Broadchurch Season 3: A Realistic Portrayal of Rape?

Almost ten million Brits who watched the first two seasons of Broadchurch were enthralled by the gripping mystery of the murder of Danny Latimer and the subsequent trial of his killer, Joe Miller. Once the loose ends were tied and – to the nation’s outrage – Joe Miller was acquitted, the question begged. How could the quaint little seaside town of Broadchurch possibly see another investigation as complex and captivating as the first?

The announcement date for the third and final season of the television crime drama created a huge amount of hype. Viewers were intrigued to know what twists and turns the next mystery would bring and, in classic Broadchurch style, the show kept everything a huge secret. Since season one, writer Chris Chibnall became renowned for his secrecy about the culprit, even keeping the cast and crew in the dark throughout the filming schedule. The first episode of season three aired on 27th February 2017 and we discovered the topic of investigation: rape.

Rape is, arguably, seen as a bit of a taboo subject. I personally believe that rape has often been misinterpreted on television. Whether a soap opera storyline prior to the watershed or a sub-plot for the sake of shock drama, multiple programmes have in the past been criticised for their portrayals of sexual assaults. Despite this, television is a brilliant medium for raising awareness of sensitive subjects. I was pleased that critically-acclaimed Broadchurch had chosen to tackle rape in their final series and hoped that it would be handled in a delicate and perceptive manner.

We were introduced to the character of Trish Waterman, brilliantly portrayed by Julie Hesmondhalgh. The harrowing aftermath of her rape saw the return of detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) treat her allegation with the utmost seriousness. Trish was never doubted for a second by the police, which I feel is extremely important in the realm of current media where we occasionally see stories of women falsely accusing others of rape. Although in some cases, yes, the men are innocent and the women lying are those in the wrong, this can sometimes give the impression to sexual assault victims that they will not be believed by the police, hence why I approved of Miller and Hardy’s firm belief of the victim from the offset.

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Broadchurch Season 3 Promo Shot courtesy of IMDB

The sequence of events following the report of the rape was not at all dissimilar from a real investigation. The initial importance of forensics tests, the compilation of information, the piecing together of the night itself and the support of Independent Sexual Violence Advocate Beth Latimer (Jodie Whittaker) were all incredibly accurate. Again I deem this important as it allows any watching sexual violence survivor to relate and realise that they are not alone. Perhaps the only part I would have deemed slightly unrealistic would be Beth Latimer’s outburst to rape victim Laura (Kelly Gough) about her decision to not report her case. ISVAs are specially trained to remain calm and supportive and I think that they are an asset in their ability to support rape victims.

Of course, Broadchurch wouldn’t be Broadchurch without numerous plot twists throughout its storyline. Viewers and reviewers alike were left guessing after every episode who the culprit could possibly be. From the offset we were led to believe that it would be someone Trish knew. Research has shown that in the majority of sexual assaults, the perpetrator is known by the victim.

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Screen capture from Broadchurch courtesy of IMDB

The culprit was finally revealed as 16-year-old Michael Lucas who had been groomed by serial rapist Leo Humphries. Humphries’ character was well portrayed by Chris Mason and hugely unlikeable. He was a true representation of misogyny and followed the crude belief that all women are sex objects for men. As repulsive as Humphries was, it was arguably a wakeup call for many viewers that men like him do exist and do follow the same views in reality.

On the whole, I believe that Broadchurch was certainly a realistic portrayal of rape and hopefully changed some attitudes to a very real and very sensitive subject. Since the finale of the show, Broadchurch is working with the charity Safeline to help break the stigma of sexual assault.