Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s difficult to pinpoint the fine line between a run-of-the-mill, contemporary real-life drama and a good thriller. If it’s dry and boring, we give it the label of “drama” and are happy to skip over it. But if it has a mystery or action component and something special, then we sometimes take a closer look. Case in point: The Starz British-produced mini-series The Missing, which was just renewed for a second season. The “something special” is a handful of actors we’ve seen in great genre film and TV.
If you can get past the dreary sounding plot–a real-life drama about the kidnapping of a British boy vacationing with his parents in France–you’re in for a compelling suspense-thriller on par with the best police procedurals, like the BBC’s Zen or the original Law and Order.
Another British mini-series, Broadchurch, repackaged for U.S. audiences as Gracepoint, had much in common with The Missing, at least on paper. Broadchurch starred Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Arthur Darvill, and Attack the Block and Marchlands’ Jodie Whitaker and also followed a crime about a little boy in a small community. The Missing features two actors who starred as dwarves in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series, James Nesbitt, who played Bofur, and Ken Stott, who played Balin. Mr. Selfridge and Timeline’s versatile actress Frances O’Connor plays the mother of the missing son, wife to Nesbitt’s determined and grim father. A similar crime and genre actors are where the similarities end. Where Broadchurch settled in as a passable melodrama, The Missing becomes a rich, engrossing, addictive tour of a place no one would want to go in real life.
The missing boy in The Missing is only an excuse for a character study in fierce determination. The audience is asked in different ways across eight episodes: How far would you go to protect the ones you love? Like mountain climbers in pursuit of Mt. Everest despite obstacle upon obstacle, Nesbitt provides a one-of-a-kind performance as he pulls no punches to find the truth behind his lost son.
The secondary cast provides another dimension to the story. Turkish born French actor Tchéky Karyo (Goldeneye), with some of his dialogue in French and some in English, plays a detective on his last case, a kind gentleman with empathy for the family yet a profound respect for the French legal process. Karyo is a stunning, superb actor and you will find yourself wishing he would star in every new series. Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class, Kick-ass, Layer Cake, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Rob Roy, The Jungle Book) plays a British aide who befriends O’Connor’s character. It may be the French dialect and suspenseful air to the series, but it also sometimes has the mysterious vibe of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The whodunit will be a big surprise to all.
The Missing is revealed in a clever way that seems to be taking a foothold in British television, including Marchlands/Lightfields, Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, and even somewhat like the multi-period series Downton Abbey. It flips back and forth between three time periods, primarily the day the boy goes missing and the subsequent days after, the present day, and a brief stop in between. You will be relieved to walk away at the end of the series, and whether or not you are satisfied with the end, brother writers Harry and Jack Williams make entertainment out of an unusual and dark theme.
The Missing is currently available via OnDemand on Starz. The series has been renewed this month, but season two will feature new characters and situations.