The Child in Time
There was a scene in The Child in Time, the BBC film of Ian McEwan’s 1987 novel, that came as close to breaking my heart as anything I’ve seen on television. ‘Dad to Kate,’ said children’s author Stephen (Benedict Cumberbatch) into a toy walkie-talkie – the other half of which lay agonisingly unanswered on his young daughter’s bed, still made up as it was the day she’d disappeared three years earlier. ‘Take your time. We’ll be here.’
The panicked first moments in the supermarket, when Stephen realised Kate was missing, had been equally hard to watch; nor did the camera flinch from the howls of raw, visceral grief when he told his wife Julie (Kelly Macdonald) what had happened.
Gradually, those howls turned to a sort of anaesthetised acceptance: not moving on, but carrying on. What Julie could not do, initially at least, was forgive Stephen: when he said he was going to find Kate, the words ‘you lost her’ slipped out before she could stop them.
The film, beautifully directed by Julian Farino, mixed impressionistic fragments of memory, imagination and perhaps even magic with moments of juddering clarity; at times, the plaintive piano score was interrupted with jarring bursts of disorienting traffic noise, like reality intruding on a dream. Simple, everyday gestures were loaded with poignancy, such as Stephen’s visits his parents: the father returned to being only a son; a little boy lost. Cumberbatch and Macdonald were extraordinary throughout.
McEwan’s book was an impassioned broadside against Thatcherism, set in a dystopian, near-future Britain. Stephen Butchard’s adaptation largely stripped out the politics, leaving only a dangling, threadbare sub-plot about the government’s new child welfare strategy, and the tragic fate of Stephen’s best friend (the excellent Stephen Campbell Moore) – a burned-out junior minister attempting to reclaim his own lost childhood.
But, really, the central story needed little embellishing. And the slow, cautious reconciliation between Stephen and Julie – one that did not deliver the child they had promised to wait for, but brought precious new life nonetheless – was a deeply moving testament, in the words of another McEwan novel, to enduring love.
The comedy pilot season that last year gave us Motherland produced another gem in the story of Amy and Andy who, as teenagers, pledged to get together if they were still single at 35. Two decades on, she is a human train wreck and he is stuck with an awful girlfriend who proposes to him on Facebook Live. In a kebab shop. With a strong script – including a doozy of a twist in the tail – and a terrific lead performance from the fab Sarah Solemani, it surely deserves a series.
Without the novelty factor of last year’s long-awaited return (I mean, you only go to a school reunion once, right?) I was worried this second run of the revived comedy drama might run out of steam. In fact, it continues to delight – in an enjoyably ambling, low-stakes sort of way. Sure, we all saw the teenage pregnancy storyline looming over the horizon a year ago, but anything that gives the brilliant Robert Bathurst an excuse to look even more pained and awkward is alright by me.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 28, 2017
(c) Waitrose Weekend