A missing child is not only every parent’s worst nightmare, it’s one of the scariest nightmares in our collective imagination.
The source of a thousand horror stories, from Grimm fairy-tales to novels, films and TV shows. It touches some deep core of dread and helplessness in the face of malice or – perhaps worse – blind chance.
In Amber, which began its four-part run tonight on RTE, the 14-year-old title character (played by Lauryn Canny) goes missing in leafy Dublin suburbia after dad Ben (David Murray) drops her off at a friend’s house.
We then trace the next six months of her disappearance: an initial Garda investigation and flurry of publicity, rising anxiety turning to desperation before fading to a sort of fatalistic resignation, though mother Sarah (Eva Birthistle) remains defiantly optimistic. It ends with a splink of new hope, as a retrospective newspaper article prompts a prisoner to come forward with information, as yet unrevealed to the viewer.
There was a lot to like about this first episode, directed by veteran Thaddeus O’Sullivan and produced by Rob Cawley and Paul Duane (hotly tipped by Variety magazine before Christmas).
As you expect from TV nowadays, production values were excellent. An unsettling mood was established early and maintained throughout; the show was uncomfortable to watch a times. The acting was fine, some of the players a little hammy but the grade-curve balanced out by the great Birthistle, who brought proper movie-style presence and quality.
It was moving too, especially as we watched the warring parents move through something akin to the different stages of grief, except in this case it was even worse than death: no body found, no-one to bury, no closure possible.
Amber dragged in places; I found the pace a little too slow, while accepting that they’re building the story and tension simultaneously. On the whole, though, an eerie, menacing drama with an almost dreamlike air – which brings us back to nightmares.