There seems to be a trend at the moment for TV dramas to start their opening episode from a scene that occurs later on in the story. Examples of this non-linear opener have included John Simm’s escape from custody in Prey and David Morrissey’s attempts to outrun the police in The Driver. BBC One’s new drama The Missing takes this narrative device a step further by presenting us with two timelines; one in the present day and one in the summer of 2006. Writers Jack and Harry Williams utilise these two different timelines to demonstrate how their protagonists have been affected in the eight years since the disappearance of five-year-old Oliver Hughes.
The opening scenes, which are set in the present day, present Oliver’s father Tony as a broken man as he looks wistfully at a boy who would be the same age as his son would be now. Tony’s return to the small village of Chalons du bois, where Oliver went missing eight years ago, has riled the locals who believed their lives had gone back to normal. Tony’s present state as a drunken loner is a complete contrast to when we first meet him in the 2006 scenes. Several of the episode’s early scenes depict the Hughes family as being incredibly happy as they enjoy the final stages of a French holiday. Tony, his wife Emily and Oliver are seen laughing and joking together and don’t even mind that the hotel room they are given doesn’t have a working television. I thought that the Williams brothers did well in letting us get to know this somewhat average family before tearing them apart with Oliver’s disappearance. The disappearance itself occurs after Oliver and Tony have been swimming and stop at a neighbouring bar where crowds have gathered to watch one of France’s World Cup games. As they make their way through the crowds, Tony loses his son’s hand for one second and when he looks back Oliver has disappeared.
The direction in this scene, and the ones that directly follow it, was superb and I loved how the camera focused on Oliver has he disappeared from shot. Director Tom Shanklan expertly captures the fear on Tony’s face as he surveys the scene and realises that Oliver has disappeared. The moment where the penny finally drops for Tony is brilliantly realised as we see him standing devastated in the middle of an empty park whilst French football fans celebrate in the background. After Oliver’s disappearance, The Missing does become somewhat of a mystery drama as both the 2006 and 2014 timelines explore the lines of investigation. The scenes directly following Oliver’s disappearance are concerned with introducing the investigating team including Khalid Ziane, who is clearly hiding a secret, and Laurence Relaud an inexperienced officer who the family take a liking to. But it is Julien Baptiste who leads the investigation which turns out to be the last case he takes on before retirement. Julien is presented as a methodical detective and, in the modern day scenes, a man who can’t help but be curious when Tony returns to France.
The scenes featuring Julien, and the investigation in general, put me in mind of one of the European dramas that BBC Four air of a Sunday evening. Julien is definitely reminiscent of several of the gruff detectives who inhabit these Euro-noir series and I feel that The Missing is as much his story as it is Tony’s. It appears that even though Julian has tried to fill his retirement with a new hobby, specifically bee-keeping, Tony’s new evidence starts him hunting for Oliver all over again. The evidence in particular, a scarf that had been made especially for Oliver, saw Tony and Julien journey the charity shops in the area before arriving at a house that may hold several secrets of its own. Whilst it took me a while to fully invest in Julien’s renewed quest to find Oliver, the closing revelation had me on the edge of my seat and definitely got me intrigued enough to tune in next week.
Although I’m not sure if the dual narrative worked throughout the episode it certainly allowed for some interesting revelations over the hour. One of the most interesting was that of Emily who, since Oliver’s disappearance, has left Tony and is now moving into a new house with a new beau. Though Emily’s relationship with Mark appears to be fairly normal to begin with, the flashback scenes later reveal that he was one of the police officers assigned to Oliver’s case. The writers appear to be suggesting that one of the reasons that Emily is with Mark is due to the fact that he has a son the same age as Oliver. In fact when Emily and Mark first meet it’s due to the fact that she and Tony see a little boy in the square and believe him to be Oliver. Although, on first appearances, Emily might be dealing with Oliver’s disappearance a little better we later see that she is dealing with her grief in different ways. In addition to the main investigation, Emily’s storyline is equally intriguing and I’m especially interested to learn how she and Mark got together.
Alongside some fantastic direction, and a brilliant score, one of The Missing’s best qualities is its fantastic cast, who have the tough job of portraying characters at two different stages in their lives. James Nesbitt gives a compelling turn as Tony, especially in the modern day scenes in which he portrays his character as a broken man. Although Nesbitt is equally great at portraying the happier Tony, it’s when Oliver goes missing that the actor comes into his own. As Emily, Frances O’Connor brought a realism to her portrayal of a mother who loses her son and is still struggling to fill the void in her life. Meanwhile, Tcheky Karyo was great as the newly-retired Julien as he perfectly conveyed the police detective’s struggle not to investigate Tony’s new evidence.
The fact that The Missing is an eight-part series means that the Williams brothers have plenty of story yet to tell and this first episode certainly suggested that this drama would be a slow-burner. I believe that having the two timelines allows the brothers to give us more shocks such as the way that Emily and Mark first meet. What I liked the most about the drama was the fact that it was both a detective drama and a character study about how certain people deal with a traumatic event. Although I wasn’t fully gripped throughout the entirety of this instalment, the majority of this opener demonstrated that The Missing is a well-acted, well-directed, cleverly-plotted drama that will have plenty of twists and turns throughout its seven remaining episodes.
What did you think to The Missing? Will you be sticking with it?
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