'Broadchurch' Season 3 Takes Sexual Assault Seriously

Colin Hutton/BBC America

One of the tentpole crime dramas in the detective miniseries trend is Broadchurch, a British drama that introduced a small, seaside town where the murder of a young boy touched nearly everyone, from the boy's parents to the local preacher. But in a shift from the first two seasons, which covered the investigation of that crime and subsequent trial, Season 3 of Broadchurch will be about another crime: a rape that has similarly far-reaching consequences. Is Broadchurch Season 3 based on a true story?

Just as they are in the first two seasons, the Broadchurch Season 3 characters are all original. But the story and how it's told will be informed by real instances of rape and sexual assault. However, based on what the cast and crew have to say about this year, it sounds like that inspiration does not extend to basing Trish's assault on one specific, existing case.

Still, the series is endeavoring to treat sexual assault with care. The first season broached the topic through the lens of pedophilia. Danny Latimer was a child who was being abused by an adult. But it seems that Broadchurch Season 3 will show that the small coastal town's problems go beyond the abuse and murder of Danny. "Within this horrific sexual attack, it’s unearthed a culture that is present," Jodie Whittaker, who plays Danny's mother Beth, said to Den Of Geek.

Broadchurch showrunner Chris Chibnall told The Telegraph that in developing this season, he and his team "went away for several months, talking to the extraordinary people who work in sexual-assault support services, survivors, the people who investigate it." He also told the publication that these interviews included asking these professionals if "Broadchurch was the forum in which to tell this story, and everyone said yes." Despite that endorsement, Chibnall was wary of adding to the many instances of gendered violence that have appeared on TV. He said:

"As a programme-maker, you’ve got a responsibility to examine your choices and how they play in the wider world. Does [violence against women] need to be shown? It’s difficult for me to speak about other shows, but I hope Broadchurch offers a thoughtful, compassionate, detailed, well-researched depiction of the emotional complexities of it. It’s not there as a plot device."

According to The Express, Juliet Marsh, a victim of sexual assault, told British talk show This Morning that the depiction of rape on Broadchurch accurately recreated the experience she went through in the wake of her own assault. "It was like stepping back in time. It was mind-blowingly accurate. Being picked up by the police and being processed and gathering evidence from you to hopefully secure a conviction for you," she said.

But even though it's taking pains to be accurate to the real experience of victims, Broadchurch has never really been a ripped-from-the headlines series. It dramatizes the pain of unspeakable circumstances, and emphasizes that life still goes on. But there won't be any more Broadchurch after this, Chibnall confirmed to The Express on the eve of the finale airing in the UK. (He'll be taking over as Doctor Who's showrunner in Season 11.) This particular case will be the last time audiences watch Detectives Miller and Hardy solving a crime while staying sympathetic to the human element left in its wake.