The Child in Time – Musings
BBC One’s The Child in Time got some harsh criticism, mostly for the production, while the acting, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly MacDonald was generally praised.
As in the book, the storyline focuses on Stephen and Julie, as they try to cope with the loss of their daughter Kate, a second thread focusing on Stephen’s friend Charles Darke (nomen est omen!), his sudden retreat to the countryside and subsequent regress into childhood. We also learn about Stephen’s parents and their past, the „pub scene“ having a central importance for the plot, as turns out in the progress of the story.
The book has more plot with elaborate descriptions of characters and situations, making the storyline somewhat less elusive, no way to put all of that into a 90 minutes timeframe for tv though. Some viewers thus got quite irritated watching the tv film. They sensed plotholes and got confused by the non-chronological storyline, the flashbacks and flash forwards. In my opinion though, the makers of The Child in Time were adamant to get the message across not only by what is said, but also by what you see:
Colours: The palettes used are mostly quite sombre, the only thing that really always sticks out is Kate – she’s dressed in vibrant, lively colours – yellow and red predominantly, her clothes, her bed, the presents and the Christmas tree. Yellow and red are the colours that will catch Stephen’s sight, even after all this time.
Then there’s all shades of blue. Stephen as well as Julie are wearing mostly blue clothes throughout, jeans, jackets, shirts, t-shirts, coats. Seen standing for calmness, cool, and intelligence, blue also symbolizes sadness and depression. Something bad happened to them „out of the blue“ and now they are just that – blue.
We hardly see them wearing black. Only once – at Charles’ funeral – do they wear black, and Stephen is still wearing his black suit as he ventures to communicate with Kate using the walkie-talkie he had as a present for her. In my eyes, he’s found closure at this point – there’s a break in the story here too, as he falls asleep and gets woken by Julie’s call from the hospital, so a new chapter begins.
White: in the final scene everything’s light and white, Stephen’s white shirt, still from the night before, Julie’s gown, the bed – suddenly there’s light, hope and everything’s new. (Listen to the soundtrack – it’s sparse and dark-ish throughout, but suddenly it’s all happy and vibrant).
Locations: Another visual used is the setting. In the city everything is kind of hectic, rushed, fast – just not Stephen’s flat after Julie has left. It’s of an eerie stillness. Julie apparently took a lot of furniture with her. At one point, we see black plastic bags, probably packed with belongings of the past.
When Stephen goes to visit Julie for the first time in her cottage by the sea, the landscape we see immediately struck me as barren land, disorientating with hardly a landmark. Stephen gets lost after he thinks he sees Kate. He’s drawn to the local pub and – peeking inside through the window – sees his parents at a time before he was born in an almost dreamlike sequence.
Later on, Stephen goes to visit his friend Charles and his wife Thelma in their country retreat, finding out Charles has regressed into a boy. The landscape here is the opposite of the one by the sea, it’s the forrest, all trees and green, brown, paths winding through, like a maze one can get lost in.
I found that the visual realization mirrors the respective mindsets of the protagonists, especially Stephen’s grief and feeling of disorientation, his mind still being open to his surroundings though. With him and Julie, I always felt that their love is still there, even in the small things, like her repeated „kettle’s on“. When Julie finds out she’s pregnant, she leaves to only return when the new child is due. So once again, something happens to them out of the blue, only this time it’s something good.
I really enjoyed watching The Child in Time – not only was the acting superb, but I found the complexity of the book was transferred well to the visual medium. In case you haven’t yet, I recommend reading The Child in Time.