REVIEW: The Cry (S1 E4/4)

For the past three episodes, Helen FitzGerald’s The Cry has been adapted into a brilliant, taut, fascinating and emotional four-part thriller.

Ostensibly the story of a missing (kidnapped? murdered?) baby, it has developed beautifully and naturally into almost something else entirely: an exploration of manipulation, deception and paranoia so riveting it was hard to concentrate on the question that needed to be answered tonight. What did happen to baby Noah?

We’ve seen flashbacks to court hearings and witness cross-examining, and tonight we finally found out what Jo was on trial – not the murder of her baby (which I thought might be the case), but the murder of her husband. Again this flashing-back and now throwing in the phrase ‘murder of your husband’ obviously was a wow moment and, once again, created suspense: you knew what was going to happen, but didn’t know how or why.

Actually, scratch that: we knew exactly why. After the excellent third episode, where The Cry evolved plausibly, but maybe unexpectedly, into an exploration into the power dynamics of a married couple on the edge, Alistair and Jo became a hybrid of Petruchio and Katherine, Frank and Claire Underwood in House Of Cards, and Nick and Amy from Gone Girl. Their scheming and manipulation threatened to boil over in episode three; Jo was obviously distressed at the way Alistair seemed to be enjoying his plan of deception, and grief and guilt began to gnaw away at her insides. Any other relationship would have been over by now but they had a curious bond: he needed her to be the good wife to help see his plan through and manipulate the public while he was at it, and she needed him for some sort of strength and stability. They hated each other but loved each other and needed each other but didn’t need each other. The only thing keeping them together? They were inextricably linked by the secret they shared and the trauma they had experienced.

In this final episode, we joined the (un)happy couple a few months down the line: the police had more or less called off their search for Noah, which led Alistair to begin to plot a life for them together again. After an uncomfortable conversation with his mother (she knew that something was up and perhaps even knew what her son was capable of), he showed Jo a new apartment and suggested they stayed in Australia. Maybe they could have another baby. It’s just what they needed, he argued. He took a photo of her in the apartment, but the angle of the framing of the image seemed odd, like he was focusing on something else in frame and not Jo.

Jo insisted on going to see the place Alistair had buried Noah. He took some persuading, but he took to her the tree behind the beach. She lay on the ground, close to her baby again, and took back to Edinburgh with her a sprig of undergrowth in which the babe was buried. She had missed a physical object connected to Noah since Alistair had taken and destroyed his bib.

Things didn’t improve too much when they got back to Edinburgh. Alistair lost his job, but they should have a baby. It’s what they needed, he said insisted. Jo spent her days sat in Noah’s room, looking at videos of him and listening to his cry. The cry that drove her nearly insane in the pre-Australia was now a comfort. Alistair decided they should write a book about their experiences, and took a job with an organisation that helped couples who had lost children.

His was spinning lie until it became so big he could hide behind it.

Jo was disgusted. And she was beginning to escape from his controlling clutches. Alistair’s mum and daughter, Chloe, came to visit. Chloe was still obsessed about Noah, and finding him, and pricked Jo’s conscience.

She wanted out.

She told Alistair she didn’t want to be Chloe’s mother in case she failed again, and that she did not want to have another baby.

She wanted out.

But then something else. Something that drove Jo to do something drastic, something she felt she had to do to survive. She went through some of the letters people had sent in to her. One of them was from the old lady who helped her on the plane over to Australia.

That was the moment Jo knew Alistair had been bullshitting about the medicine. The moment she knew that by blaming her he had leverage over her, fertile ground in which to sow manipulation and self-doubt, and strike at the very core of any mother: whether she was a good mother or not. It was Alistair who had accidentally administered the wrong medicine to Noah, not Jo. Still a tragic accident, but one that had been exploited by Alistair for his own gain.

They suggested they went for a drive out in the country. Alistair didn’t come back. Now she knew the truth, she could not forgive him and, what’s more, could not let him live. She unhooked his seatbelt and took her hands off the wheel. The car careered off the side of the road.

Jo ended up going back to Australia and – what looked like – buying that apartment, so she could be close to her little boy again.

It was a lot to take in, a lot to unpack and process.

I did think that The Cry was a pretty fantastic and impressively plotted journey. To begin with, it was a study in how people judge others, then a missing persons or murder case, then an exploration of paranoia, deception and manipulation, and then it gave us a whopping, great moral dilemma at the end. Jo was, in essence, a murderer and yet we forgave her because it was a revenge attack against someone who chose to strike at the very heart of womanhood and motherhood. Love, protection, nurturing. She had been led to believe that she had failed in all of these things.

Add to all this emotional heft and depth some seriously brilliant editing, sound editing and acting. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen flashbacks and flash-forwards incorporated into the narrative so impressively or effectively; and the sound design was incredibly imaginative and actually aided the story. There’s no doubt that The Cry was very, very well made. But then there was the story and the characters. I dunno, this really got under my skin and made me think, and this was largely due to the characters – they felt real, and their stories felt real. It helped that there were career-best performances from Jenna Coleman and Ewan Leslie as the leads. They felt believable and plausible. I mean the thriller element you have to kind of go with (because it’s a fictional thriller, kids) but their actions and motivations felt really believable

This seems to be rarer than you think in crime dramas, so much so that when it does happen you, in turn, believe.

Bravo to all involved.

Paul Hirons







REVIEW : 54 Hours – The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis (S1 E1/2)


A few years ago the UK was gripped by the manhunt for Raoul Moat, who had gone on the run after shooting his former partner and her new boyfriend. Rolling coverage of the investigation reached fever pitch when Moat was thought to be holed up somewhere near a small town called Rothbury and the media duly descended, filling the airtime with impressive aerial shots of nearby woodland and puff-piece psychologist interviews determining the fugitive’s state of mind. The press were desperate for anything they could lead with, and in among all this was Sky News’ anchor Kay Burley – who had been airlifted in by helicopter no less – and was on the hunt for some suitable soundbites from the local population. Thrusting her microphone into the face of a sweet little old lady minding her own business in the town, she dramatically asked “Aren’t you SCARED?”, expecting the pensioner to clutch her pearls and give her a trite response of the terror this hunt has surely caused her. “Oh no’, the lady calmly replied, ‘Not at all. I’ve led a long life and seen many things in my time. I’m not scared at all.” CUT! Interview ends.

It’s an amusing anecdote but one I recall when discussing how the press are as guilty of wanting to bend the facts to their own narrative just as much as politicians or the police (and not least also proof of the indomitable spirit of British pensioners). In this post-truth age, the world requires instant gratification and that need affects how we digest our news too – opinion is more polarised than ever but lacks the nuance to actually be informative given the short attention span that is required for a 24 hour news cycle. Therefore we’ve been reduced to becoming almost passive vessels for every new outrage or crisis that emerges and the result is people are becoming more disconnected than ever with the world around them in a bid to cope, with the sinking feeling that they feel their own voices aren’t heard or valued as much as they hoped.

This phenomenon didn’t start overnight. Post-Watergate, the world and how it was reported was changing. Investigative Journalism took huge leaps forward and shone a light on those in power. But somewhere the integrity within journalism got lost along the way. Newspapers were failing in the wake of the golden age of television, much like they would struggle in the age of the internet. Papers were bought and sold and began to reflect more candidly the views of their owners rather than the views of the people. The scale of institutional scandals like Hillsborough, Orgreave or the Battle of the Beanfield would remain hidden for decades thanks in part to the complicity of newspapers. Some have still yet to be fully exposed.

People’s views on the organs of authority were also changing – police, government, media – and that view was they were not to be trusted, that they represented big business, or that at the very least it was money that began to dictate policy over societal change. From these seeds the age of the conspiracy grew, but despite the colorful and inventive semantics that sprang from that, conspiracies were only ever the dull desperation of powerful men covering up the official incompetence of other powerful men. This era saw more incompetence than most in the changing faces of society, and all of this waffle is what really informs the background of 54 Hours – The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis.

Before we can talk about the incompetence that led to one of the blackest marks in post-war Germany criminal history, there is a lot of hindsight that colours the characters involved. The 1970s saw huge change in the country, not least the rise of political terrorism with the actions of the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Munich Olympics hostage drama having a massive impact on the country’s psyche. The legacy of these events were very evidently present in the decisions and frustrations of the officers and officials involved in the Gladbeck case.

Unfortunately for 54 Hours – The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis this isn’t really examined in any great detail at all. German television is usually fantastic at surgically examining its own past without bias, as seen in the excellent Netflix drama NSU – German History X which unflinchingly showed the incompetence of the police in capturing the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground for over a decade. Instead, the Gladbeck film plays like a traditional TV movie with an accurate telling of the facts, but with little comment made on the nature of this crime that had such an impact on German society.

For the most part, this first half plays like a prologue to the most famous aspect of the case – the hijacking of a bus full of passengers which will be focused on in the final episode. Instead, we get to see what leads to that situation and the keyword is frustration throughout – at the characters choices, at the police, at the press, at the gawking crowds of public – until it’s almost unbearable to watch. One sleepy Sunday morning in August 1988, two career criminals Dieter Degowski and Hans-Jürgen Rösner decide to rob a bank. But they don’t do it well or quietly and it’s not long before they are in a stand-off with police with two clerks as hostages. With a ninety minute running time I would have expected some depth to the characterisation around this quartet and their behaviours – but instead we barely got to know them, with the focus being more on the interchangeable cast of hostage negotiators and their disastrous attempts to try and coax the kidnappers out of the bank.

This task isn’t helped by the media, who are seen setting up their cameras right next to snipers, calling the criminals in the bank for interviews and generally getting in the way of a live hostage situation. But there isn’t much made about this by the director beyond showing it. Compared to the subtle commentary against the press in the similarly-themed 6 Days, which replayed the events of the Iranian Embassy siege, it feels like a missed opportunity. Admittedly this isn’t fiction, and most of those involved are still alive so a light touch might have been the prevailing choice by the film-makers – but real-life crime drama can still take risks with its subject matter if it’s to tell us anything prudent about the wider picture these incidents create.

Ultimately Degowski and Rösner escape the bank with the two clerks still held hostage, and the remainder of the episode follows their erratic journey to the border pursued by both police and press. This whole situation should be fraught with tension, but is weirdly lacking in any – even when the hostages are left on their own by their kidnappers and you think they might make a break for it there is little to no excitement involved. Instead we witness two incompetent criminals bumble their way through Germany as officials fret over their ‘zero risk strategy’ – a virtually impossible scenario where they can take both kidnappers out of the picture without harming the hostages. This scenario is tested repeatedly in every new situation with diminishing results, as the varying officials involved seem desperate not to have the authority to agree a kill shot or to make any type of move at all. In one scene the original negotiation team pass responsibility to the national crime squad and the audible sigh of relief from them speaks volumes.

With little to no time spent on exploring the characters involved in the kidnapping, we do get some leaden direction introducing two people who so are clearly doomed that even if you have no knowledge of this case it is plainly obvious they are marked for death. Little is made of them as actual people – we just get a window into their daily lives as young Emanuele looks after his sister and muses on the girl who’s just dumped him or spirited Silke who works at the crown court and dreams of the day she can marry her boyfriend. Both are unfortunate enough to get on the ill-fated bus, and both are unfortunate enough to have their fates almost telegraphed to the viewer in the ill-advised trailer for the following episode.

There is much to dislike about 54 Hours – The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis, but the worst thing is it feels like a missed opportunity hurriedly issued to mark the 30th year anniversary of the case. Nobody involved is afforded the time to feel settled in their role and thus characters come and go with little to distinguish them, especially on the police side of things. The press are portrayed flatly as having little disregard for their own lives, chasing after men who are quite happy to shoot at them and the public. But we don’t get to focus on one journalist and understand their motives better, they are just represented as a mass of people doing a better job than the police of tracking – and in some cases even aiding – the criminals escape. For such a hugely important case it feels like a poor epitaph to those involved and inexcusable in the era of German television that can afford us excellent historical drama like Deutschland 83, Babylon Berlin or The Same Sky.

Random Thoughts

  • People in 1980s Germany seem remarkably calm in the face of a man shooting a gun in the street – everybody just carries on as if it’s not happening
  • EVERYBODY smoked in 1988
  • Apparently a sausage in a bun isn’t a thing in Germany
  • This show was gold dust if you like boxy 80s cars
  • I bet the guy who delivered the cash in his undies wished he hadn’t worn bright red budgie smugglers that day
  • The BBC were very impressed with themselves ahead of the show starting. “BBC4 – The Real Home of International Drama” they said breathlessly – prove it and give us a Trapped S2 air date then.
  • For a terrifying true story along the same lines dig out the Brazilian documentary Bus 174
  • For a film that actually has something to say about journalism and voyeurism check out the excellent Nightcrawler

Andy D

The 10 Best Crime Dramas This Week (Monday 22nd – Sunday 28th October)

S2 E7/8
Vincent imagines an idyllic life with Abby, and Alston faces a dilemma involving Flanagan.
Tuesday 23rd October, 10pm, Sky Atlantic

S1 E7/8
Carolyn brings unwelcome news and a change of priorities, but Eve is closer than she has ever been to Villanelle, and is finally going to meet Anna. Why would she give up the hunt now? Elsewhere, Kenny has some revelations that make Eve question the true purpose of their entire mission. Villanelle is still in prison, now in solitary confinement and waiting for the rescue organised by Konstantin that never seems to come.
Saturday 27th October, 9.25pm, BBC One

S1 E7/10
J Paul Getty Senior tries to follow through on his plan, and as Gail grows hopeful, J Paul Getty Junior obsesses about the quarrels of the past.
Wednesday 24th September, 9pm, BBC Two

S1 E2/6
A nervous Raza struggles with his new role as an informant for CTSU as he befriends and spends time with the unpredictable Dadir and his Bridge Town Crew. Gabe and Holly discover Yousef has been murdered – could Big Shot the London contact linked to El Adoua be behind it? The pressure on CTSU to find out whether a London attack is planned mounts and Gabe pushes Raza further to find Big Shot, but instead of invading Dadir’s life, Raza finds Dadir invading his.
Tuesday 23rd October, 9pm, BBC Two

5 54 Hours: The Gladbeck Hostage Crisis *NEW UK PREMIERE EPISODE* *LAST IN SERIES*
S1 E2/2
The situation escalates as the runaway robbers hijack a bus full of people in Gladbeck city centre. 
Saturday 27th October, 9pm, BBC Four

6 Trapped *REPEAT*
S1 E5/8
Guðmundur dies of heart failure while locals attempt a rescue, and the avalanche results in the temporary loss of power to the community. Hinrika, cut off by the weather, goes to the house of Rögnvaldur, a disabled man who spends much of his time observing others through a telescope. He tells her that he has seen Hrafn beating his wife. Later, Hrafn is burned to death in his garden shed, with the door locked from the outside.
BBC iPlayer

S2 E3/10
Miles finds himself off the grid at a strange motel, while Rick and Amara attend the premiere of The Admiral’s Mistress.
Wednesday 24th October, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

8 Code 37: Sex Crimes
S1 E10/13
An angler finds a man’s body on the banks of a canal. He has been stabbed and mutilated, and doesn’t have any identification on him. Chief Inspector Hannah Maes’ investigation reveals that the man, who is married to a much older woman, has been leading a double life. Hannah and her team are soon confronted with a number of strange relationships and intrigues in which everyone is lying to each other.
Friday 26th October, 9pm, More4

S1 E7/8
Blindsided by Lau’s abduction, David and Jonah embark on a desperate and frantic search that leads them to the devastating truth about Megan.
Monday 22nd October, 9pm, ITV

10 The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair *NEW UK PREMIERE EPISODE*
S1 E8/10
Marcus continues his search for clues as to what happened to Nola back in 1975, as his mentor’s freedom hangs in the balance.
Tuesday 23rd October, 10pm, Sky Witness