February 2019


ABC TV’s ‘The Cry’

By Craig Mathieson
This Scottish–Australian drama successfully subverts the missing-child genre

From Azaria Chamberlain to Madeleine McCann, the initial search for a missing child and the subsequent investigation have acquired a magnesium-blast intensity in the news media. The public’s obsessive interest in such cases, a mix of fearful hope and intrusive judgement, has translated to narrative television, where shows about the disappearance of young subjects are so common that the British anthology series The Missing starts with a different family but the same premise each season.

One of the impressive elements of the new Scottish–Australian production The Cry, which airs on the ABC from February 3 after a successful British broadcast last October, is how it acknowledges the familiar features of this genre and then subverts them. This drama, describing the disappearance of a couple’s baby from their car in a seaside Victorian town, has all the requisite elements: the shock of discovery, the parents’ ensuing panic, and the grim reality of the police hunt. But at each step there’s also a psychologically fraught examination of key relationships amid the corrosive force of guilt and responsibility.

“He earns the money, he wears the earplugs,” Scottish primary school teacher Joanna ( Jenna Coleman) says of her partner, expatriate Australian political spin doctor Alistair (Ewen Leslie), before they embark on a 30-hour flight to Australia with their three-month-old baby, Noah. The journey is nightmarish, adding to Joanna’s growing fear that she is somehow a bad mother. The guilt that stems from that self-doubt, expertly leveraged by the uneasy sound mix and controlled framing, makes Joanna a figure of both sympathy and suspicion when, later in Australia, no trace of Noah can be found.

The narrative is filleted, mixing points in the timeline and location to create dread and assumptions, each of which is upended in the subsequent explanation. The Australian team of screenwriter Jacquelin Perske (Little Fish, Love My Way), working from Helen FitzGerald’s novel, and director Glendyn Ivin (2015’s Gallipoli and 2018’s Safe Harbour) engineer cliffhanger twists, but their best work is in the concussive ramifications. The lines of the police inquiry, which initially alights on Alistair’s ex-wife, Alexandra (Asher Keddie), with whom he’s about to begin a custody battle for their teenage daughter, are subservient to the emotional rigour of grief and disassociation.

The Cry is a procedural, but the true detective is Joanna, and the case is her relationship with Alistair. Motherhood is a charged experience, a crucible she must endure and a vulnerability he can exploit. With its understanding of how deceptive the dynamics of a relationship between a man and a woman can be, the show is attuned to the times, with both Coleman and Leslie drawing back layers of care to reveal the control beneath. Alistair, whose instinct is to manage the story, is both loving and coercive, a dominant figure whom Joanna eventually sees as one they both created, just like Noah. How did he gain such power, a psychiatrist asks her. “I gave it to him,” she replies.

Craig Mathieson

Craig Mathieson is a television critic for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, an author, and the creator of the Binge-r streaming newsletter.


In This Issue

What the government thinks you’re worth

Our nation’s economists have a price on your head, dead or alive

Still from The Front Runner

The spectacle of a political scandal: Jason Reitman’s ‘The Front Runner’ and Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Loro’

New films about ’80s presidential hopeful Gary Hart and Italy’s controversial Silvio Berlusconi both miss the mark

Image of Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks

Pete Shelley’s Buzzcocks: 40 years on

The history and legacy of a punk pioneer

The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at QAGOMA

Politics, culture and colour collide in Brisbane

Online exclusives

Image of Oliver Twist. Image supplied.

Oliver Twist’s ‘Jali’

With quiet charisma and gentle humour, the Rwandan-Australian performer weaves together vivid autobiographical stories in this one-person show

Image of South Australia Premier Steven Marshall addressing the media during a press conference in Adelaide, August 24, 2021. Image © Morgan Sette / AAP Images

Marshall law

Premier Steven Marshall claimed South Australia was “COVID-ready” when the state opened borders just as Omicron was emerging, but it now faces the same issues as the eastern states

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Still from ‘The Worst Person in the World’, showing Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy Everett Collection.

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Renate Reinsve is exceptional in Joachim Trier’s satisfying Nordic rom-com