Elizabeth Is Missing

Elizabeth Is Missing (BBC One)

When you’ve racked up as many Oscars, Baftas and Emmys as Glenda Jackson, it’s going to take something special to bring you back to television after an absence of 27 years. Elizabeth Is Missing was that something.

Adapted from Emma Healey’s 2014 novel, the film succeeded in weaving an intriguing murder mystery into a poignant portrait of living with Alzhemier’s, without cheapening the painful, prosaic daily reality of dementia.

Jackson was Maud, a woman whose sharp, keen mind was slowly fraying at the edges. Helping her friend Elizabeth dig the garden one day, she unearthed an old compact – and a rush of memories about the disappearance of her sister Sukey (Sophie Rundle) 70 years earlier. When Elizabeth herself then vanished – or seemed to – Maud turned sleuth, papering her living room with Post-It notes full of scribbled clues (along with the odd shopping list and reminders to lock the front door).

But with new memories foggier than ancient ones, it was her sister’s cold trail she found easiest to follow. As such, the narrative slipped, like Maud’s mind, in and out of time, ghosts from the past intruding on her muddled present, while her recent steps dissolved like the footprints she watched being washed away by the tide. 

The fact the key to solving the mystery turned on the words of someone who Maud, in her youthful indifference, had once written off as mad old woman, was perhaps a little on the nose, but the drawing together of narrative threads was satisfying all the same.

The most powerful moments, though, were the ones exploring the pressures dementia exerts on families – Maud doted on her absent son, while resenting the daughter who cared for her every day – and the unspeakable cruelty of not recognising your loved ones, as you become unrecognisable to them in return.

Proud and cowed, defiant and diminished, worldly and childlike, Jackson brought all the weapons in her armoury to a performance that, at 83, surely ranks alongside the best in her long and distinguished career.

 

The Movies That Made Us (Netflix)

It’s obvious from the title sequence – in which a cassette emerges from a chunky video recorder – that this sequel to Netflix’s popular Toys That Made Us has been designed to deliver another direct hit to Gen-Xers’ nostalgia neurons. Though short on A-list actors, it’s a fun, gossipy look at the backstage wrangles behind 80s classics Dirty Dancing, Home Alone, Ghostbusters and, perfectly timed for the annual ‘Is it a Christmas movie?’ conversation, Die Hard.

 

Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odyssey (BBC4)

Lucy Worsley brought her usual infectious enthusiasm (and passion for the dressing-up box) to this insightful history of festive sing-songs. It’s a tale that took us from pagan wassailing to O Come All Ye Faithful (actually a Jacobite rallying cry for Bonnie Prince Charlie) and Silent Night, forever indelibly linked to the powerful story of that Christmas truce in the frozen trenches of the First World War.

 


Published in Waitrose Weekend, 12 December, 2019

(c) Waitrose Weekend