UK TV review: Elizabeth Is Missing
Ivan Radford | On 15, Dec 2019Reading time: 2 mins
Glenda Jackson is heartbreakingly brilliant in this superb drama, which balances the catharsis of piecing a mystery together with the tragedy of a mind slowly falling apart.
Jackson plays Maud, an 80-year-old who is living with dementia. When her best friend Elizabeth fails to turn up for a shopping trip, she’s convinced something terrible has happened since they were last gardening together. And so she turns detective to try and solve the mystery.
It’s a quest that brings out her loyal and stubborn streak, qualities that Jackson captures with magnificent nuance and even the odd stab of understated humour. It’s an impeccable performance that gives us both a sense of Maud before her dementia and Maud after its onset – a contrast that’s gradual rather than sudden, and all the more convincing for it. A look from Jackson’s ever-expressive face alone can convey so many words just out of reach, as she charts Maud’s growing sense of doubt and constant fear of forgetting something important. She’s supported superbly by Helen Behan as her loving daughter, Helen, who tries to care for her mother even as doing so becomes so tough that her patience wears out.
All this is woven into Maud’s confusion of Elizabeth’s disappearance with the a similar fate that befell her sister, Sukey (Sophie Rundle), back in the 1940s. Andrea Gibb’s script (based on Emma Healey’s novel) and Aisling Walsh’s direction elegantly balanced the two periods to construct an absorbing and intimate puzzle box.
But if the mystery ultimately emerges as something underwhelmingly simple, the real power of the drama lies in its portrait of the everyday unknown that permeates a life lived with dementia, from the success of remembering a security key to undeniable shame of going to the bathroom or the silent terror of not knowing your own relatives. One scene where Helen has to lock Maud in her own home will stick with you for weeks.
Elizabeth Is Missing is available on BBC iPlayer until May 2020.