A vital element in the success of record-breaking 2013 British drama Broadchurch was the hauntingly beautiful, BAFTA Award-winning score by the young Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds. To coincide with the arrival of a much-anticipated second series of Broadchurch in January 2015, Mercury Classics is releasing a full soundtrack album of musical highlights from both series.
The first series of Broadchurch, about a hunt for the killer of a young boy in a small coastal community, rapidly became a bona fide national obsession (Entertainment Weekly). Produced by Kudos for ITV, it gained an audience of 10 million viewers, making it the highest-rated drama on the UK s main commercial channel. When it was later screened in France, it immediately broke a long-standing viewing record on the channel France 2 and peaked at 7.3 million viewers. The show has enjoyed similar international success in 135 countries; and generated ITV s largest ever Twitterstorms of more than 470,000 viewers comments, many of them about the music. The critical response was equally impressive, and particular emphasis was placed on the score. In addition to scooping three BAFTA Awards (including Best Drama Series), it won another BAFTA Craft Award for Arnalds emotionally powerful and austere soundscapes. Among a host of other prizes and nominations, the series gained the Best Music spot at the prestigious Bulldog Awards presented by Televisual, the principal magazine of the TV production industry.
In the Radio Times, Alison Graham wrote, The terrific music is important in building Broadchurch s chilly atmosphere and dark mood. Like the best music, it s unobtrusive and doesn t tell you what you should be feeling. In the New York Times, Mike Hale called the score a tasty icing of gloom and foreboding , and Televisual commented that the soundtrack was as big as the Broadchurch landscape... and as melancholic as its tragedy and hidden secrets.
It is fitting that the score should be praised as highly as Broadchurch as a whole. Author Chris Chibnall was a long-term fan of Ólafur Arnalds albums which combine contemporary classical influences, avant-garde electronics, and evocative ambient sounds and listened to them when writing the script. The mysterious and melancholy atmosphere of the show had Arnalds music in its creative DNA from the very beginning.
After getting a green light for his project, Chibnall then approached Arnalds (via his website) to compose the score. The Icelander was just 26 when he was commissioned, but was already a hugely successful composer and performer both in his homeland and internationally. Ólafur s music just broke my heart. I instinctively felt if we could get him, it would be amazing, said Chibnall. In a remarkably short space of time, Arnalds created an atmospheric and hypnotic score which captured both the mood and direction of the plot and the imaginations of millions of viewers. He assigned evocative themes to the most important characters and elements of the story, including the bleak and dominating Broadchurch cliffs (which are in reality part of the UK s spectacular Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site in Dorset.) The music is a narrative all of its own, commented Chibnall.
The austere and otherworldly score, composed for string quartet, piano and synthesizer, was recorded in an empty church in Reykjavik. The soundtrack also included a song, So Close , sung by Arnór Dan and performed at the end of each episode: Chris Chibnall s lyrics teasingly contained a clue to the identity of the killer of young Danny Latimer.
With the advent of the second Broadchurch series in January 2015 already widely being hailed as the most eagerly anticipated television highlight of the year - a full album with music from both parts is available for the first time.
How crucial is a score to a piece of television, or film? Imagine Blade Runner or Chariots Of Fire without Vangelis. Imagine Star Wars without John Williams. (in fact, you can, there s an early trailer for the movie on YouTube, which features no John Williams and it s not the Star Wars you know and love.)
Now imagine Broadchurch without the music of Olafur Arnalds. I can t. One of my biggest fears for series 2 is that we wouldn t be able to tempt him back and then what would we do? Luckily, he felt as possessive about the show, as we did about him.
For me, the joy of writing and producing drama is the collaboration: seeing great actors, artists, technicians and craftspeople working at the top of their game. Seeing a director of photography sculpt with light. Watching an editor cut a sequence together with elegant and precision. Thinking: how do they do that?
Working with a composer is one of the greatest privileges of all. The thrill of receiving a new set of demos from Olafur is unrivalled. What he does is singular: he translates emotion into music. Then he aims that music be it tear-inducing, terrifying or uplifting back at your heart. He never misses.
We re lucky to have him work with us. I still can t listen to track 2, Beth s Theme, without feeling myself on the verge of tears, thinking about Jodie Whittaker walking through the aisles of that supermarket surrounded by prying eyes. Or Track 9, first used in episode 8 of series 1, and not feel Ellie s pain. Every piece here is integral to the impact of our show, while also working superbly as a standalone piece.
What I love is the way Olafur combines classical strings (usually recorded in a church hall in Reykjavik for that perfect sound) with modern beats, traditional piano with electronic synths. This eclectic emotionalism (I just made that phrase up, it s hard to talk about music) is always surprising, always fresh.
There s one other thing you need to know about Olafur Arnalds. He is a lovely person: warm, generous, collaborative and a lot of fun. He surrounds himself with talented people who share those same traits. Maybe that s why his music is so honest and heartfelt and true: that s just who he is. His speech when he won the BAFTA for his work on Broadchurch made a room of hardened TV industry professionals cry and fall in love with him simultaneously.