The Missing, BBC1, with James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tcheky Karyo PREVIEW

Tony (JAMES NESBITT) in The Missing
Stranded – Tony’s life is shattered by his son’s disappearance. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 28 October, 9pm

Story: Tony and Emily Hughes’ life changes forever when their five year-old son Oliver goes missing on a family holiday to France.

IT’S SAID THAT CRIME DRAMAS are a way for viewers to confront the nasty, violent side of life from the safety of their sofas. Well, The Missing is different. It confronts you with something more haunting – a living nightmare.

Because this tale of child abduction is so truthfully and simply told, it is much more affecting than run-of-the-mill murder and mayhem tales can ever be.

James Nesbitt ditches the smarmy and cheeky side of his repertoire to offer a powerful portrayal of a man none of us wants to be – the parent who loses his five-year-old son.

A normal holiday turned nightmare

He plays Tony, a normal, hard-working guy on his hols in France with wife Emily and little Oliver.

Tony (James Nesbitt) and Oliver (Oliver Hunt)
When everything was normal – Tony with Oliver

When his car breaks down they stop in Chalons du Bois and put up in a little hotel while the vehicle is repaired.

France is gripped by a big soccer tournament featuring their team. After taking Oliver for a swim, Tony and the boy go to a resort bar that is packed with football-enthralled locals. When he turns round, Oliver is gone. While everyone is celebrating the big match, Tony charges around in a mounting panic.

This eight-parter swings the narrative between this traumatic moment and events eight years later, when Tony and Emily have split. Continued…

Heartbreaking drama

Tony has gone off the rails, obsessed that Oliver is still alive, stalking the streets of Chalon du Bois

Emily (Frances O'Connor) in The Missing
Emily has tried to rebuild her life

grabbing people in the street for news of his boy. Emily, now settled with the UK police liaison officer assigned to their case, appears to have adjusted, but she is merely covering up how damaging the memories of her son still are to her.

It’s a heartbreaking drama, built on small details that make the story grounded in real life and painful. The parents are not perfect. Tony is hitting the booze and has become an outcast in this forlorn quest.

If this all seems to echo real-life tragedies involving stolen children, such as Madeleine McCann, then that impression is reinforced when Tony is told in France that his presence is making people ‘uncomfortable’.

Retired French detective

Tony’s torment is heightened because he is given hope. He has found a recent photo of another boy,

Tcheky Karyo plays Julien in The Missing BBC
Retired detective Julien

a tourist’s son, in Chalon du Bois wearing Oliver’s initialled yellow scarf. Tony appeals to the retired detective who initially ran the investigation, Julien Baptiste, now retired, to help him.

Reluctantly, Baptiste quietly returns to the town and starts snooping. By the end of the opener, he and Tony are making disturbing progress.

Written by Harry and Jack Williams, The Missing is an engrossing story that definitely begs the awful question in the viewer of how they would behave in these circumstances. It is an honest attempt to look at a frightening crime against a family.

James Nesbitt is compelling as Tony

Interviewed in the weekend’s Observer, Nesbitt says this is the most challenging role he’s had since Bloody Sunday, and he rises to it well.

James Nesbitt as Tony in The Missing BBC
Tony looks for Oliver during the celebrations

He also says: ‘We are becoming inured to the horror of a lot of these [crime] shows, so whether it will be too much for viewers is an interesting question. I believe if these stories are told truthfully, then audiences will go there.’

Personally, I put off watching this for more than a week. There was always something less traumatic around to watch. But having seen it now, I would say it’s a wonderfully understated drama that is moving and gripping.

Cast: James Nesbitt Tony, Frances O’Connor Emily, Tcheky Karyo Julien, Oliver Hunt Oliver

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