Broadchurch returns for a second season with an unusual hook: Rather than moving on from last season’s solved crime — the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer — the past comes back to bedevil cops Alec Hardy (David Tennant, looking no more or less morose after the failure of Fox to launch its Broadchurch recreation Gracepoint) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman).
Remember how our low-key heroes had fingered Ellie’s husband, Joe (Matthew Gravelle), for the crime, case closed, tears shed, betrayal felt, get a shave Hardy, let’s move on? (Read our primer on Season 1 if you don’t.)
Well, turns out the accused is now denying guilt and will stand trial, thus reopening in viewers’ minds a case we thought was closed. And whattaya know: Turns out that Broadchurch, whose town entrance sign reads, I believe, “The Little Town That Hides Big Secrets,” is also home to a brilliant, retired lawyer in the form of Charlotte Rampling (pictured below), whom you’d think we would have seen yelling at an overpricing fruit vendor or something in the background of Season 1.
But no, she’s introduced here as coming out of semi-retirement to prosecute Joe, who’s being defended by her former protégé, played by Oscar-nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste (pictured below). Boy, once you create a hit show, the classy actors really come out of the woodwork…
Plus, reaching even further back, we get immersed in one of the past cases that contributed to Hardy’s ongoing poor health: the disappearance of two young girls. Hardy’s suspect was the girls’ tough-guy next-door neighbor, Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy, seen most recently in Marvel’s Agent Carter), whose wife, Claire (Torchwood’s Eve Myles), now feels threatened by him.
Whew. That’s a lot of plot. Fortunately, Broadchurch, created and written by Chris Chibnall, still excels most frequently as a character study — to a notable degree, of all its major characters, who are sketched with vividness and, in almost every case, sympathy and poignance. Which means that even if the details of the crimes and their investigation sometimes seem unnecessarily knotty or far-fetched (would Hardy really have pledged to personally protect Claire Ashworth, to the point of relocating and putting her up in a safe house?), the drama of the performances carries you past your misgivings. Or least it does mine.
Specifically, having seen the first half of this eight-episode series, I’ve liked every minute of Rampling’s performance. Her Jocelyn Knight is a brilliant mind trapped in a body that’s failing her, taking on a case that irritates her as much as it intrigues her. As her courtroom opponent, Jean-Baptiste’s Sharon Bishop is keeping the upset of a family tragedy at bay while maintaining a cool veneer of relentless logic.
But as was true of the show’s first go-round, the most valuable player in Broadchurch remains Colman, whose Ellie is fascinatingly complex: Shrewd cop, agonized spouse, exhausted parent, resentfully suspicious of everyone including Hardy. Tennant is very good, but the role calls for him go over the same ground. Colman, by contrast, blossoms — or as much as one over-worked woman can blossom while subsisting on a diet of Scotch eggs and Kit-Kat bars. Watching her prevail is one of Broadchurch’s chief pleasures.
Broadchurch premieres Wednesday, March 4 10 p.m. on BBC America.