February 2019

Noted

ABC TV’s ‘The Cry’

By Craig Mathieson
Still from The Cry
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.

@CMscreens

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

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 latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality