This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 30 September 2017.
THE CHILD IN TIME: Sunday, BBC One
BAD MOVE: Wednesday, STV
It’s every parent’s nightmare. You’re in a busy public area with your young child. You turn your back on them for just a moment, but when you return they’ve vanished, never to be seen again.
That harrowing, plausible scenario was, of course, the spur for series one of The Missing, in which James Nesbitt played an obsessive father desperately searching for his abducted child. It’s also the premise of the relentlessly depressing 2004 film Keane, in which Damian Lewis plays an obsessive father desperately searching for his abducted child.
This emotive territory was raked over once again in THE CHILD IN TIME, a standalone drama in which Benedict Cumberbatch played, well, you get the idea. An adaptation of a 1987 novel by Ian McEwan, it technically predates both The Missing and Keane.
It also featured a strangely undercooked supernatural/metaphysical element which felt at odds with the otherwise realistic treatment of this subject matter. I’ve never read McEwan’s novel, but I’m assuming that the time travel subtext was treated with more depth and significance than it was in this condensed, compromised adaptation.
Likewise, the subplot involving Cumberbatch’s best friend (Stephen Campbell Moore) descending into a tragic childlike state presumably didn’t jar in the novel quite as much as it did here. It came across as a hysterically unsubtle illustration of one of the drama’s principle themes: the importance of allowing children to express themselves, and the dangers of denying them their innocence.
Despite these clunky drawbacks, the film still succeeded as a terribly sad rumination on the trauma of losing a child. It worked best when focusing on the overarching storyline of Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald struggling to move on with their lives. Its power emerged from its restraint.
The pregnant pauses and hesitant interplay between these excellent actors managed to evoke a tangible sense of anguish. Mere words could never hope to express such unbearable loss. When these grieving parents were given a happy ending of sorts, the sentiment felt earned.
A curate’s egg, undoubtedly, but The Child in Time packed a hefty emotional punch.
A suburban middle-aged couple moving to the countryside and enduring endless hapless fish-out-of-water misadventures is a terribly hackneyed sitcom premise, but BAD MOVE somehow manages to imbue it with charm and wit.
The key to its modest appeal is a droll script co-written by its star, the lugubrious Jack Dee playing – as always – the lugubrious Jack Dee, and the warm, understated chemistry he shares with his screen wife Kerry Godliman.
An appealing comic actor, Godliman was one of the very few performers to escape from Ricky Gervais’ abominable Derek with their dignity intact. That’s how good she is.
Despite being a pre-watershed ITV sitcom – usually a barren no-mans-land when it comes to quality comedy – Bad Move is underpinned with a layer of depressive, caustic melancholy which elevates it beyond its blander competitors. The characters feel real. The jokes aren’t cosy or obvious.
It captures the inherently bleak, frustrating, insular, unsettling reality of living in a rural community – I speak here from experience – without ever delving into self-consciously dark territory. It may involve whacked-out rock stars, escaped panthers and Josef Fritzl references, but it’s still good old-fashioned family fun.
Plus, it’s funny. It makes me chuckle. Yes, folks, actual chuckles.
I’m not making any great claims for Bad Move as a classic sitcom, but it's a nicely traditional piece of comedy, deftly written and performed.