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Soundtrack review: Broadchurch (Olafur Arnalds – 2015)


Soundtrack review: Broadchurch (Olafur Arnalds – 2015)


“Broadchurch” is a British drama about an 11 year old boy’s murder in a small town and how this influences the lives of everyone else. It seems to be a show in the vein of “Twin Peaks” (sans the surreal elements) or “The Killing”. It is probably very bleak and hopeless. The score for this TV show was written by Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds. I am very excited every time I hear about a new composition from him because I loved his score for “Gimme shelter”, it was one of the best surprises of 2014.

The relationship between TV show and music in this case is special and unusual: the creator of the series is a huge fan of Arnalds and spend hours and hours listening to his music while writing the show, to the point where the said that the music actually influenced the tone and mood of the show. Now these emotions are transferred to us through this soundtrack release and I imagine I can connect with both show and music while listening to it.

My first thought when the music starts is that I am familiar with this sound; I was expecting it and I am happy to get a score that sounds like this. The music is magnetic, pulsating and melodic. You don’t need more than a string quartet and a piano to explore deep and varied feelings and to relay them to an eager listener. In the plot of the show a grisly murder wakes up the town. In the score, Olafur Arnalds does the opposite: he brings life and heart to the story and gradually raises the pulse of the music. Cues like “She’s your mother” or “Excavating the past” have a constant heartbeat running though them and this is how the composer separates the action sequences from the reflective ones.

When the music deals with suspicion and doubt, it’s intentionally slow and stretched. “Suspects” and “What did they ask you” are slow burning cues which give the listener time to ask questions and search for answers. The composer doesn’t steer us in any direction he just lets us feel and make up our minds. The tracks are not overly dramatic (Arnalds didn’t use a full orchestra to avoid making the score sound too exaggerated); the feel real instead. The haunting cello in the background is a constant echo which I associate with the murder of the boy. No matter how the story unfolds the music doesn’t let us forget what this is all about and what started it all.

The electronic echoes in the music sometimes remind me of one of my favorite scores, “Oblivion”. If film music was a huge hotel, “Broadchurch” and “Oblivion” would have rooms on the same floor, close to each other. I love immersing myself again in an atmosphere like this one and having my brain synapses and heartbeats synchronize with the notes that Olafur Arnalds blended together. I love this duality and the dialogue between warm strings and electronic beats.

Looking over the track list I had a feeling that “Broken” was going to be my favorite piece from this album. That piano….those slow and piercing keystrokes which fall like tears…the rich strings that explode in a moment of deep revolt before quieting down and letting the silent crying continue…this is the supreme moment of honesty in “Broadchurch”. And when a composer writes a cue like this one he’s won me over. The feeling of familiarity returns and I know that I will always keep my ears opened for Olafur Arnalds compositions because his music speaks to me; there’s a clear and instant connection with the way I feel and this is the kind of music that plays quite often inside me.

And how about the almost unbearable build up in “I’m not the guilty one”? The noise gets almost deafening as if I’m hearing the cries for innocence. This track riles me up and drowns any residual feelings from previous pieces. All I can hear is that desperate shout which convinces me.

“Broadchurch” is one of those dense and meaningful scores which I take great pleasure in listening to. Every note tells a piece of the story and nothing is in excess here. Even the two vocal songs (both written and sung by Arnor Dan) fit with the puzzle and add something to this composition. I don’t know if they will have another series of this show but I would love to have another release like this. I will surely revisit this score because even if it just came out we’re already old friends…

Cue rating: 95 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 28 / 44

Album excellence: 62%


Main Theme


What Did They Ask You

She’s Your Mother

Excavating The Past


I’m Not The Guilty One

Beth’s Theme



Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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