News, Culture & Society

DEBORAH ROSS: Benedict’s left me bereft – and baffled

The Child In Time

Sunday, BBC1 


Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father



Britain By Bike With Larry & George Lamb

Friday, Channel 5 


Doctor Foster

Tuesday, BBC1



The adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel The Child In Time, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald, opened with a father (Cumberbatch) in a supermarket paying £52 for two light bags of groceries – well, that’s Waitrose for you – and when he next looks round his three-year-old daughter, Kate, has disappeared. 

What followed was not a drama-thriller, or The Missing, as it was not about finding the child. Instead, it was about not finding the child and how you might live with that loss, as you somehow must. Hard to recommend, as it was so sad but, on the other hand, it was so good at what it is like to be so sad. 

However, it did bite off rather more than it could chew and included many subplots that either I lacked the smarts to comprehend – always a possibility – or were plainly baffling. Cumberbatch was superb as Stephen, the children’s writer who, two years after Kate’s disappearance, exists in a limbo of grief. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was superb as Stephen, the children¿s writer who, two years after Kate¿s disappearance, exists in a limbo of grief

Benedict Cumberbatch was superb as Stephen, the children’s writer who, two years after Kate’s disappearance, exists in a limbo of grief

There was nothing big about his performance. It was nuanced and constrained, but here was a man, we understood, who wakes up in pain, gets through the day in pain, goes to bed in pain. Some scenes, like the one in the primary school, when he imagined he’d found his daughter, were so deeply felt and powerful you wondered if you might ever recover yourself. 

As we were steered through this nightmare, which has to be every parents’ worst nightmare, we saw the affect such a loss might have on a marriage – Kelly Macdonald was just as affecting as Julie, if given less to do – as well as how blame and guilt come into play. But to condense the novel into 90 minutes was always ambitious, if not overambitious, as this would prove. 

There was Stephen and Julie and Don’t Look Now flashes of Kate’s little yellow mac, but there was also that government report on childhood, visions which suggested time isn’t linear, that woman who banged her head – what was that about? – and Stephen’s friend, Charles (an odd performance by Stephen Campbell Moore), going mad in the woods. 

This was trying, perhaps, to say something about the loss of the child in all of us but it was as if these scenes had been helicoptered in from The Comic Strip Presents. So it half worked and half didn’t. But a decent try (she says, patronisingly). 

Meanwhile, Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father has the comedian travelling around Southeast Asia with his father, the theatrical agent Michael Whitehall, whereas Britain By Bike With Larry & George Lamb has, yes, TV presenter George cycling around Yorkshire with  his father, Larry, the actor. 

And now I’m attempting to knock my own father (95) into shape. Dad, even if we only make it to the end of the road and back, Channel 4 might be interested? Dad, we could go to Brent Cross and sell it to Sky Living? Dad, we could time you on your stairlift and sell it to Sky Sports? No joy thus far but if the situation changes I will, of course, report back. 

The Whitehall show is often too contrived, with much of the comedy relying on grumpy Whitehall Sr, who hates anything ‘foreign’ and dresses like Evelyn Waugh, refusing to go along with any of Jack’s plans, which they’d obviously planned for him not to go along with. 

Still, there are some laughs – a strange Thai face-slapping massage; a creepy doll – and an interesting, slightly dark undercurrent to do with Jack having been dispatched to boarding school at eight. Ideally, Jung would have accompanied them. 

As for the Lambs, this was cheerfully Countryfileish, as they attended a sheepdog auction and a ferret race and also, just so Netflix doesn’t think it has it all sewn up, met Duncan Preston for a drink in a pub! 

So, Netflix, go sit on that! 

Next week, Doctor Foster concludes, so just a short note for now: ‘Dear Dr F, last night I made chicken with pasta and broccoli and I tried to be super-quick yet no one then had me over the dinner table. What is the secret? Also, do you only have the one bra and pair of pants? If this is the case, now you are living in a hotel, what’s the deal? Rinse at night then hang on the radiator? Perhaps Tom could rinse them, while you creepily wash his hair?’ 

‘This week, you destroyed Kate and Simon’s marriage. You told her you’d had sex with him. You told her parents you’d had sex with him. Anna, of course, already knew you’d had sex with him because you hear all sorts of stuff when you’re forever looming outside with a balloon wine glass. Kate left Simon, while Kate’s parents cut him off. And now you’re poised to run him over. No! Wait! Stop! Think! Oh, go on then. Might as well.’





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