TV Review: The Child in Time

An ambitious attempt at some innovative storytelling, The Child in Time sadly left me cold

“She was just there, she was right there”

Based on Ian McEwan’s 1987 novel, The Child in Time uses a fractured narrative to explore the impact of the kidnapping of three-year-old Kate Lewis on her father Stephen and mother Julie. The trauma of that experience is painfully evoked in the first 10 minutes as we replay her disappearance but then suddenly we’re 3 years down the line, he’s struggling to continue as an author of children’s books and she’s moved away to become a virtual recluse. Then we’re back at the supermarket where the kidnapping happened but some time before and Stephen and Kate are having a ball, and so on and so forth.

It’s a tricksy way of telling the story, especially as it folds out to incorporate Stephen’s sideline as a member of a government committee on childcare and his minister pal Charles who is experiencing his own health issues. What works in Julian Farino’s direction is his choice of actors – Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald as the (differently) grieving parents both pull effectively at the heartstrings, and Stephen Campbell Moore is affecting as Charles, supported by Saskia Reeves as his wife Thelma, sadly hugely underwritten compared to her role in the novel.

Perhaps the dissonant structure is needed in order to alleviate the deep tragedy of it all. As an examination of loss and the multitudinous ways it can affect us, it thus comes in waves rather than a 90-minute long tsunami of emotion. At times, as when Stephen enters a school convinced he’s seen Kate, it is devastating; at others, particularly when Charles is loose in the woods, it is just strange. Still, there’s strong support from John Hopkins and Elliot Levey as the Home Secretary and PM respectively, and Anna Madeley as potential hope for the future.

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