As Broadchurch proved last year, parents being put through the wringer over the fate of their children provides a pretty successful formula for appointment to view television
As much as audiences share in the agony, however, it turns out that those bringing these stories to screen can feel just as traumatised by the experience.
Actor James Nesbitt, star of BBC One’s new eight part drama The Missing, admitted that the process of filming it had certainly taken a toll on many of the cast involved.
The Missing takes us inside the mind of Nesbitt’s character Tony, a father whose young son disappears during a family holiday in France, sparking a search that he is still desperately pursuing eight years later.
Right from the opening episode, the series charts the emotional turmoil the disappearance wreaks upon Tony and wife Emily (played by Frances O’Connor), as the mystery unfolds across two time frames: the immediate aftermath of the apparent abduction in 2006, and the present day.
Speaking at a preview last month, Nesbitt explained how hard the roles had been on both himself and his co-star: “I get emotional just talking about it. Every day was difficult because we didn’t know each other and we had to establish a relationship, and we had to establish a relationship with a little boy, and then we had to lose that little boy in the story and imagine what it was like in the aftermath of that, and then we had to imagine the breakdown of what had been a very good marriage.
“I can’t stress enough how collaborative the show was. We were all telling a story about the best and worst that people can be, but it was pretty helpful for Fran and I – even though it was pretty exhausting at times.”
O’Connor, also present at the screening, told a similar tale, saying how the brilliance of Harry and Jack Williams’ screenplay had blinded her from the reality of taking on such an emotionally wrought character.
“The scripts were just so beautifully written and detailed, but I don’t think I actually anticipated what playing those scenes week in, week out, would take, because it was a very full-on experience to be in,” she commented.
“It was tough, because you’d think ‘we did that scene, it was great’, but then you’d look ahead and there would be another five or six the next day that were equally demanding.
“That is what you hope for as an actor – to have such great material. But sometimes we’d get on the Eurostar on the Friday night [the show was filmed in Belgium] feeling a bit teary, because you’d spent a whole week with that subject matter.”
Any accusation that The Missing is the BBC’s attempt to replicate the phenomenal success of Broadchurch can be firmly dismissed – the Williams were on hand to reveal that they wrote the entire series three years ago, firmly pre-dating ITV’s ratings hit.
The Missing starts tonight at 9pm on BBC One.
Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids