tue 21/05/2024

The Missing, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

The Missing, BBC One

The Missing, BBC One

James Nesbitt plays the father of an abducted son in a taut but implausible thriller

Shattered: James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

Given the long shadow cast by the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, it’s sort of surprising that no drama department has commissioned something like The Missing before. It’s not the same story of course. The child alluded to in the title is a five-year-old boy, not a three-year-old girl, and he’s abducted in France rather than Portugal. But it’s impossible not to be aware of the story’s factual parallel.

And the parental trauma as the awful truth dawns is, one can only imagine, exactly the same.

The difference is that The Missing is shaping up to be a thriller. A thriller by its very nature offers a denouement, a set of answers and possibly even closure. We won’t know what form these will take for another seven hours, but already we know that the lives of detectives and journalists as well as the grieving parents have been affected by the case. The drama opened eight years after the abduction. Tony (James Nesbitt) was back in the small town in Normandy where his son Ollie was kidnapped. Having seen a recent photograph in the press of a boy wearing his son’s initialled scarf, he began to make enquiries, and a nuisance of himself. The vaunted detective (Tchéky Karyo) who never cracked the case tiptoed out of retirement to rejoin him in his obsessive pursuit of the truth. By the end of the first episode they had tracked down the house where Ollie was first held captive.

The script flits between then and now. The first flashback returned to the ordinary day on holiday for the Hughes family which went wrong when the car broke down, enforcing a stopover. As the family left the garage on foot, the soundtrack acknowledged this dread turn of events by switching from cheery to eerie. Later, at the moment Tony scoured a sports club for his vanished boy, the din of football fans in a bar was replaced by the whine of high-pitched tinnitus. On the other side of that desolate monotone lurked the kindness of impotent strangers and a chasm of shattering loneliness. It was particularly shattering for Tony who, from the evidence of the flash-forward, had allowed grief and alcohol to destroy his marriage. Eight years on, his wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) was now shacked up with the father of a boy the same age as Ollie.

In this first episode, alarm bells started to tinkle when it emerged that Emily met her current partner (Jason Flemyng) when he was assigned to the case in France as UK police liaison officer. This has the whiff of iffy plotting, as does the convenient fact that Karyo’s French copper Julien is a fluent English speaker married to an Englishwoman (Anastasia Hille). In short, the script by Harry and Jack Williams seems to want to throw in everything but the cuisine sink. Perhaps out of respect to the McCanns, The Missing is giving naturalism and plausibility a politely wide berth. It's nothing like real life, but you want to know what convolutions await. As Oscar Wilde might have said, that's what fiction means.

Perhaps out of respect to the McCanns, 'The Missing' is giving naturalism and plausibility a wide berth


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters