On a family holiday in France a young English boy, Ollie, goes missing from his parents’ care. Authorities take immediate action calling in a veteran detective to head the investigation. As he arrives on the scene, Detective Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) notes ‘we find him immediately, or we don’t find him’ – a stark and devastating truth about child abduction cases in which the culprit is not an estranged parent or family member. Because of the way that the drama is structured we know that the child will not be found during the initial investigation. Set over two time periods, the story began in the present day with the boy’s father Jack (Nesbitt) drinking alone in a French bar and renting a desolate hotel room.
Jumping back eight years to before the child’s disappearance we see a different man to the haunted figure we have just met. The seasons also change from winter to summer. Leaving his wife Emily (Francis O’Connor) in the hotel, Jack and Ollie go to a crowded bar to watch the World Cup. The bar is packed, noisy, and a shot on goal sends the French supporters wild. Ollie is holding his father’s hand and then, in a blink, he isn’t.
Returning to the present, Jack meets with Baptiste and reveals the reason for his return – a recent photo posted on Facebook showing another child wearing the distinctive scarf Ollie was wearing when he disappeared. The geotagging shows the photo’s location clearly and Jack is convinced it is a lead.
This opening episode of eight established a large cast but centred on the father. James Nesbitt’s everyman qualities have helped make him a major star on UK television, but he can also turn off his charm to play tough (as in Colin Bateman’s detective series Murphy’s Law). In The Missing he plays to both ends of his range, moving from loving father and husband to driven, obsessed loner.
The dual timeframe allowed for a number of questions to be posed. What happened to the Hughes’ marriage? How has the retired Baptiste come by a pronounced limp? Why does Jack carry a degree of notoriety in the present? However, the centring of the drama on the paternal figure could be deemed problematic. One hopes the next seven episodes flesh out the character of Emily, Ollie’s mother.
One of the pleasures of this opening episode was the care taken to show detectives actually carrying out detective work – especially when Baptiste and Jack follow the clues found in the photograph of the scarf. This leads to a shocking discovery and evidence that Ollie was actually ‘taken’.
Directed with a deliberate lack of flash by Tom Shankland, best known for Ripper Street and two distinctive horror films (w Delta z and The Children), and written by Harry and Jack Williams, episode one of The Missing occasionally relied on convenient plot twists to move the story forward, but laid the groundwork for a potentially gripping series exploring contemporary fears. The question is will it ultimately exploit those fears and the real-life tragedies which it is clearly inspired by?
Directed by Tom Shankland
Starring James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Jason Flemyng, Saïd Taghmaoui
Did you watch the first instalment of The Missing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!