These are the tricks the mind and heart play when something awful happens, or threatens to. It's the internal daemons that haunt us all, and it's these that The Child in Time on BBC One is conjuring up for us this Sunday night.
Ian McEwan's The Child in Time is often heralded as his best work. The novel won the Whitbread Novel Award the year it was published. It tells the story of children’s author Stephen (played by Cumberbatch in the BBC adaptation) and his wife Julie (Kelly Macdonald) who struggle to live with their grief after their young daughter vanishes on a shopping trip.
In part, McEwan's novel is about the fluidity and fallibility of time, and the vulnerability of the mind. The TV film pays homage to the themes of the novel, by slicing the drama up with flashbacks and flash-forwards. The result is a deluge of little scenes, of choppy memory, of horror intercut poignantly with scenes of family bliss.
When the drama opens, we see Stephen (Cumberbatch) shopping with his young daughter. By the time he has finished paying for his groceries, his little girl is no longer where he left her. Flash forward to his trip to the police station. Flash forward to his breaking the news to his wife. Flash forward to two years later, and that's where the real story begins.
Soon the flashes are interspersed with scenes in which Cumberbatch imagines seeing his daughter in the arms of another, or crossing the road with new friends. These human moments of madness are interspersed with visions of the future and past, reinforcing the frenzied nature of our minds in times of grief.
Cumberbatch and Macdonald are joined by Stephen Campbell Moore (The History Boys) and Saskia Reeves (Wolf Hall).
We are obsessed with tales of missing children. In real life, we pore over news stories of Madeleine McCann who, despite going missing in 2007, continues to make headlines. Just recently, Netflix announced that they'll be making a documentary about her disappearance, without her parent's cooperation.
There's been a flurry of dramas about missing children. Don’t Look Now, The Missing and Broadchurch, Stranger Things and the BBC's The Moorside all feature a disappearance and the consequential mental break-down of those who search desperately for the child they love.
Against the odds, The Child in Time manages to be full of loving, hopeful and heart-warming moments, all whilst staring unflinchingly into the dark abyss that is every parent's worst nightmare, a horror powerful enough to send them mad: the disappearance of a child. You're going to need tissues.
|What||The Child in Time, BBC One|
|Where||BBC One, BBC One | MAP|
24 Sep 17 – 04 Nov 17, 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM