The Children is a three-part ITV drama that treats its viewers as though they have the memory capacity of a goldfish. It follows the events leading up to the killing of eight year old Emily Brookes, who within a few weeks, accumulates more enemies than Richard Nixon.
The Brookes family and the Miller family are families no more. Mr Cameron Miller is now the partner of Mrs Sue Brookes, while Mr Brookes has a new, young girlfriend and baby, and Mrs Anne Miller is free to pursue a man who works at the same shopping mall.
Fourteen year old Master Jack Miller gets himself thrown out of the house by Anne Miller, and winds up living with Cameron, Sue, and Emily. Still with me?
Emily, formerly a spoilt little brat, finds having a semi-step-brother a big inconvenience, particularly when he frightens her with false tales of paedophiles. However she turns the tables on him when she accuses him of being a paedophile.
Once again Jack is forced to leave his home, and Cameron goes with him, putting a strain on his relationship with Sue, who herself does not know what to make of Emily’s accusation, and rues the potential loss of what she had with Cameron. Anne, already scornful of Emily, likes her even less on learning Emily’s damning verdict on her son. Previously, Emily had also dropped her new baby step-sister, leading to less than familial harmony with her father’s girlfriend, and even her own father.
The scene is set for a whodunit that Hercule Poirot would give his moustache for a chance to crack. Yet, unlike ITV’s infamous sleuth series, The Children is a slow, long-winded master class in dreary storytelling. Kevin Whately, almost wasted as Cameron, would have been of better use trying to solve the case as another infamous ITV character than being a suspect in it.
The flash-forwards are numerous, repetitive, and (I never thought I would say this) more tedious than those in Lost; not to mention almost insulting, as though the viewer is too stupid to recall what they have seen ten times beforehand. And yes, we do know what the implications of the words ‘Cameron Miller in an empty classroom with a female co-worker’ are, we don’t need a moving picture drawn for us, thank you very much. I certainly felt stupid for sitting through three hours of this drudgery.
There are only so many times you can watch a child fall to her death before wishing you had let Sky+ do the work so that such scenes can be skipped over quickly. The sight of Emily’s doll flying rigidly through the air in slow motion time and time again was more humorous than harrowing, then downright dull. If they had cut back on the flash-forwards the whole thing would only have took an hour to tell.
BBC One’s new primetime show has been accused of having unlikeable characters. Trust me, the Mutual Friends look like The Waltons compared to that lot in The Children. By the end you can’t help but wish they had all fell and cracked their heads open within the first five minutes. Lesley Sharp as Anne was the only person I felt marginally less ill-inclined towards.
However the writers, actors and directors of The Children all want locking up for killing three of the British public’s Monday evenings.