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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.


Copyright: BBC One

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.








  1. paraskevi1234 says:

    Last week I watched TCIT once more! I noticed the yellow colour as the colour of happiness in Stephen’s family before losing Kate…the yellow Kate’s coat, the yellow sofas of the house which afterwards were replaced witn a grey one, the yellow lamp next to the piano that is the only think that Julie left behind after having left Stephen..and a couple of other yellow details.. In the film passes as well, the English uptight introverted attitude in which Stephen is confined and only sometimes he breaks through, like during this heart breaking scene in school when he thought he had found Kate! But mostly what I loved and what stayed in my heart is Stephen’s and Julie’s unselfish love which after all this unbearable drama found the way to get them back together! Simple adult love without strategies and conflicts… TCIT is a film who needs further analysis and every time you see it (cause once is not enough) you discover new things … I’m happy I found a place to express them 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. cumberscottie says:

    That’s a great review! I missed a lot of that watching it the first time. Too focussed on Stephen and Julie I guess and small tablet screen. So next time will be on my tv and will pay attention to what you point out above. I too thought both the book and the film were brilliant in their own respective ways. I can see some parts of the film that might be confusing to people who haven’t read the book first though. Still, I feel that sometimes it is more important to stick to a narrative than to focus on explaining everything in detail. For me, the atmosphere and the tone of the book are captured very well in the adaptation. There are parts in the book that have been left out, that are also very important. While I miss some bits in the film, I know that for a good adaptation, a wise selection is crucial and this has been a wise selection imo. It also made me want to re-read the book and be able to do a more in-depth comparison simply out of interest.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. paraskevi1234 says:

    I really loved your review…especially the meaning/purpose of the colours used in the movie in characters’ clothing or the environmental colours, really helped to comprehend more details..x


  4. diebedra says:

    How very thoughtful! I clearly have to re watch the film and am sure it will have a special place in my heart such as The Imitation Game has.
    I highly recommend the book, although the film is a very good adaption, the book offers more details – but I think neither the book nor the film is better, but brilliant in their own way.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. tania221b says:

    The Child In Time tv adaptation was beautiful. Although a heartbreaking story it doesn’t dwell on sadness, but ultimately love and hope. The book is obviously much more in depth and deals with the loss of Kate, political story and Charles regression in more detail. If you haven’t read it I suggest you do to get a different perspective on it. I enjoyed both.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. paraskevi1234 says:

    I still can’t get over TCIT movie… the book had impressed me a lot too! The movie pointed and focused on the important spots of the plot letting everyone involved to unfold their talent… photography and music helped for a magnificent result.. It’s going to stay in my mind and heart for a long time ..I know 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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