Recent statistics have said that a child is reported missing every 5 minutes.
It’s hard to know how to feel when you hear that; the numbers and scale are just too huge to comprehend. What BBC One’s new eight-part drama The Missing tries to do is bring that down to an individual level and focus on one fictional case to give the audience some idea of how horrific it can be to lose a child.
The Missing centres on the disappearance of Olly Hughes whilst on holiday in France with his parents Tony and Emily (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor). Based on that description alone it’s more than likely brought to mind the recent cases of Madeline McCann and Ben Needham from both of which this show draws inspiration.
There are two timelines running across the show, the events of 2006 when Olly went missing and 2014 when his father returns to Chalons du Bois believing he’s found a new piece of evidence.
There’s nothing maudlin or soppy about The Missing; no shots of James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor crying and clutching one of Olly’s toys and that absence is remarkably refreshing. It’s a mystery drama told in two time periods – the first during the initial police investigation and the second during Tony’s return visit to the town his son was lost. The script is tense but also really engaging, it’s a balancing act between the mystery and emotional elements and sibling writing team Harry and Jack Williams have managed that with aplomb.
The first episode sets up a lot of threads for the series to follow over its remaining episodes. We learn that at some point following Olly’s disappearance John and Emily have split up and she’s now in a relationship with their Police liaison officer (something that screams conflict of interest), the introduction of a shady journalist in 2006 who’s written a book on the abduction by 2014, the absence of Detective Ziane from present day events and the unspoken event discussed by Tony and his Father-in-Law during the events of 2006.
James Nesbitt is the show’s lynchpin. Known for his more manic and comedic roles, Nesbitt really sinks his teeth into the character and does a wonderful job of conveying that initial gut punch and then the continuous, slow torment of losing a child.
Mr Selfridge’s Frances O’Connor is also very good. She could very well have been painted as the uncaring mother, as in 2014 she has ostensibly moved on with her life, but her role is more nuanced than that and feels like it will continue in that vein. Both actors do a superb job of making events seem frighteningly real, brilliantly putting across the confusion and frustration all parents of missing children must feel.
The Missing is shaping up to be an engrossing thriller with a heart-breaking story at its core. Some intriguing breadcrumbs have been laid, now all the show has to do is follow them.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 28 October 2014 on BBC One.
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