Helen FitzGerald’s The Cry comes to BBC One

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No fights. No gunshots. Not even a drop of blood. And yet The Cry, which began airing on BBC One on Sunday 30 September is as harrowing as any crime show you’re likely to watch for quite some time. Adapted from Helen FitzGerald’s 2013 novel of the same title, it’s a show that will have crime fiction lovers enraptured for its four-episode run throughout October. Because what could be worse than losing a child?

Episode one is all about the setup, leading us up to the disappearance of Noah – aged three months and 17 days. Using a timeline that flits between the prelude to the crime and its aftermath The Cry is hard to get into at first, but these cuts are deliberate, designed to leave you as disorientated as a sleep-deprived parent of a tiny infant who needs four or five feeds a night. From what we see of the poor little fellow, he cries more than most and it’s been getting to his mother Joanna, who is played by Jenna Coleman. Is she having a verboten thought, or two?

Ewen Leslie is in the role of her slick husband Alistair, a busy political PR consultant who doesn’t notice the crying quite so much – he’s got earplugs and he’s always out working. Although she’s struggling, Joanna puts a brave face on it, even when she’s dragged off to Australia where Alistair is hoping to win custody of his 14-year-old daughter Chloe (Markella Kavanagh). He hasn’t seen Chloe since his ex Alex (Asher Keddie) walked out of their Glasgow home because Alistair was cheating on her with Joanna.

What is Alex thinking?

The long-haul flight is an ordeal for Joanna, who has to deal with passengers and crew irritated by Noah’s crying. By the time they reach the tiny coastal town where Alex, Chloe and Alistair’s mother all live Joanna seems to be drifting out of reality – something backed up by short, supplementary scenes where we see her talking to a psychologist, preparing for press interviews, ducking under police tape at a crime scene and being challenged in court.

The tension The Cry generates is underpinned by melancholy and desperation, summoned in no small part by the ominous music and a touch of foreshadowing. A bushfire is on the horizon as they drive towards their destination, and the way Alex talks about not being able to lose her daughter instantly makes you think she’s going to try and do something to little Noah. A missing child is every parent’s nightmare, but what strengthens the show’s grip is the close-up examination we get of the main characters we meet along the way – their strengths, and the flaws that will lead to the terrible event. Every scene, every sentence uttered, casts a new shadow and leaves you evaluating the character in question.

Joanna and Alistair will face a media circus.

With a screenplay by Jacquelin Perske, the original story was constructed by Helen FitzGerald, an Australian crime author based in Glasgow. “I finished The Cry feeling absolutely hollowed out and I can only imagine how much more affecting it will be to parents, because this book takes a nightmare scenario and wrings every last drop of suspense out of it. It’s gut wrenching in places, heart breaking in others, a purely visceral experience like very few other crime novels I can think of,” said Eva Dolan in our review back in 2013.

The TV series is shaping up to be equally hollowing, and is sending thousands of viewers back to Helen FitzGerald’s original five-star novel, which uses the same disorientating timeline technique to push you a little way towards understanding Joanna’s state of mind. It was domestic noir before we’d quite begun to use the phrase.

Episodes will be appearing on the iPlayer after airing. ABC will be broadcasting it in Australia. If you live outside the UK or Australia, watch for it in your region. You can also read our interview with Helen FitzGerald here.

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