Starring: Eva Birtwistle, David Murray, Lauryn Canny
Director: Thaddeus O’Sullivan
This intelligent and thoughtful four-parter from Ireland concerns the plight of a mildly dysfunctional separated couple – the embittered and querulous Sarah (Eva Birtwistle) and Ben (David Murray), a businessman who’s too smooth for his own good – who are struck with tragedy when Amber, their precocious and secretive 14-year-old daughter, gives them the slip to go on a secret assignation and then vanishes.
Days, weeks pass. With a boldness of structure that sets it apart from the common run of police procedurals, the opening episode of Amber rather brilliantly fast forwards through the first six months of the investigation, charting the ebbs and flows of hope and frustration felt by parents and police alike: the false starts, the dead ends, the buffeting of personal relationships. The ordeal brings Ben and Sarah closer together and pushes them apart again, while Ben veers between chest-beating machismo and the blackest despair.
Subsequent episodes backtrack and retrace the same steps from different vantage points – an unemployed reporter who is Sarah’s best friend but who stitches her up to get a headline, a guy who works in a shop where Amber’s phone turns up as part of a job lot, a man in prison for drunk driving offences who seems to know much more about Amber than he should. Different facets fall into place with each twist of the kaleidoscope, with key info held back for maximum effect. A few of the facets are less convincing than others (the prison scenes have a touch of “quid pro quo, Agent Starling,” about them), but the shifting perspectives build into a fascinating picture of dramatic ironies and missed opportunities, even if, just occasionally, the bad luck and misunderstandings that enmire the investigation feel piled on too thick.
Moral jeopardy awaits Ben in the final episode as he slips further and further into obsession, hunting for his daughter in the seedier reaches of the Internet, seeing criminal conspiracies all around him. A bravely dark conclusion, yet, with its prosperous, easy on the eye middle-class setting and a recurring Little Mermaid theme that gives director Thaddeus O’Sullivan an eerie undersea colour palette to play with, Amber is never less than slickly watchable. Excellent performances, too, from Birtwistle, Murray and the young Lauryn Canny as the enigmatic teen.