Chris Boyd reviews the four-part thriller currently screening on the ABC and finds it thoroughly engrossing.
Image: Jenna Coleman in The Cry. Source: ABC.
Media manipulator, mansplainer and gaslighter-in-chief Alistair Robertson (Ewen Leslie) “sets agendas” and “shapes stories” for his political bosses in Scotland. So when his three-month-old son goes missing on a trip to the Victorian surf coast and the investigation looks like implicating him and the boy’s mother, Joanna (Jenna Coleman from Dr Who and Victoria), Alistair surreptitiously places a few positive stories and tees up a Sixty Minutes interview to turn public attention back on the police. The first episode ends with Alistair and Joanna about to enter a TV studio. He asks her, coolly: “Do you think you might cry?” She looks at him, but says nothing. “Waterproof it” – he instructs the make-up artist.
Four-part ‘who-dun-wot-exactly?’ The Cry follows Joanna’s unlikely journey from harried new mother with a constantly wailing baby (if you’re not feeling infanticidal by the end of the first episode, you’re a saint!) to someone who wears masks by necessity. It’s a stylish and compelling series, as close to flawless as Australian TV gets.
It’s a little frustrating, then, that it takes the involvement of a couple of UK companies (Synchronicity and the BBC) to turn Australian grass into lawn, but the quality assurance is telling and the co-production is more than justified by the material. Author and social worker Helen FitzGerald, whose 2013 novel The Cry is adapted here by Jacquelin Perske (Love My Way), grew up in Victoria and lives in Glasgow with her family.
It’s a tribute to the quality of the story telling (verbal and visual) that we are engrossed even when we have little idea what is happening, or why.
And talk about burying the lede! The series is half over before we have a sure grip on the overall plot, and three quarters done before the true significance of the opening scene (in which Joanna, in stratospherically high heels and crimson dress, is chauffeured to court) is revealed.
Director Glendyn Ivin (Safe Harbour, The Beautiful Lie, Puberty Blues) creates and sustains a sense of elliptical mystery with D.O.P. Sam Chiplin and editor Alastair Reid working overtime. There are flickering cuts (we jog-shuffle back and forward through time) in a majority of shots, and transitions from scene to scene are precisely framed. A facial angle will be maintained from one location to another and, sometimes, from one person to another, giving us a déjà là-like sense of continuity. One second we see Alistair and Joanna’s hall, bare and wintry – not knowing if this is past or future – then we see it gloriously cluttered, fertile with life. The former shot is still, a deathly monochrome, the latter shot pulls slowly backwards. There’s a semiotic richness that works on us subliminally, even as we note the stylistic ostentation.
But even without these flourishes, The Cry would still be exceptional. While the leads are all busy projecting their unspoken guilt, their complex backstories and their flaws, the mid-range cast members are quietly propelling the drama. As Alistair’s wary mother, Stella Gonet steals scene after scene with wordless glances. Shauna Macdonald treads a careful line between poker-faced and po-faced as the court-appointed psychiatrist. Kate Dickie makes a wonderfully feral prosecutor. And Sophie Kennedy Clark is perfect as Joanna’s sidekick, avoiding pretty much every buddy cliche.
The Cry: Written by Jacquelin Perske. Directed by Glendyn Ivin. Based on Helen FitzGerald’s novel. A Synchronicity Films Production for BBC One made in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, December Media, Film Victoria and Creative Scotland.
On ABC free-to-air and iView.