would have been especially cruel if Tom Miller had been involved). The world was changing, Chris Chibnall had been telling us, and the way sex and consent, thanks in significant part to ever-accessible pornography, was viewed by young boys had become distorted, poisoned. Was it any real surprise that one of the teenage characters were involved? Perhaps not, but because of his age it was still shocking.
Everything made sense – horrific, skin-crawling sense. A young man who took what he wanted because he found out that he could, and a younger man desperate for love and attention going along with something he knew was wrong but felt he couldn’t get out of. It was a horrid, but plausible denouement.
And so we were left to wrap things up in elegiac style: the Latimers, the Burnetts, the Atwoods… they all gathered for Reverend Coates’s last sermon before he moved onto another parish. Together as a community after such traumas; the power of this togetherness somehow helping to heal deep wounds. Characters prepared to leave the town; some prepared to stay. Life continued for those left in Broadchurch. All had been scarred, but life continued.
And then there was Miller and Hardy, sitting on the sea front, that cliff face in the background. “Want to go for a drink?” she asked him, brightly. “Nah,” he shrugged.
Same as it ever was with these two.
So what have we made of not just this series of Broadchurch, but Broadchurch as a whole? There’s absolutely no doubt that the first series sits atop the pile of the best British crime dramas from the past two decades. Yes, series two lost its way – it was a mistake, in my opinion, to go back to the Latimer/Miller story and retread old ground while trying to balance it with the re-emergence of the Sandbrook case – but series three has been, largely, excellent. Not quite up there with series one, but a fitting end to a story that began with the story of a murdered young boy and a shattered community, and ended with serial sexual assaults and, yes, a shattered community.
I was fascinated by what Christ Chibnall has been trying to say during this series, and I do genuinely think that he has been trying to redress a balance in not only British crime drama – a genre that he himself helped to push on back in 2013 – but also British (and western) society. It was a grand undertaking, epic and ambitious in scope and aim. Every other crime drama these days details the killing of a young woman; some graphic and horrid and lurid in that detail. Some needlessly and gratuitously graphic and horrid and lurid. Series three of Broadchurch has sought to redress that balance – to not paper over any cracks, and to show what really happens to a woman when she is raped: the invasive procedure, the ignominy, and the perceived shame and the guilt they feel. Julie Hesmondhalgh’s performance as Trish Winterman has been magnificent, but Chibnall’s treatment of an awful act has been nothing short of revelatory – he’s written and presented the scenes immediately post-assault as if they were a documentary. Heavy, almost boring procedure. No fireworks or whizz-bang narrative bombs, just what you would think might happen in the real world. As for the survivor, he’s detailed all the fear and shock and horror and confusion and ‘it couldn’t happen to me’ emotions that flare and rage during these times of intense trauma. And you could tell that this was important to him, as it is to us all – you just don’t get many crime dramas who show such mundane, realistic portrayal of the post-assault process. He is to applauded for this and the message has been loud and clear: crime dramas, up your game; stop being so gratuitous; focus on what really happens to someone when they are violated in this way. And, crucially, to the survivors: do not be afraid to come forward to report the heinous crimes perpetrated against you. Yes, Broadchurch is fiction and real life is messier, more intense, but it tried. Series three of Broadchurch really tried.
Throughout this series, the focus has also been on showing what men can be and what men can do. At the end of the case, Hardy told a drained and emotional Miller: “He is not what men are; he’s an aberration…” And he’s right, of course. The level of calm psychopathy and breathtaking arrogance present in Leo Humphries isn’t present in all men. But… we’ve seen in stark and sometimes uncomfortable detail how men view women and how they treat them in this series, which does mirror real life. It’s insidious with no sign of abeyance, and it needed to be said and shown again. From Jim Atwood hanging calendars of naked women in his mechanic shop and his aggressive pursuit of women; to Ed Burnett’s obsession with Trish Winterman; to Ian Winterman’s inability to let his wife go; to Michael Lucas and Tom Miller’s dalliance with porn; and to the repulsive Clive Lucas’s systematic, sneering psychological spousal abuse… each main suspect in this case has represented an element of the lingering, omnipresent, everyday misogyny and objectification of women in our time. Men expect to own women and to control them. It’s what they do; it’s what they’ve always done in varying degrees. This stark truth has often made me ashamed to be a man, but also made me swell with pride and admiration at the courage of not only Trish Winterman the character but also the real Trish Wintermans out there.
I remember, on my university course, having to analyse the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. Aside from being part of the plot, each of those windows LB Jeffries looks out on, we were told, represents a facet of marriage and/or relationships: there’s the single young woman fighting off male attention, there are the newlyweds, there’s the bachelor musician, there’s Ms Lonelyhearts and there’s the devious Thorwald, locked into an unhappy, poisonous relationship. The important, and genius, thing in all of this is that Hitchcock used each character to represent these various stages of life, and Chibnall has done something similar with the suspects in series three of Broadchurch. But instead of different stages of relationships, he has imbued his characters with different levels of misogyny and objectification. The message has been clear: misogyny is present – whether it be an off-hand comment meant as ‘banter’ or the hanging of calendars of naked women in public right up to the most serious manifestation of fear, control and a desperate urge for power (rape) – and it hasn’t gone away. For a primetime drama, this message has been extraordinarily important and prescient in a society where 35 per cent of women have experienced and survived some form of abuse. This is what crime dramas should be about – real-life context and the effect on the survivor and their families and friends.
Series three has woven a whodunit around these messages, and the balance has been right. Some may argue that there was too much of the Latimers (again, I thought the balance was right) and that it went around in circles a little bit, but the finale was deeply satisfying in terms of intensity, pace and plotting. But strip away everything – the plot and the message and the suspects and the procedure – and Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller are left standing. And I think this is the legacy Broadchurch leaves us with. Series one was undoubtedly heavily influenced by The Killing (although Chibnall has often said that he came up with the idea for Broadchurch several years before The Killing ever saw daylight), and for the first time on British television gave equal weight to the family of a victim and the community around the trauma, but at its heart this was about Hardy and Miller, a classic investigative pairing. Hardy, the loner and the displaced and, at times, the very angry; and Miller, the funny, the straightforward but no less fierce. Together they formed an irresistible duo, and their dialogue was just brilliant throughout. Even though you could argue we got much more character progression on Hardy’s side than Miller’s side in this series (Miller, let’s face it, just provided withering stares and almost comedic put-downs, as well as support to Hardy), they were and will be a force to be reckoned with.
So that’s the end, then. It was a good last series, righting the wrongs of series two and carrying a scathing, bleak Exocet message. But I really do think, 20 years from now, Broadchurch will be remembered for that first series; a first series that captured the imagination like no other before it, got the nation talking and guessing and talking and guessing until that unthinkable, shocking conclusion, and heralded a new dawn in British crime drama.
For that, all fans of crime drama must be thankful.
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