Television Review: The Missing

The Missing is an eight-part drama on BBC1 depicting the abduction of Oliver Hughes, a boy taken while on holiday in France with his parents Tony and Emily, played by James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor. The series explores their desperate attempts to find their son with the help of retired detective, Julien (Tchéky Karyo), and the consequences this has on their lives. Minds everywhere echo with the name of Madeleine McCann at such a description.Indeed, the story seems inspired, and its portrayal of such an incident is riveting and terrifyingly realistic.The programme opens with a hauntingly performed song called ‘Come Home’ by a Belgian post-rock band, Amatorski. It suits the theme down to a tee, especially as the singer breathes the words, ‘Oh my love, we pray each day, may you come home and be okay.’ The end of the song is intercepted by a harsh, high-pitched ringing sound that continues into the first scene of each episode. This sound also overlays the scene when Tony frantically searches for his son directly after his disappearance, as well as other moments with similarly heightened emotion. The distinct lack of score - except for minimalist sounds like these - is a noteworthy choice made throughout the programme.Many other aspects of a typical television programme are noticeably absent, which is a more complex reflection of its title. Subtitles are cleverly used to immerse us in Tony and Emily’ confusion after the abduction of their son, as detectives jabber away to one another in fluent French, sometimes translated, sometimes not. Furthermore, the way the plot itself unfolds is frustrating yet delightfully elusive, undoubtedly one of the best I have seen at bringing viewers back to watch each week. The plot development does not feel like a commercial drawing-out of a programme either, like what is increasingly seen in the world of modern cinema, where film sagas find it vital to produce unnecessary multi-part adaptations (cough, The Hunger Games); instead, The Missing feels tantalising, and we do not resent ourselves for wanting more. Every episode is left on the brink of another discovery that will fill in the multitude of gaps. Even in the penultimate episode, we have the beginning of the story, but the middle and the end are a tangle of untied strings, and it is only at its conclusion that there is a suggestion of a resolution.The actors are equally gripping. James Nesbitt’s ever-present grimace, once pointed out, is difficult to ignore, but so is the strength of his performance. Somehow, he manages to capture his character’s intense pain and grief, while also injecting a frantic irrationality that we as an audience simultaneously sympathise with and find frustrating. He is in direct contrast to his cool-headed and intelligent detective friend, whom we appreciate for tempering Tony’s impetuosity – though he also has his demons. O’Connor’s character, too, is one we must feel mixed feelings towards: we understand her desire to move on, of course, but also regard it as giving up. The writers skillfully add many dimensions to each character as the series continues, giving us more reasons to tune in and see what happens next.It was almost expected that the final episode would come as somewhat of an anti-climax, as it failed to emulate the standard it had produced throughout. The final scenes seemed far-fetched and unsatisfying, at least in comparison to previous episodes. What is to its credit, however, is that the series’ resolution produces doubt, as a result of the number of plot strands explored throughout the series. In the end, we become like Tony, unable to accept what is presented to us as the truth, and it is entirely worth watching to see what you yourself believe. The Missing is a series of cinematic calibre, and one of the best series I have seen on BBC in a long time.  Maia Gentle