Director: Julian Farino
Writers: Stephen Butchard (adaptation), Ian McEwan (based on the novel by)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Campbell Moore
So Benedict Cumberbatch stepped into the role of producer come actor for his BBC short film, Child In Time. I was eagerly anticipating it’s showing on Sunday night, purely because the former was involved, and I wasn’t disappointed. An adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel of the same name, it does fall foul of the usual admissions and artistic licence that comes with an adaptation, but by all accounts does a very decent job of portraying the story.
Plot wise, it’s about a middle-class, London, family struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of their four year old daughter Kate. Her father Stephen (Cumberbatch) is seen returning home in clear distress and anguish during the opening scenes, having to explain everything to his stricken wife Julie (Kelly Macdonald). It has to be said the opening ten minutes are heart wrenching, emotionally powerful stuff and I’m not even a parent. The sight of Stephen calling out for his daughter with the realisation of what’s happening dawning on him was hard to watch. The acting ability of the films two protagonists, Benedict in particular, is certainly showcased early on.
It then switches up things, jumping three years ahead to really focus on the strain the loss of Kate has had in the ensuing time on Stephen and Julie’s relationship. Unsurprisingly, the two part ways after several fights, with the latter heading off to live alone in a rural setting, whilst the former, now a children’s book author and member of an educational, government committee struggles to cope and gain closure. Macdonald manages to convey the conflicted emotions that Julie has towards her husband brilliantly, most most notably the unmistakable bitterness over his involvement and yet unconditional love despite it.
Stephen, between regular trips to see his wife, also has to deal with his best friend, Charles (Stephen Campbell Moore) suffering from an apparent mental illness and seemingly regressing back to his earlier years. Moore delivers an odd performance as the even stranger character of Charles. A man that climbs trees like a teenager, excitedly builds a den in the woods and decides to inexplicably trim his nether regions for no apparent reason. It’s a brilliant performance however that traces the heartache and suffering that mental illness has on the sufferer, their family and friends. His demise was tragic and only served to add to his friends suffering.
It almost delves into some sci-fi elements in the middle with a hint at time warps, shifts or inter-dimensional theories to explain Kate’s disappearance. Stephen has a weird moment where he apparently glimpses his younger mother in a pub before he was born and there’s the frequent flashes of his daughter in her yellow mac, chatter over a baby monitor, not to mention the visions of a mysterious little boy that the ending perhaps explains to some extent. Indeed, I’ve seen that the novel (which I haven’t read) focuses on this to an even greater extent, whilst also hammering home the political message. Something the film only briefly touches upon with a clear dig at the cold, uncaring May government of today (though it’s more of a Cameron style, Etonian gonk who plays PM in it).
Ultimately though, I think Child In Time’s main purpose is to really examine the effects of grieve, the loss of a child, the effects that loss has on relationships and love itself. It shirks the political message in favour of the human struggle, showing that even in the darkest of places there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. It does this well mostly thanks to the excellent performances and well crafted script. I enjoyed the film, it did lull a just little in the middle to end, but was a decent and intriguing enough watch for the most part.