“For children, childhood is timeless…”
Following the success of Missing and, on the slightly less serious end of the scale, Stranger Things, it seems that lost children are all the rage right now. Enter The Child in Time. BBC’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s award winning novel.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald play the grieving parents who struggle to cope when their four year old daughter goes missing. The Child in Time is unique in one sense, in as much as it spends zero time theorising about what happened to the girl, instead focusing on the grief and pain of our protagonists. For a character study within such a familiar narrative, it is vital to have actors that are up to the job. Cumberbatch and Macdonald have proven many times over that they are capable of carrying a feature length film and yet they did nothing for me here. I didn’t believe them as a couple and I didn’t believe them as grieving parents. In fact, there wasn’t a single moment during The Child in Time in which I felt any kind of connection to what I was watching. The fact that the vanishing of Will Byers in Stranger Things had more emotional resonance than anything here is indicative of how flat and plodding this BBC drama is.
There were certain plot elements that were so laughable as to be almost insulting and the lack of explanation moved beyond ambiguity and into self parody. The presence of a ridiculously over the top fictional prime minister is never justified. A ludicrous story line about a man attempting to find his inner child becomes so silly that it is embarrassing and the spiritual side of the story jars with the realistic tone found in the rest of the film.
In short, A Child in Time doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be or what it wants to say. In striving to be a hard hitting yet ethereal drama, it ends up being a clumsy amalgamation of many different ideas without ever properly nailing any of them.
A messy and incoherent failure.