Even before the first episode gone out on the BBC expectations for Harry and Jack William’s 8-part thriller The Missing were high. The story revolved around what must be most parent’s worst nightmare. Young Oliver Hughes goes missing in a busy bar in France during a family holiday. We follow Oliver’s panic stricken parents Tony and Emily as they begin the agonising search for their son.
During rounds of early publicity for the incredible James Nesbitt was asked about parallels with the Madeline McCann case. Perhaps that’s understandable, but after just two episodes it was clear that William’s brothers cleverly plotted scripts were far more than a copycat story.
Initially I’ll admit I struggled by the way the story of the investigation was told, with its annoying habit of jumping between action in 2006 and 2014. I’d just get invested in the original investigation when those crafty writers would jump to the present day, where we were presented with a bedraggled Tony Hughes aimlessly roaming the streets of the deserted French village where he son was last seen. I’ll admit that it took me until episode three to realise that this frustrating leap back and forth in time was a clever and deliberate device to drip feed bits of information to the audience, and in some cases let the audience fill in the gaps themselves. It soon became clear that this wasn’t a show that held your hand, slowly spoon-feeding you the necessary information in case you fell behind, this was a drama that demanded your attention, concentration and time. My problems with the dual timelines had all but drifted away by episode three when the story explored intriguing, dark and surprising elements of the plot.
Quite frankly I admire the bravery of BBC, who took a risk to air a dark story that included in-depth stories featuring paedophilia, murder and drug taking in a primetime slot. We do crime drama brilliantly in this country, you only need look at Broadchurch, Line of Duty, Happy Valley and Endeavour to see that. but I think The Missing almost stands in a league of its own. Its unique method of storytelling, character development and performances will stick with me for a long time.
As the story got more intense and Tony and Baptiste crept ever closer to discovering what really happened to Ollie I was utterly gripped. Each episode was a true masterclass in plotting and character development. Particularly engrossing was the plot that involved property developer and influential businessman Ian Garrett. This was Ken Stott as we’ve never seen him before. Garret was mysterious, brooding and terrifying. As with everything in the series his involvement with the Hughes case wasn’t immediately evident, but his story took a dark and evil twist when Tony discovered his links to paedophile Vincent Bourg. The scenes between Nesbitt and Stott were taut with emotion and tension that by the time it reached its brutal conclusion I was left exhausted. The Williams brothers hadn’t finished with me there, as in the next episode a clever and intriguing twist saw Garret and his wife on a boat in the Indian ocean plotting what to do with their lives next. I shan’t spoil what happens there for anyone considering watching the series for the first time.
Every character on display here was damaged in some way. Tony Hughes had no life outside of his son’s case. His ex-wife Emily had tried her best to start a new life in the six years since her son’s disappearance, but she was riddled with feelings of guilt and sadness and was steadily drawn back into the case as Tony and Baptiste continued their investigation. I’ve touched on the fascinating character of Vincent Bourg, a paedophile, and first suspect in Oliver’s disappearance. Where other dramas would’ve dropped his story once he was found to have an alibi, The Missing followed him to the present day as he used medication in an attempt to beat his demons. It was a risky choice for the Williams brothers to feature this character so heavily, but by the end, you did almost feel sympathy for Bourg.
Another character of note was mysterious journalist Malik Suri played masterfully by Arsher Ali. Suri was lurking in the background and aware of some of the secrets behind both Oliver’s disappearance and the secret being kept by the Hughes family themselves. Like the majority of the characters, Suri was difficult to warm to. In fact, as the story progressed it transpired almost everyone had their secrets. Even the emotionally drained Tony Hughes wasn’t without his dark secrets. And that, brings me neatly to the truly magnificent James Nesbitt. It’ll be travesty if his name isn’t atop all of the awards next year. I’ve long be a fan, but this role gave Nesbitt the chance to see what a powerful actor he is. His performance often left me shaken, and in the gripping conclusion I don’t think he can beaten.
I shan’t spoil the ending. Some took twitter following transmission to complain, but I was utterly satisfied. The endings have often spoilt some of favourite series. Broadchurch immediately springs to mind, as does The Fall, but I thought The Missing ended brilliantly. So much so that I’m unable understand why some felt the need to moan. Like Broadchurch and The Fall before it, it was revealed immediately following transmission that will be getting a second series. I remember when that was announced at the end of Broadchurch feeling cheated, but with The Missing I’m already excited about the next cleverly plotted series. If it weren’t for Happy Valley, The Missing would be my show of 2014!
The Missing Series 1 is available on DVD on Boxing Day