I’m told that I have a deeply annoying habit. Whether I’m reading a novel or watching a film or crime drama, I will often blurt out the name of the ‘bad guy’ before the conclusion. For me, it’s like doing a crossword. For others, it’s like ruining the punch line of a good joke, (especially if I actually get it right.) However smug I might feel when I rumble the villain in the opening scene or chapter, I’m more entertained if I get it wrong. I love it when a writer can fool me. Robert McKee, scriptwriting guru, once said that it was important to give the audience what they want but not in the way they want it. Couldn’t agree more.
So with this in mind, I have been utterly gripped for the past seven weeks by ‘The Missing’. With a tight cast of first-rate actors, ‘The Missing’ is a story about the abduction of a little boy, Oliver Hughes, while on holiday with his parents in France. Similarities with the real life disappearance of Madeleine McCann abound. As an exercise in parental agony, it doesn’t get any better than this. The sheer destruction that such a loss can inflict on a couple, and the undermining of those in the wider community, is breathtakingly authentic.
The narrative is played out between two timelines: events at the actual time of Olly’s disappearance, and what happens later when Tom Hughes, played brilliantly by James Nesbitt, uncovers clues that initiate a new police investigation. Tom’s dogged refusal to give up the search for his son borders on obsession and yet, deep in our hearts, given that kind of monstrous loss, we recognise that each one of us could easily fall into and wear his shoes. Less sensitively handled, ‘The Missing’ could have been a misery fest – Emily Hughes played by Frances O’Connor gives a gut-wrenching performance of a mother’s grief – and yet there is something uplifting about both parents’ desire for the truth, however painful that truth is. A little Gallic humour, in the guise of Julien Baptise, the lead French officer on the case, and played with nuanced charm by Tcheky Karyo, lightens the load.
But back to where I came in: I always had creepy Ian Garrett (Ken Stott) down for a bad guy. Clearly paedophile, Vincent Bourg, is an obvious candidate. But, honestly, I find it difficult to call. Actually, I’m not that focused on the quest to ‘get it right’. This superb drama is too enthralling to waste time on playing mind games.