The Missing, which began on BBC One this evening, is an eight-part serial, like The Intruders, which started twenty-four hours earlier. Also like The Intruders, it benefits from the presence of a strong and charismatic lead actor, in this case James Nesbitt. But the similarities end there. Whereas The Intruders was cryptic to the point of confusion, The Missing is (on the surface at least) a relatively straightforward story, written, and acted by a talented cast, with real assurance. And this story really does grip.
Part of the reason why it is so powerful is that it deals with a deep human fear - the parent's dread of the loss of a child. Surely one of the most terrible, almost unimaginable, crimes is that of abducting a small child, who is defenceless and innocent. Yet these crimes do occur from time to time, and some of the most harrowing cases of recent years have been of this type. The script, by Harry and Jack Williams, handles this emotive material very effectively. The pair are, incidentally, the sons of Nigel Williams, an excellent writer. I enjoyed his The Wimbledon Poisoner years ago, and also a TV crime serial that he wrote back in the 80s - it was called Charlie, and it was rather good.
Nesbitt and his wife (played by the equally charismatic Frances O'Connor) were on holiday in a small French town eight years ago when their five year old son Oliver went missing. His dad took his eye off him for a moment, and that was long enough for the worst to happen. What parent cannot empathise with this nightmarish situation? The events of eight years ago are intertwined with events in the here and now. Nesbitt, who is drinking too much, remains obsessed with finding his missing son, and finally stumbles on a clue. His marriage has ended, and his wife is now married to a police liaison officer (Jason Flemyng) - but in her way, she remains equally tormented by the loss of their son.
The switches between past and present worked well, and there were some tantalising glimpses of future plot complications. Something mysterious had been going on between Nesbitt and his father-in-law, and one of the French cops seems to have a secret to hide. The mystery is engrossing, but the human drama is even more compelling. I'm really not sure about The Intruders, but I'll definitely be watching the next episode of The Missing.