The West Dorset coastline is the 'star' in Chris Chibnall's new ITV drama
PUBLISHED: 16:40 15 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:14 26 February 2013
Scriptwriter Chris Chibnall's latest drama brings him closer to home and stars the West Dorset coastline. Broadchurch, to be screened on ITV1 in March, also stars David Tennant, Olivia Coleman and Pauline Quirke.
From Bridport to Broadchurch
Scriptwriter Chris Chibnall may have travelled the universe with Captain Jack and Dr Who, but his latest drama brings him closer to home and stars the West Dorset coastline
Words: Annette Shaw
Id like it to be a love letter to this coast, to the towering sandstone cliffs and the stunning scenery and ultimately, to honour the importance of community, the positive benefits we all feel when we belong. Dorsets good at all that.
This glowing tribute to our beautiful county comes from scriptwriter Chris Chibnall as he tells me about his new television series Broadchurch, soon to be screened on ITV. This is a man who, knows all about the dashing Captain Jack Harkness and the mysterious Torchwood and has travelled through space and time in the TARDIS. However, it is something of a leap to go from the Daleks to a suspicious death in the small community of Broadchurch - a fictional seaside town - which was filmed in West Bay.
Produced by Kudos Film and Television, the production company behind Spooks and Life on Mars, Broadchurch stars a former Doctor Who - David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy and critically acclaimed actress Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller. Though the full details about Broadchurch are still very much under wraps, the story revolves around the mysterious death of a young boy on the beach at Broadchurch. As a result the town finds itself at the heart of a major police investigation and in the unwelcome spotlight of a national media frenzy. I wanted to explore how a death affects a small community which suddenly finds itself at the eye of the storm, explains Chris. The residents of Broadchurch come under scrutiny and suspicion; its a story of scale and intimacy, as the lives of the characters are laid bare.
Originally from Merseyside, Chris studied drama at St Marys University in Strawberry Hill before going on to gain an MA in Theatre and Film from the University of Sheffield. His first big television break came with Stormin Norman, a monologue starring James Bolam, made for Carlton Television. This was followed in 2002 by the BBC 1 series Born and Bred, a drama about a father and son who run a cottage hospital in Lancashire village in the 1950s, starring James Bolam and Michael French. Chris, who created the series with Nigel McCrery, wrote 17 of the 36 episodes and subsequently became its executive producer.
The Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood was Chris next success, and in 2005 he was appointed head writer and co-producer of the successful sci-fi show which went onto win Best Drama Series at the 2007 BAFTA Cymru awards.
That same year Chris moved to ITV1s Law and Order: UK, based on the American series; Chris was lead writer and executive producer. In addition to this he also worked on Camelot (an adult retelling of the Arthurian legend), Life on Mars and there were also occasional return visits to Doctor Who.
I was travelling everywhere. Torchwood was filmed in Cardiff, Law and Order in London and every Monday morning I got on a plane at Exeter Airport to go and work on Camelot in Dublin. So setting a drama in the West Country and being closer to home became very appealing, he says.
It is ten years since Chris and his wife Madeline moved from Kings Cross in the heart of London to Bridport. The decision to relocate came after a family holiday. Wed never been to Dorset before. My wife, my baby son and I stayed on Marine Parade in Lyme Regis and fell in love with the place. By Valentines Day we were back and got to know Bridport.
The move to Bridport has not only been beneficial for his family life but also for his creative life, as Chris reveals the landscape has helped to inspire him. Dorset gives me space to create. I had a brilliant writing teacher who said it was always good to take a writing problem for a walk. Thats exactly what I did, and still do, in the extraordinary landscape of the Jurassic Coast around West Bay, Burton Bradstock and Eype.
The plan for what would become Broadchurch had been in Chriss mind for ten years - hed even written the script. Id just done Camelot in the USA and essentially I wrote Broadchurch on spec, for myself.
A call to the Head of Drama at ITV snow-balled the project and production was soon under way. Filming started in September in West Bay, Bridport and Eype; other scenes were filmed around Bristol.
Initially Chris says he hadnt thought of exactly where the story would be set, but Dorset linked his thinking together and ideas and locations emerged. He feels that invariably the consequences and impact of an untimely death in a big city are in a close-knit town.
Its much more dramatic, everything has meaning because people are so inherently connected to each other, not just with family or emotionally, but through business and professionally.
Why the name Broadchurch? I thought a lot about the literary heritage of this county. In true Thomas Hardy style I came up with a compound location name of Broadchurch combining the West Dorset hamlets of Broadoak and Whitchurch.
Its interesting to see how diverse Chris is as a writer. Most in this profession work with the mantra of have pen must write, but his field is incredibly broad. Ive really enjoyed my time on sci-fi, its great to dip in and out of that world, but my interests are varied. My absolute passion is relationships and emotional drama. Ive particularly enjoyed working on dramatising real life events and creating pieces which combine social history and drama.
This thinking is echoed in what Chris describes as one of his proudest scriptwriting moments. In April 2011 BBC2 broadcast United based on the 1958 Munich air disaster. The television film tells the true story of Manchester United Football Club, or the Busby Babes as the team was known after their manager Matt Busby. Eight of the clubs players died in the plane crash. Coach Jimmy Murphy was played by David Tennant and Jack OConnell was cast as Bobby Charlton. The premier was shown in Manchester to 120 relatives and survivors.
It was an amazing day and ranks as one of the most moving things Ive ever been involved with, recalls Chris. People Id interviewed during my research said wed honoured what they went through. That meant a great deal. I hope that the story is a testament to what we can overcome when adversity comes calling and how we move beyond grief.
As an occupation, scriptwriting is not the easiest way of earning a living and Chris freely admits it doesnt exactly make sense as a job.
The truth? he laughs. It possibly requires an element of madness. Youre alone with your imagination. Its bursts of solitary confinement which have to be punctuated by something else.
For Chris this balance comes with his role as a show runner, as the Americans would say, meaning he also works as a producer.
My life then flips into social mode, communicative, teamwork and yes, its the most satisfying livelihood imaginable.
Clearly its one he intends to continue, his next projects he tells me are two films for the BBC about the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
As with the novels of Thomas Hardy, strange and terrible things do indeed happen in Broadchurch. However, Dorset has a way of working its magic and as the show is beamed around the UK and beyond, Chris is certain that the filming has captured not only the impressive landscape of this part of the country, but also the spirit of a real community. In addition, the presence of the crew filming on location during the winter months helped the local economy. Im really glad about that, concludes Chris. Theres a lot of associated expenditure with a production this big.
As a thank you to the local community Chris organised a free screening of the first episode of Broadchurch at Bridport Arts Centre in early February to give people a sneak preview of the series. This was followed by a Q&A with Chris, director James Strong and producer Richard Stokes.
Pauline Quirke, who has a role in the drama, has already returned to Bridport and Olivia Colman said in an interview that she too intended to bring her family for seaside break.
It seems that the Broadchurch cast has fallen under Dorsets spell.
ITV will be screening Broadchurch in March 2013. BBC America will also be showing the eight-part series.