TV Review: Elizabeth is Missing

Glenda Jackson is brittle and brutal in the excellent Elizabeth is Missing

“How about some Vera Lynn?”

True story, I’ve read Emma Healey’s novel Elizabeth is Missing and can’t remember anything about it, how’s that for dramatic irony… So Andrea Gibb’s adaptation for the television, directed by Aisling Walsh, held layers of mystery for me, as this murder mystery framed through the lens of dementia intersected with my own hazy recollections of what I thought was slowly coming back to me.

That murder mystery element is the driving narrative force across the two timelines of the drama. Grandmother Maud is trying to find out what has happened to her gardening pal Elizabeth who has vanished, but she’s haunted by memories of the disappearance of her sister Sukey 70 years ago and hampered by the onset of Alzheimer’s which is ravaging her life and her independence.

Glenda Jackson is simply excellent here, painfully exquisite in her depiction of the brutal iniquities inflicted by the condition, so much so that this becomes the focus of the story. Particularly powerful are the contrasting stresses it places on the relationships with her daughter (Helen Behan) and grand-daughter (Nell Williams), the younger woman able to be a bit freer as she doesn’t have to shoulder quite the responsibilities of her mother. 

And as we wind unsteadily ever closer to the truth of what has happened, then and now, there’s the distressing realisation that even if resolution is found in the crimes that have been committed, there’s none to be had for Jackson’s Maud. No neat bows to tie everything up for a tidy ending, the ugly realities of dementia are laid bare by the uncompromising but always empathetic work of a true master at work.

Photos: Mark Mainz

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