The British are known for their high concept dramas and over the years we’ve had some great series such as Life On Mars, Whitechapel, Broadchurch and The Missing on our screens. The latter, The Missing, will be returning to BBC First Australia on Foxtel commencing Sunday 5 March for its second series. We sat down for a very relaxed chat with lead actor David Morrissey about this very nail bitingly intense show’s return. Though rest assured if you missed the first series, you’re still able to jump on board with this one.
“It’s The Missing, so it’s the second in the series but it’s a stand alone season so you don’t have to have seen the first one. I play a character called Sam Webster, he’s a British soldier but he’s stationed in Germany with his wife and his two children. What happens is when his daughter was 13 she’s abducted and taken away. Our story starts 11 years later when she walks back into their lives. She comes back into the family’s life and she’s been living with this guy somewhere and we don’t know where, she’s very sketchy about the details, but she’s had a terrible time. That’s it and then the whole investigation starts.”
The show manages to combine high drama with a suspenseful thriller and mystery based narrative. One of the main characters, a French detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo), comes on board to investigate the shock return of daughter Alice Webster (Abigail Hardingham). Baptiste is a character that featured in the first series of The Missing and basically acts as the link between first and second series. However it’s his specific connection to a case from his past that brings him into the path of the Websters.
“One key to the mystery is that when my daughter comes back, she mentions someone that she’s been kept with, which was a girl called Sophie Giroux. The French detective is a man who specialises in child abduction and he was investigating that case of Sophie Giroux, that was his big case. As soon as he hears that somebody is mentioning this girl he comes to talk to my daughter. He starts asking slightly odd questions. He doesn’t buy her story, he thinks she’s holding something back and that creates tension between me and him.”
The series has an interesting play on its narrative in that it’s non-linear and jumps backwards and forwards, from 2014 in the past when Alice returns; to the “present day” which we’re not given an exact time or year but David suggests it’s possibly three years into the future. It can be a little tricky to keep track of at first, but that also adds to the mysterious appeal of the show’s structure and how it plays out piece by piece.
“It’s multi-timeline so what happens is we have 2014, when she comes back into our life. Then we have present day as well when some things have happened, my character’s full of scars and scars on his back. The main detective Baptiste is now in Iraq, he’s following some sort of investigation there, he’s had his head shaved, he’s not well. The daughter’s not around anymore. There’s a real breakdown in communication between the husband, the wife and the son and we don’t know what’s happened but it sort of acts as like a detective story and you’re the detective. You’re trying to work out all the time what’s happened between these people and what’s going on there.”
Often for actors, particular characters and those that have distinct professions will require a particular approach to how they are portrayed. David’s character as a soldier has a particularly challenging array of emotions. These are of course heightened by not only the actions of his past, but exacerbated as we see in his “future” self.
“He’s a soldier, he’s a good soldier. He’s done very well in the army, he came in at 16 and he’s now a captain, which is great. He’s been to war zones, he’s lost friends and colleagues. He’s seen terrible, terrible things. The army’s been his life so therefore the army’s his mother and father and done everything for him. But he wasn’t able to protect his daughter so he can do all these things and he’s very capable as a man, but the one thing that he failed at was being a father and protecting his daughter. He’s full of guilt and shame about that.”
“When she comes back and she starts to tell us and the police what’s happened to her, he goes into a terrible place of self hatred. Self hatred is where he is in our 2014 place, he’s trying to build bridges with his daughter when she comes back. However in the present day he’s full of hatred at the world, he’s blaming everybody else except himself. Something awful has happened, we don’t know what at first but he’s full of anger at everybody else. He’s kicking out against the world, particularly his family, his wife and his son.”
Performing alongside David is another British acting alum in Keeley Hawes who plays his wife, Gemma. Surprisingly it’s Gemma who seems to pick up early on that something isn’t quite right with their daughter and that there is potentially more going on than it first seems. Interestingly it’s this fractured dynamic between the husband / wife / daughter that adds to the intensity of the show.
“It’s about a family whose the one thing they’ve always wanted, the one thing they’ve wished for happens and it drives them apart. Because when she was abducted it was terrible but it brought the family together in their grief, whereas when she’s back it sort of starts to act as a wedge between the family.”
“My wife, Gemma, is slightly less accepting of the daughter than I am, she’s suspicious of her in some way. She’s not totally accepting of her and so there’s a bond that develops between the French detective and my wife which drives a wedge between me and her. My character is someone who desperately needs to believe that his daughter has come back into his life so that he can make amends for all the horrible things he’s felt guilty for, whereas the mother is less welcoming to the girl and much more questioning and quite harsh and that is what drives a wedge between them as well.”
The setting for the show is a small town in Germany that also houses an Army Barracks. So of course when something as drastic as the abduction of a child occurs it rallies the community together. However upon Alice’s return, in an almost reversal of their original stance, people become the target of questions and accusations, and soon the atmosphere amongst the community becomes hostile and volatile.
“Suddenly there’s great fear around the community, there’s real guilt and shame in the community but there’s also accusation, there’s also gossip, there’s a vacuum that’s been created by the taking of this girl that is filled with a darkness inside. You feel that there’s a feeding frenzy in some way and that is what happens to this community, that they’re suddenly thrown into a real turmoil. Even though the couple themselves, at first they were given great sympathy for what had happened, but as the years ticked by their sympathy is less and people are slightly like, why don’t you get over it? Or there’s a finger of suspicion about them. All that adds to this instability of structure within the community itself.”
With something as drastic as this, we quiz David over whether this is a fair representation of how a small town community might react to something as tumultuous occurring in real life.
“I feel that in some of the research that I did on this job which was, I didn’t meet anybody that this had happened to, I felt that that was overstepping the mark but I read a lot of testimonies and they do talk about that. When you look at the media reports and the crime reports from the places this has happened in, you do see that inside communities. That you feel that in real life the ink in the water and the sort of ripples in the pool, they extend quite far and people do get affected by these things in massive ways.”
“People just don’t know how to cope with that type of non-closure, they don’t know how to cope with grief that they can’t put it in a box. Someone is killed or murdered, there’s a sense of closure with that. Whereas when someone is abducted and you don’t know where they are.”
Despite all the drama and the overall sense of the show feeling very heavy and gripping. David reassures us that there is joy to be had from the show. Though maybe not quite the sort of warm fuzzy feeling you’d expect. He elaborates that the exciting aspect of the show for the viewer is getting to play Detective as you try to piece the puzzle together and solve the mystery.
“When this went out in the UK it was number one trending subject on Twitter every night because people had their theories. People would stop me in the street and just grab hold of me and offload their theories and say, “I know what’s happened, he’s involved, she’s done this, da da da.” You’re like, “Oh, thanks very much”. People are just sort of gripped by it because it’s a multi-character drama, multi-timescape. You’re given all these clues and you have to piece it together so the joy, from a viewer’s point of view, and I think what’s gripping for people and why they love it so much, is that they are asked to be the detective. It takes you seriously. It’s not a show that’s going to spoon feed you stuff. You have to do a little bit of the work as the audience. I think people are really responding to that.”
“When I was walking the streets of London, it was amazing, people just absolutely gripped by it and families arguing about it and all that. I think that’s where the joy is, a real sense of it. Also I have to say that sometimes you watch thrillers, mystery shows and you get to the end and it’s like, “Oh, is that it?” Whereas with this, the end is just so powerful and so well done that no one will be disappointed by it. You go on a journey with this show and at the end it delivers in spades and that’s what I love about it. People were so shocked for me, again, walking around in London, people were so shocked and satisfied by the ending.”
A David Morrissey guaranteed production that is sure to keep you speculating and theorising right up until the very last episode. In the second series there will be 8 episodes screened week to week on BBC First Australia on Foxtel.
Series 2 of The Missing commences on Sunday 5 March 2017 on BBC First Australia on Foxtel.