Jenna Coleman's missing baby drama The Cry has a promising plot but an infuriating timeline
The constant flashbacks and flash-forwards make it difficult to connect with this four-part BBC drama, writes Eleanor Bley Griffiths
Jenna Coleman has arrived on our screens in The Cry to tell us a story of struggling first-time mother Joanna, who travels from Glasgow to Melbourne with husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie) and son Noah – only for her baby boy to disappear. They were visiting Australia to seek custody of Alistair's teenage daughter from his ex, but now they are trapped in a nightmare as their lives disintegrate around them.
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So what has happened to baby Noah? There are hints of big twists and turns to come, and by all accounts Helen FitzGerald's original novel is a page-turner. But in keeping the audience from knowing too much, too soon, this adaptation of The Cry is infuriatingly disjointed.
Right from the very beginning, the drama jumps around all over the place with the flashbacks and flash-forwards. Here's Joanna after Noah's disappearance – and then CUT! Courtroom scene! Childbirth! Courtship! Night feeds! It jolts you out of the drama and makes it really hard to connect with the characters, because every time we are finally getting into a scene we are suddenly taken on a trip across time and space. And we thought Jenna Coleman had left the Tardis behind...
The Cry did make us feel one thing, and that thing was FURY at Alistair. Within the first couple of minutes he showed himself to be a selfish and self-righteous husband, waking his exhausted wife up to the sound of a crying baby with the words: "Jo. Jo! Please." Not a request: an order.
And the audacity – the audacity! – to pop his earplugs in and put his eyeshades on for that epic flight to Australia while his wife spent hours and hours trying to comfort their wailing baby. Who does that? Why didn't the stewardess give him a firm talking-to instead of scolding Joanna?
Alistair is a self-pitying chancer who doesn't seem to blame himself at all for the breakup of his marriage and Alexandra (Asher Keddie) running away with their daughter. When Joanna finally (finally!) asked him what on earth he was doing bringing her into his family home and marital bed when A) she had no idea he had a wife and kid, and B) the aforementioned wife and kid might come home at any moment, "I was thinking I could get away with it" was a pretty rubbish explanation – even if it was honest.
We hate him, don't we? We hate Alistair.
And what about Jenna Coleman? We've seen the actress tackle post-natal depression before, in Victoria (although at least as the Queen she had servants to help out with her babies when they howled). She's excellent at conveying inner torment while also drawing a protective veil over herself.
Still – Joanna was so passive and private that in the first hour we barely got to know her at all. The only moment we really found out what she was thinking was when she lost her temper on the plane, screaming at the passengers who had demanded she shut "it" (the baby) up. In fact that was probably the highlight of episode one.
Picnic at Hanging Rock's Markella Kavenagh was also impressive as 14-year-old Chloe. The poor kid has been through a lot; she caught her dad having it off with another woman, and then had to move across the world to Australia where she is now on the verge of being expelled from school.
Kavenagh manages to play a troubled teenager while completely transcending the "troubled teenager" trope so often seen on screen, such as the moment she turned on the tap and, almost trembling with suppressed rage, filled her glass to overflowing. Such a futile act of fury and rebellion!
But moments later, her sulkiness had turned to vulnerability: beneath it all she was afraid of being taken from her mother and sent to live with her father.
To give The Cry its due, perhaps episode one is just the prelude to something much more engaging. Perhaps the mystery of the baby's disappearance will deepen after all the scene-setting.
At the moment there's so much we don't know. Underneath it all is the big question of what happened to Noah: did someone abduct him? Is he dead or alive? Was it Alexandra (Asher Keddie), getting back at Alistair or punishing Joanna? Did Alistair do it? Or was it Joanna herself, and is that why she's now on trial?
The Cry promises to answer these questions as the story unfolds in glimpse after glimpse of flashback and as the investigation begins in Australia. So bring on episode two – if you're in the mood for some depressing Sunday evening drama.
This article was originally published in September 2018