Adapted by Stephen Butchard from Ian McEwan’s Whitbread Prize winning novel, The Child In Time is a lyrical and heartbreaking exploration of love, loss and the power of things unseen.
Stephen Lewis, a successful writer of children’s books, is confronted with the unthinkable: he loses his only child, four year-old Kate, in a supermarket.
In one horrifying moment that replays itself over the years that follow, Stephen realises that his daughter is gone. With tenderness and insight, the drama explores a marriage devastated by the loss of a child. Kate’s absence sets Stephen and his wife, Julie, on diverging paths as both struggle with an all-consuming grief. With the passage of time, a balance of sorts returns, until hope surfaces and triumphs unexpectedly.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen, Kelly Macdonald as Julie, Stephen Campbell Moore as Charles and Saskia Reeves as Thelma.
___________________________________________________________BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH INTERVIEW
Describe your character Stephen
By profession he writes children’s books. He’s a very happy and loving father – their child Kate is born into a very loving marriage. He is an everyman and has a small but close circle of friends – he’s at his best and most charismatic when he’s with them.
He presents quite an indifferent face to the rest of the world, he’s more a spectator than a participant. But that all changes when he suffers the unimaginable trauma of losing his daughter in a supermarket and becomes the centre of the drama.
The Child In Time is about how he is destroyed by that incident and how it affects his relationships and everything that has given him purpose before that point. But then also how he somehow manages to find some kind of salvation and acceptance of what happened, his responsibility, the effect on other people and the enduring love he has for his missing daughter, Kate.
The theme is every parent’s worst nightmare. What is it like to play a character in that position?
When you’re dealing with something like the loss of a child it’s pretty distressing, I won’t lie. It was a very unpleasant place to go to. By circumstance it happened that my second boy had been born weeks before, but it’s not a prerequisite to doing this role to be a father; if you were a childless actor trying to imagine it you’d have to be made of stone not to feel the enormity of what that must be like.
Playing with your own experience can be incredibly dangerous anyway as you need to be able to separate things very easily, otherwise they can get out of control and be very damaging.
So I tried as much as possible for that not to creep in. How you make sense of a life with an absence that is ever-present is a horrible thing to contemplate. Despite that though, the drama isn’t depressing. The important thing to take from the story is the extraordinary ability and resilience that humans have to continue living, for that person and their memory. It’s a brave thing to say that that is possible.
Tell us about Stephen’s relationship with his estranged wife Julie
The relationship between Stephen and Julie is critical to the story, because the loss of their daughter drives them apart. Their love is manifested in their child, and when she goes missing it becomes very hard for them. They are both lost in their own worlds of grief and it fractures their relationship and reaches a breaking point, but the root of their love is still there.
Ian draws that out spectacularly in the book and I hope we’ve achieved that with Stephen [Butchard]’s adaptation. Kelly Macdonald, who plays Julie, is a phenomenal actress, she has an ease about her and is very fluid with the camera. She’s incredibly perceptive and intelligent about character and motivation and also great fun. We had a really lovely rapport from the get go and I was thrilled when she was interested in taking on the role. Working with her was a great joy of the job.
You’re also an executive producer on The Child In Time, what was that like?
I’m very proud to say I am! In a year my production company SunnyMarch has produced and made this drama and we’re delighted to be giving the world the first ever Ian McEwan television adaptation.
I worked with Ian before, on Atonement, and so it’s a huge honour for me and the company. As a producer in pre-production you’re involved in the nuts and bolts of bringing things together, from forming the crew and team who are going to make it and steer it to script notes, which is a very exciting creative process to be a part of. Then you have to completely switch that off when you’re on the floor acting!
I really enjoyed the experience and most importantly I think the crew did as well.
KELLY MACDONALD INTERVIEW
What attracted you to the role?
When I read the script I could see myself playing Julie. I loved all her scenes. Quite often when you’re sent something there might be one scene that you think is a good one to get your teeth into, but all the scenes in this were so well constructed and interesting. I remember saying how that really excited me to the director Julian Farino when we sat down to talk about me taking on the role.
Tell us about her as a character.
Julie is a mother and she’s a bit of an enigma really. A very traumatic, awful and unimaginable event has taken place and before that happened she was in a happy, loving and stable relationship with her husband and their child. After the event they can’t cope with what’s happened together as they are dealing with their grief in very different ways.
She feels that she can’t even be in a room with him, so she takes herself away to heal in the way that she needs to heal. Then after some time she steps in to try and steer Stephen in to a better place, as there is still so much love there, and that’s what I really loved about it.
The theme is every parent’s worst nightmare, what’s it like to play a character in that position?
I tend to work in a way that when a director calls ‘cut’ that’s the end of that, I don’t take things home with me. It was actually totally jovial and lovely on set, considering. But although this horrendous thing has happened, the drama is really about love. It’s an emotional drama but it’s not depressing. You see the human spirit in it, they are real and human and they still have humour and hope.
You’ve done both film and television, as has Benedict, do you think actors doing both is becoming more common now?
I really do. There used to be an almost ‘upstairs/downstairs’ level of condescension when it came to television, and if you were a film actor doing television it was seen as a step down.
That’s absolutely not the case now, TV is so sophisticated. It seems that the films that are able to get financed these days are often the big blockbusters, which has allowed television to catch up. All these interesting stories have had to go to TV to find an outlet.
What can viewers expect from The Child In Time?
There are so many films about missing children which can be quite depressing and this isn’t one of those. It’s an interesting story about real characters and love. It is emotional but it’s uplifting!
STEPHEN BUTCHARD INTERVIEW
How did you become involved in The Child In Time?
I got a call from Helen Gregory [Executive Producer for Pinewood Television] asking if I’d be interested and I more or less immediately answered yes. I read it 25 years ago and it’s a book that stays with you. I knew it would be a challenge but at the same time I knew I wanted to do it. So it was as simple and easy as that, I was asked and said yes!
Is it hard to write a screenplay of such a popular book?
The unique tone and atmosphere is so important so I had to make sure I captured and preserved that. The best way I found to do that was to focus on the characters and make sure they stood up as real and truthful people, especially Stephen and Julie. I was really looking forward to capturing the ‘sense of other’ that’s in the book. I knew it would be a challenge to do but it was so important in the book.
As was Charles’s story. I was least looking forward to the actual disappearance of Kate because it’s something that has been done a few times before and it doesn’t define the drama. Benedict is brilliant in that scene and Julian did a great job directing it, it feels so real and I believed it.
How does it differ from other dramas about children going missing?
It’s about the strength of the people the child has left behind. It’s not about a quest to find the missing child it’s about a quest to survive when that happens to you. It’s about how wonderful people can be at dealing with something so traumatic.
Yes grief is there and you can’t ignore it – it has to be present – but I wanted it to be a story of love, strength and courage. How people go through something awful and still continue. The grief is ongoing but there’s also hope and the scenes where that is reflected were really important to me.
How important was getting the right cast for it?
In the first instance it was so important to get Benedict in it, not just because he will bring people to watch it but also because, most importantly, of his quality. He brings out all the nuances and makes you feel exactly what Stephen is feeling.
Kelly Macdonald is the same, she’s absolutely brilliant and they work very well as a couple. You can sense the love they feel for each other and that they need to both look after themselves and each other.
Charles was always going to be difficult to cast and when we saw Stephen Campbell Moore’s audition we knew he was perfect. And I don’t know how Saskia can show such love and pain in just one facial expression as she does when she’s playing Thelma.
What can viewers expect from The Child In Time?
It’s the story of the love, courage and strength of an ordinary man and woman who manage to take one step forward each day after a tragic event. It’s not harrowing, yes the event is harrowing,but it will hopefully be ultimately uplifting for people who watch.
The Child In Time will air on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 24 September