Before we get to the matter at hand today, please allow me a moment of personal reflection pertinent to the following review. We are going back in time 35 years ago when my wife and I were at the Ohio Valley Mall with our three children, the youngest of whom was 5 at the time. It happened in the split second that our attention was diverted from him for a moment (I don’t recall what made us take our eyes off him.), and suddenly he was gone. Vanished. Nowhere in sight! Sufficient verbiage does not exist to describe the feeling at a moment like that. You can’t breathe. You feel faint. You’re nauseated. You break out into a cold sweat. Your heart is pounding so hard and fast that you fear it may explode.
After an ensuing five minutes that felt as if five years had passed, we heard our name called over the mall public address system asking us to report to the office of a nearby store where we found our son. Fortunately he identified himself to a store official who discovered him wandering around. Our story ended happily, but for many parents whose children go missing, this is not the case. And one family’s horrifyingly harrowing experience when their 5-year-old son disappears is the subject of “The Missing,” a riveting drama from the BBC now airing on Starz in eight installments.
“The Missing” begins during the present time in the French town of Chalons Du Bois, where we meet a British man named Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) drinking alone in a pub. We soon learn that Tony is a very troubled man and that the people of the town don’t really want him around because he’s drunk most of the time and he keeps shoving a picture in their faces.
Now the story flashes back eight years to the same town, where Tony and his wife, Emily (Frances O’Connor), are vacationing with their 5-year-old son, Oliver (Oliver Hunt). The Hughes family is a happy one, and Oliver’s parents are completely devoted to him. One evening Oliver talks his dad into taking him swimming, and when they get out of pool, Tony takes his son to a crowded café to get him a drink. A World Cup soccer game is showing on the TV set, and Tony pushes his way through the crowd to buy Oliver’s drink. And then it happens. A team scores, the crowd erupts, and Oliver disappears. One second he is right by Tony’s side, and then he’s gone.
What follows during the first episode is a drama that’s very difficult to watch because both Nesbitt and O’Connor are so incredibly good at conveying the tidal wave of panic, fear, terror, disbelief, and grief washing over Tony and Emily that we actually share all of their horrific emotions with them. And it isn’t fun. But you just can’t look away or turn the TV off.
From this point on, the time frame alternates between the present day and 2006, when Oliver went missing. During the segments set in the present we find that at some point during the eight years after Oliver’s disappearance Emily and Tony got divorced, and she remarried. We don’t know the details about all of that yet, but they will probably come out in future episodes. And while Emily is attempting to build a new life for herself, Tony relentlessly and obsessively searches for Oliver.
In the flashbacks we see how the investigation into the boy’s disappearance is proceeding. The police officer in charge of the case is Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo), and he is supposed to be the best there is in matters like this. As the case drags on, however, even Baptiste seems to be baffled by it. Watching Tony suffer through this unspeakable nightmare is increasingly difficul as the series progresses, and in a recent interview with Christine Radish of Collider, Nesbitt explained what attracted him to the series.
“Because it’s about the very worst that can happen and the worst that we can be. It’s about loss, and yet it’s about hope. It’s about guilt. It’s about the destruction of a family. It’s about the human spirit, in a way. It just had everything. It was a challenge and a privilege, but it was also clearly going to be an intimidating and grueling process, trying to sustain something for that length of time. Because Oliver disappears so early on, I knew we were going to spend five months going to a pretty dark place every day. The fact that we were separated and isolated in Brussels was very helpful. I wasn’t going to my daughters every night. I would see them on the weekend, which was timely because, after five days of shooting, I needed to connect. But, to be able to sustain it was important. I didn’t live in a hotel. I lived in an apartment by myself, and I had all of the stuff Tony had, around the apartment. I had Oliver’s pictures on the walls. I tried, very much, to live in that world. So, it was a privilege to play, but it was grueling. It would be a lie to say that it wasn’t grueling.
In the same interview Nesbitt also explained what motivated Tony to keep searching for Oliver even after eight years had passed.
“It’s guilt. Imagine how many times he must play that scene over in his head. Why did the team score, at that moment? Why did I go for the drink, just at that moment? Why couldn’t I have waited just a little bit longer? Why couldn’t I have gone for a drink earlier? He’s played that reel of footage over and over in his mind, for years and years. That’s what keeps him going. I feel for him.”
O’Connor concurred with Nesbitt’s assessment of how taxing it was to participate in “The Missing” in an interview with Ben Travers for Indiewire.
“I think I didn’t really understand what it would take to make—and what you would have to give […] because I’m a parent, too. So to have to contemplate that week in and week out was pretty full on. It was kind of intimidating because sometimes you’ll get a really great script and you’ll go, ‘Okay, I’ve got about five scenes that I really need to hit in this piece.’ But, with this it was just in every episode. Every scene you had to step up.”
In addition to the main storyline, the series also contains several interesting subplots including the relationship of Baptiste and his wife, Celia (Anastasia Hille), and their daughter, the life of a major suspect named Vincent Bourg (Titus De Voogdt), and the dogged intensity of Malik Suri (Asher Ali), an obnoxious newspaper reporter.
The acting in this series is consistently outstanding, and you really become wrapped up in the lives of the characters. The show also establishes and maintains an almost unbearable level of suspense, and just when you think Tony is wasting his time, he discovers something to revive his hope.
“The Missing” ranks at the very top of television drama, and as such it earns the final score of an unequivocal 10. Don’t deprive yourself by missing it!