Amber, BBC4 - TV review: A characterless crime thriller not worth staying on the case for
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 03 June 2014
Here is another foreign-made drama series to fill the Killing-shaped hole in BBC4's evening schedules. Originally made for Ireland's RTE, Amber stars Eva Birthistle (Waking the Dead, Strike Back) and David Murray (Quirke) as recently separated couple Sarah and Ben Bailey. When their 14-year-old daughter Amber goes missing, the Baileys are forced into a reunion of sorts, as they attempt to organise an effective search.
Amber has been billed as a crime thriller, but there wasn't much in the way of thrills in this first episode, and there wasn't much in the way of compensatory atmosphere either. It's possible that suburban Dublin is a place characterised by a total lack of character, but more likely that the writers have failed to create the specific sense of place that's often the saving grace of a low-budget drama like this one.
What Amber did offer was a promising format: each of the four episodes is named after a different character and will look at the girl's disappearance from a different perspective. The intended effect is presumably to build a picture of how a missing person impacts upon families and whole communities.
The Bafta-winning Broadchurch successfully managed to do just that, while also keeping the mystery plot moving along at a decent pace. Eva Birthistle is just as talented an actress as her Broadchurch equivalent, Jodie Whittaker, so it's telling that she achieved far less emotional impact over 50 minutes of dedicated screen time than Whittaker typically managed in five.
Her character, Sarah, is so cardboard and the dialogue so dull, that there's no hope of passing this off as a study of grief. Any pathos the actors did manage to eke out of their material was soon undermined by a soundtrack apparently selected from the ringtone menu of a Nokia 3100.
As the days of the investigation counted on screen – Day 3, Day 24, Day 62 – we were left praying for a new development or break in the case. The best that can be said about this is that it at least gave some insight into the terrible tension parents must feel. But while the Bailey's misery will extended over weeks, months, years, of not knowing whether their daughter is dead or alive, I'd lost interest after 20 minutes.
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