Tom Leins casts a critical eye over two big-name BBC dramas.
Hard-hitting BBC drama The Missing (Acorn Media) examines the toxic fallout that follows the disappearance of five-year-old Oliver Hughes, who vanishes on a family holiday in Spain. The show takes us inside the mind of Oliver’s tortured, booze-fuelled father Tony (James Nesbitt, Cold Feet, Murphy’s Law), who remains committed to finding his son long after his marriage to wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) has imploded under the pressure.
Unfolding over a dual timeline, eight years apart, the eight-part series was written by former comedy writers Harry and Jack Williams and directed by Tom Shankland (Waz, The Children). Part whodunit, part psychological study of a parent’s grief, The Missing largely fulfils the hype that quickly built up around it when it aired late last year. Coming at the end of a strong year for BBC drama -Happy Valley and The Line of Duty (Series 2) get my votes for the best shows of the year -The Missing arguably ranks as the closest that the BBC has come to emulating ITV’s Broadchurch in terms of addictive mainstream TV. Generally better written than Broadchurch, and boasting more fully realised characters, The Missing packs a powerful punch.
Apart from a couple of stodgy episodes in the middle (that could have conceivably been condensed into one), The Missing is seriously compelling and chillingly believable. Propelled by a convincingly raw central performance from James Nesbitt, who is sure to scoop some major awards this year, The Missing is haunting and disturbing in equal measure. While most of the plotting falls just the right side of ambiguity, the writers seem to constantly struggle with the thin line between being enigmatic and being frustrating, and some of the (many) red herrings prove fairly unwieldy.
With a second series rumoured to be in production, it remains to be seen whether the Williams brothers can iron out the narrative wrinkles that sometimes threatened to derail this series. Nevertheless, despite some clumsy missteps this first outing lingers long in the memory.
The first series of The Fall was said to be BBC Two’s most watched drama in 2013, attracting more than four million viewers per episode -only to frustrate rapt audiences with its unconvincing resolution. The Fall -Series Two (Acorn Media) sees Gillian Anderson (The X Files) and Jamie Dornan (star of the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey) reprise their roles as DSI Stella Gibson and charismatic serial killer Paul Spector, the man she has been enlisted to find.
The second series commences ten days after Spector told Gibson that she would never catch him, with the killer lying low in Scotland. As Gibson tries in vain to help Spector’s surviving victim remember the identity of her attacker, Spector is forced to deal with the loose ends that he left behind in Belfast. Upon his return to the city he quickly learns that someone from his past has been helping the police with their enquires, leading him to kidnap the woman in question, adding another layer of complexity to the ongoing investigation.
After the disappointingly noncommittal ending to the largely excellent first series, the second series is weirdly slow to come to life, with the first couple of episodes going over old ground and re-drawing the battle lines between Gibson and Spector. In narrative terms, the latter is now the prey rather than the hunter, and if the first series focused on Spector’s horrific crimes, the second tweaks the set-up slightly so that the prime focus falls on Gibson and her team’s investigation.
With the ice cold character of Gibson arguably as enigmatic as that of the demented Spector, who lest we forget, is a doting family man and respected bereavement counsellor, the two figures are set on a collision course that reaches its nerve-shredding climax in the feature-length finale. While certain twists stretch credibility, the dramatic verve displayed by creator/writer/director Allan Cubitt (Prime Suspect 2, The Runaway) is impressive to behold, with the kinetic fifth episode one of the best hours of television I have seen in recent memory.
If you can forgive the unconvincing ending to series one, and overlook the hesitant series two opener, The Fall is emphatic, sophisticated TV that offers a welcome twist on the tried ‘n’ trusted serial killer blueprint. With incredible performances from Anderson and Dornan -a former male model with a limited acting CV -The Fall ranks as one of the most memorable TV shows of recent years, and cements the BBC’s strong reputation for classy drama.