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  • Writer's pictureTuur Verheyde


Updated: May 5, 2021

Broadchurch is a British television crime series that was broadcast on ITV for three series between twenty thirteen and twenty seventeen. The series was created by Chris Chibnall, who also acted as executive producer and wrote all twenty-four episodes, produced by Kudos Film and Television and Imaginary Friend and directed by James Strong and Euros Lyn. The series is set in the fictional English town of Broadchurch which is depicted as a picturesque coastal town in Dorset and is mainly about the far-reaching social and psychological ramifications of serious crimes on the local town and its community.

The series as a whole could be seen as a meditation on how violent crimes affect people’s personal psychologies and how it both damages and strengthens the community in which the aforementioned crimes take place. The series makes a point of depicting traditional institutions (primarily the press, the police and the church) and how they are both embedded in and separated from the local community and what their role is the aftermath of violent crime shocking a local community. In this essay we will discuss the ways in which the British Television series Broadchurch both uses and subverts the tropes of the contemporary television crime drama (more specifically of the whodunit) to discuss conflict and cohesion in local community in contemporary Britain, and how these are affected by crime, the criminal investigation and the criminal trial. In the course of this paper we will illustrate how Broadchurch depicts the interaction between the local press, the local police, the local church and the local public following and during criminal investigations and a criminal trial ultimately to affirm the power of local communal identity and solidarity in the face of the social fragmentation and disembedding most commonly associated with the modern world. However, whilst Broadchurch ultimately underlines the power of solidarity and connectivity through the ability of a local community to overcome the pressures and divisions that were inflicted upon it due to the pressures of the criminal investigations and one trial, the series illustrates that a community cannot come out of these unrests entirely unscathed by also indicating the weaknesses and the dangers of close-knitted communities.

In this essay, we will begin by discussing Broadchurch itself, the background of its conception, production and reception and its place it within the context of contemporary global and British Crime Drama.

Next we will briefly discuss the concept of community itself. The aforementioned ways in which community is represented in Broadchurch will be discussed in two separate parts. The first part will primarily focus on the main characters. How the narrative is focalised around these characters and what their function is in it, with special attention to characters who act as representatives/embodiments of parts of communal life (or as representatives of the opposite). The second part will focus on the manner in which the community is worked into the background, both narratively (i.e. returning side-characters and what they represent) and visually.

In the next chapters we will illustrate the ways in which the community and its communal institutions are shown to be subject to strong internal and external conflicts. In the first part, we will discuss the conflicts which arise from tension between actors from inside the community and actors from outside the community, represented by three central themes. Firstly, the conflict between police from outside of the community and from inside the community and the implicated question of whether local police is too embedded in the community to be objective and impartial and whether outside police is too detached from the community to be able to properly understand and observe the community’s internal dynamics. Secondly, the conflict between local and national press and the implicated question of whether national press is too detached not to drift towards callous sensationalism that actively damages the community and whether local press is too smallminded and myopic to be able to exist in the contemporary reality of declining printing press.

In the following part we will discuss the conflicts which are mainly represented as internal conflicts. The first being the role of the press in stirring up social division, which leads to scapegoating and vigilante violence and reinforcing social stigma, which prevents victims of certain crimes from speaking out and also leads to certain individuals being endangered by the press once their past is revealed. The second being the role of judiciary and the police in preventing justice from taking place due to malpractice, negligence, and procedural mistakes which leads to vigilante violence and he community having to find its own way to resolve its issues and dispel its internal unrest.

In the following chapter we will discuss the depiction of social cohesion in Broadchurch. How in spite of the aforementioned plethora of tensions and conflicts, the aforementioned community and communal institutions is also shown to be capable of togetherness, solidarity and cooperation. Firstly, we will focus on the way in which Broadchurch depicts the formation of town identity and cohesion as a consequence of the community perceiving itself as being under threat. How members of the community form a narrative of unity and togetherness by projecting the criminal aspect outside of the in-group and othering the perpetrator. Secondly, we will discuss certain major characters of the series, who in addition to representing themselves as individual actors in the plot also represent certain communal institutions and their role in bringing social cohesion to the community.

In the conclusion we will seek to summarize our findings in two parts. The first will focus on the ways in which Broadchurch depicts the weaknesses and dangers of local communal life. From a weakened local church and a failing sense of togetherness, a diminished local press, financially disencentivised to do in-depth investigative journalism, and instead coerced in doing sensationalist reporting which proves damaging to social cohesion, to a disempowered and underfunded local police force, struggling to remain impartial and objective and to disentangle itself from the community to which some many of its members belong lest it undermine its own investigation and fail to bring criminals to justice. In the second part, we will discuss the positive message about local community Broadchurch ultimately puts forth. We will specifically take a look at how Broadchurch positions the capability of local community for solidarity and togetherness as a contrast against the social fragmentation and urban alienation so often depicted in the contemporary Crime Drama genre and what this contrast means for the cultural importance of Broadchurch in general and for the Crime Drama in general.

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