Mysteries are ingrained in the fabric of British culture, from Jack The Ripper to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, there has always been a keen interest in the whodunnit. The latest mystery to mesmerise the nation was The Missing, an eight part BBC/Starz series written by Harry and Jack Williams.
The series stars James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor as Tony and Emily Hughes, a married couple holidaying in France with their young son Oliver. Their world crumbles when Oliver goes missing and the narrative then follows spilt timelines – 2006 and the present day as the Hughes’ attempt to find their missing son.
The Missing is a pretty good show; it’s nothing outstanding however and it borrows heavily from a lot of similar (and better) shows like True Detective and The Killing. Director Tom Shankland introduces a strong visual style, creating a look that raises The Missing above the standard of a lot of UK based television. However, the show’s weak point is the the complexity (or lack thereof) of the story. The twists and turns aren’t as clever as the maker’s would have you believe and the fractured narrative is a way of distracting you from the relatively straight-forward tale that is unfolding on screen. If The Missing was told in chronicle order, it would have few twists and turns and almost no dramatic thrust.
Frances O’Connor delivers a solid performance as the grieving mother, while James Nesbitt achieves less, eve though he has more to do. Nesbitt only appears to deliver two emotions: angry and confused, but he he’s out of his depth when asked to dig any deeper. Tchéky Karyo is much more successful as Julien Baptiste, the French police officer charged with finding the missing child.
The main selling point with The Missing is how it fits into the recent media landscape. The shadow of the Madeline McCann case looms large over the show, touching many of the plot points. This is a brave move for the BBC, tackling a subject that is still very current in the UK. Likewise for how the show touches on the phone-hacking scandal, a subject that continues to have serious ramifications for British journalism. These are bold moves and it’s a shame that The Missing didn’t delve into them with much more depth.
The Missing will hold your attention over the course of its eight episodes. It’s a perfunctory whodunnit that will entertain and keep you guessing, but it’s not a genre game-changer like True Detective. The story lacks any real complexity and at times it feels as if the show’s makers were inspired by many recent television thrillers. The main thing missing here is originality. I’m being harsh, but only because I hoped for something so much better.