'The Cry' review: A brutally honest depiction of the darker side of motherhood
Joanna's journey from being a mother to a woman is what defines the very charm of 'The Cry' and takes the depiction of postpartum depression to a different level.
Postpartum depression is a subject rarely spoken about. However, the harsh truth is it exists and it can as dangerous as any mental illness. While Mark Shelley penned down the traumatizing effect of postpartum depression through her 1823 novel, 'Frankenstein', the ultimate face put to a mother's fear about her baby not being born a human. Over the years, the subject has been dealt with in various forms of art, including movies like 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968) and 'Prevenge' (2016). However, nothing could hold up the aftermath of postpartum depression better than BBC 1 mini-series 'The Cry'.
Based on Helen Fitzgerald's best-selling titular twin novel, the story follows the young mother Joanna (played by the 'Victori's actress, Jenna Coleman) who is struggling to cope with her newly found motherhood. As she is supported by her husband Alistair (played by Ewen Leslie) who seems to somehow sleep through all the worst parts, Joanna's journey takes an unusual turn when she sets out to spend a vacation in Australia. When her baby boy, Noah, is kidnapped Joanna finds herself drowning in the darkest pit of depression as she becomes the face of a frenzy media circus.
While both Coleman and Leslie have been the fitting faces to their characters, the show's slow-paced approach to the story has been quite a daring, yet successful attempt. Mostly dropped against mute lighting, and droning music, director Glendyn Ivin has followed the book on the flip side. In Fitzgerald's book, we already know what happens to Noah in the very first page, but in the series, Ivin has taken his time to develop the characters of both Joanna and Alistair equally. Joanna remains a doll, a lot like Nora in Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play 'A Doll's House'. Just like Nora, Joanna initially does realize the ambiguity of the situation that she was in, and eventually, she manages to break off that shackle by committing yet another crime.
Coleman and Leslie are flawless in their depiction of the characters who do not seem have much in common on the surface. Joanna first discovers Alistair's marriage when his former wife, Alexander (played by Asher Keddie) and their 10-year-old daughter, Chloe walk into their bedroom. Although this could have been Joanna's chance to push a final judgment on Alistair, she hesitates when Alistair gives her the real reason, "The marriage was over but when you have a child – leaving is huge." This does put Alistair under the sympathetic eyes of the viewers, but the character is left on an ambiguous- good- or- bad guy note.
Alistair stands by Joanna when their baby is suddenly kidnapped outside a roadside petrol pump. However, she soon becomes a pawn for him which can show off the "grief and disdain" of losing a child. A lot like Ibsen's Nora, for the longest time Joanna continues to do what her husband has been asking of her, but by the end of the second episode, it gets pretty clear that she is aware of what actually happened to Noah. Coleman seems to have mastered the resting face of depression, as she drifts from one scene to the other each time to push her character a little more towards the darker edges of mental trauma.
Towards the beginning of the first episode, Joanna can be seen swimming through a crowd of media persons as she makes her way to the therapist, to whom she speaks about maintaining two faces. This Joanna who is waiting for her trail to begin at the court is nothing like the one who is looking for her son. This Joanna is far more self-possessed and seems to have a clear idea about what is being spoken about her. In fact, Joanna had been maintaining a fake social media account through which she could keep track of what the world was saying. However, it is an irksome, mortifying journey that she takes before becoming the self-relying person that we see in the first episode.
The show comes to a full circle with the last episode when the mystery receives an unexpected conclusion. The series of flashbacks that finally lead up to the finale had revealed Joanna as a school teacher, naive by nature, and constantly in the need of protection- a lot like Nora. As she succumbs to the media frenzy and eventually begins to play the pawn for her husband, Joanna's final transformation is what makes 'The Cry' a landmark show dealing with postpartum depression. As an epitome of motherhood, Joanna's character is real. She is a mother who loves and a wife who obeys. But above all, she is a woman whose most precious possession has been snatched away from her.
Joanna is met with her immediate opposite, Alexander, a confident mother of a 10-year-old who is initially treated as the chief suspect in the abduction of Noah. At a point in the show, it almost seems like Alexander and Joanna share the similar kind of emotion when it comes to Alistair but Alexander is a woman of the world, and she knows her way out of it. Even when she was accused as the prime suspect in the case, Alexander remained firm on her ground but to Joanna, it was all too sudden and all too much. Already suffering from postpartum depression, Joanna finds her feet slipping when she becomes the center of attention in the media.
It is not until she finally discovers the truth that Joanna's character arc takes a completely different turn. Towards the end of the series, she is no more the woman that she was. She is no more fearful about the world or its existing norms. She has managed to break away from what was holding her back and commits a crime that she can easily justify. With a conscious as clear as that, Joanna seems to meet Ibsen's Nora in achieving the unfathomable peak of independence. That is the very charm of 'The Cry'. Although its subject is a singular standard one, the story-telling has developed the characters enough to meet their ultimate denouement.
'The Cry' could have easily been a show which doesn't succeed to provide justice to the subject, however, the story has been wrapped around so well that the subject in spite of being the primary matter of the show somehow shines in the secondary glory. More than what they are dealing with, you are eager to know how they are dealing with it, and this brutally beautiful tale about motherhood has portrayed women in their rawest and most vulnerable states.