Your child is there one minute and in a heartbeat when you turn your back, they are gone. Vanished. Missing. Snatched. Dead. Alive. Who knows?
The emotions run thick and fast: helplessness, anguish, emptiness, guilt, fury. Lives fall apart and a world is turned upside down.
Such emotions are dissected in BBC’s new 8 part drama series The Missing starring James Nesbitt (The Hobbit Trilogy, Cold Feet, Murphy’s Law, Jekyll, Occupation), Frances O’Connor (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Three Dollars, Mr. Selfridge) and Tchéky Karyo (Goldeneye, The Patriot).
The series begins in 2006 when UK parents Tony (James Nesbitt) and Emily (Frances O’Connor) take their five year old son Oliver (Oliver Hunt) on a holiday to France. But -without giving you any spoiler info- Oliver soon disappears, upending the worlds of his most desperate parents in a foreign location. Alone and battling police procedure and language, theirs is a race against time to find the boy.
But The Missing takes a more psychological than procedural approach to its drama, with Tony depicted in the present still searching for Oliver, contrasted with flashbacks of the incident and its immediate fallout. Significantly, while Tony is still on the hunt for answers eight years later, wife Emily has moved on -including to a new relationship. It soon becomes obvious that the loss of a child has ripped a family apart.
The third key player in this saga is Tchéky Karyo as Julien Baptiste, a local police detective overseeing the case in 2006 but drawn back to its unsolved mystery by the obsessive Tony. While he’s now retired, the case hangs over Baptiste like unfinished business. Despite some cynicism about Tony’s tunnel-vision pursuit of justice, Baptiste is confidante and the voice of reason.
The cast also includes Arsher Ali as journalist Malik Suri and Jason Flemyng as British police officer Mark Walsh.
Writers Harry and Jack Williams cleverly plant a foot in the present and the past, as well as two countries, leaving plenty of missing pieces in between to solve. We know the couple have drifted apart, we know the child disappeared and we know the two men in Tony and Baptiste have formed a strong alliance. What we don’t know is “how….?”
The parallels between the plotine and the actual case of Madeleine McCann are fairly obvious (she disappeared in 2007 in Portugal). But every country has their own profile crimes -Azaria Chamberlain, Siriyakorn “Bung” Siriboon, Daniel Morcombe, Beaumont children to name a few Australian cases- that grip the nation and tear at our heartstrings. The Missing shines a light on the emotions behind the headlines, albeit via fiction. It may prove to be a big ask as entertainment.
James Nesbitt is again compelling as the tormented father, telling us he has lost everything, while the softly spoken Tchéky Karyo is enigmatic as the detective cautiously revisiting the case. Their relationship is arguably more interesting than the fragmented marriage between Oliver’s parents.
With its continental backdrop The Missing leans heavily towards Scandinavian drama. It uses provincial settings, and takes its time in peeling back a dense, character essay.
If you’re drawn to dramas like The Killing, The Bridge and The Returned, this will be right up your alley.
The Missing premieres with a double episode 8:30pm Sunday November 30 on BBC First.