Review: Benedict Cumberbatch in The Child in Time | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Benedict Cumberbatch in The Child in Time

In a one off 90 minute drama, TV critic Izzy Detheridge reviews an adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel starring Benedict Cumberbatch

It’s always impressive when directors make their audiences weep. Certainly, this was the case for Britons nationwide on Sunday (24th September) after the BBC’s much anticipated screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 1987 masterpiece, The Child in Time.

The drama, starring Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen, an emotionally tortured father following the disappearance of his four-year-old daughter, Kate, is a gripping ninety-minute tale of heartache, guilt and loss of innocence. However, it clings to the hope of acceptance and moving forward, which makes it a sliver above enervating to watch to the end. As time is the predominant theme pervading the story, viewers are jolted back and forth by a non-chronological timeline which can only be mediated by reading McEwan’s novel prior to viewing.

Cumberbatch’s understanding of parenthood pairs superbly with his role as the pensive and listless male lead of this tale
However, Cumberbatch’s performance is truly compelling; viewers feel as if they are suffering with Stephen and acting as sole confidante throughout the programme, which is guaranteed to set on edge every cell in the body. It is a challenge not to become emotional when he experiences “visions” of his long-lost daughter, being tormented to the point of following a child that resembles Kate into a school and narrowly avoiding a trip to the station.

In fact, Cumberbatch’s tears shed for the role are real ones, as revealed in an interview with Radio Times where he admitted, ‘I said to the director, “I’m worried I’m getting a bit too upset in these scenes”. These circumstances are […] unthinkable for any parent.’ A father himself with two children off-screen, Cumberbatch’s understanding of parenthood pairs superbly with his role as the pensive and listless male lead of this tale.

The bitterness between them is prevalent during the immediate aftermath of the trauma, with guilt and blame enveloping both father and mother
Food for thought in The Child in Time is the juxtaposition between Stephen’s reaction to their daughter’s disappearance, and his wife, Julie’s (played by Kelly Macdonald, Trainspotting). While Stephen swears to himself that he will find Kate and keeps his promise for three years, Julie instantly accepts helplessness and retreats into herself by moving away to a cottage on a beach. The bitterness between them is prevalent during the immediate aftermath of the trauma, with guilt and blame enveloping both father and mother. Both Cumberbatch’s and Macdonald’s performances are highly commendable throughout.

Despite airing thirty years after the book’s publication, Stephen is faithfully depicted as deeply affected by his loss. This, I believe, is a statement that, although time passes and society’s expectations of men and women change, a father should never trade his relationship with his children for masculinity.

Essentially a tale of emotional resilience rather than abduction, the final words uttered by Cumberbatch’s character summarise its purpose: through tragedy, “keep breathing”. This, I believe, makes The Child in Time well-deserving of all its praise received, for being a meaningful lesson to us all.

 

📚 Eternal student. Love to learn and explore Nature. 🍃 Also love art, rock music and games. 🎮 (@retrogamer_izzy)



Published

28th September 2017 at 9:00 am



Images from

BBC One and BBC



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