Elizabeth is missing review

I don’t know. What are you planning to do at the age of 80 after retiring from the quarter-century in Labour politics you put in after a stellar 35-year acting career? Limber up with a Radio 4 series adapted from Zola’s novels, have a crack at King Lear and reap a harvest of rave reviews, then win a Tony for your part in a Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women? Then congratulations – you are Glenda Jackson and I claim my five pounds.

Now she has turned to television. In Elizabeth Is Missing (BBC One; adapted by award-winning screenwriter Andrea Gibb from Emma Healey’s bestselling novel), Jackson plays Maude, who becomes set on discovering what happened to her friend Elizabeth (Maggie Steed), who vanished one day after they had been gardening together. Maude is in the throes of Alzheimer’s – her home is festooned with labels, reminders and instructions, her pockets stuffed with notes to self – and this new disappearance becomes linked in her increasingly chaotic mind with a much older one. It is that of her sister Sukey (played in flashback by Sophie Rundle, alongside Liv Hill as the young Maude) who went missing in 1949 and was never seen or heard of again.

Technically, then, it is a murder mystery. There is a victim, an unknown fate and clues and red herrings strewn hither and yon. But that is all almost a McGuffin itself. Elizabeth Is Missing is really a portrait of dementia, the charting from within and without of the disintegration of mind and memory and its effects on the sufferer and her family. There is sterling support from those playing Maude’s increasingly stricken daughter Helen (Helen Behan) and her granddaughter Katy (Nell Williams), with lovely distinctions in their attitudes towards Maude – Katy’s generational distance enables her to take Maude much more as she finds her, while Helen’s grief for her mother and anxiety about her care corrodes her patience. But of course – of course – it is Jackson who commands the attention.

And she is wonderful, in that vanishingly rare way that can come only from next-level talent as razor-sharp as it ever was plus 40 years of honing your technique, whetting both blades on 80 years of life experience. Maude’s decline is as nuanced as it is relentless. The increasingly feverish fumblings for things and for words. The cantankerousness shading into unreasonableness and finally violence, the frustration into despair, wordless screams becoming voiced, the thumb that creeps more often towards the mouth to suck for comfort. It is a harrowing, compelling, unsentimental, altogether magnificent performance. It will surely win awards, but, unlike on many other occasions, you don’t think about that as it is unspooling before you. And oh God, what a face she has. And what a voice. And what a presence, all diminished and unleashed at will.

By the end, we have the answers to the mystery, or mysteries. The clues – missing notes, smashed glass in fireplaces 70 years apart, footprints in the soil now and then – entwine and illuminate each other for Maude, even as outwardly she becomes more confused and unreliable. As she loses control (collapsing in bitter tears alone when she wets herself, howling in protest when Helen has to lock her in the house for her own safety) and must move in with Helen to be taken care of full-time, the ravings of a woman driven mad by grief after losing a son in the blitz begin to make sense and lead her towards peace, at least in Sukey’s regard.

As well as a study of the relentless sorrows and horrors of dementia, Elizabeth Is Missing provides a meditation on what endures – joy and (especially inexplicable) loss, a sense of place and of home – or recurs down the generations. The shadow, for instance, of male violence lurks everywhere, from Sukey’s imagined fate at the hands of her fiancé or the creepy lodger to the fear Elizabeth harbours of her own son.

The mystery element and its resolution for Sukey and Elizabeth are not too complicated, psychologically or practically, and nor do they need to be. The real drama exists elsewhere, in bravely impressionistic form held together by superb writing, a complex but immaculate structure and Jackson’s mesmerising, heartbreaking (and funny – as when she cannot remember who the prime minister is but “I know I don’t like him”) performance at its heart. We will see its like again, I’m sure, but it may take another 80 years.

If you are an actress hoping to win a Bafta in February, and your name is not Glenda Jackson, I regret to inform you that this is not your year. In Elizabeth Is Missing (BBC One), Jackson gave one of the performances of her lifetime.

When it was first announced that the BBC would be adapting Emma Healey’s best-selling novel about an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s, the two names instantly bandied about were Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. No doubt they would have been fine. But, my goodness, was Jackson the right choice, in her first television role for 27 years. As an actress she has always radiated a fierce intelligence. Never was that more apt than for the role of Maud, a character desperately trying to make herself understood and infuriated by the way people treat her now that she is old: “Nobody listens to me. I haven’t lost my marbles, although everybody seems to think I have.” The cruel truth, of course, was that Maud was losing them – she just didn’t know it.

Healey’s novel was packaged as twin mysteries: Maud’s insistence that something terrible had befallen her missing friend, Elizabeth; and the disappearance of Maud’s older sister 70 years earlier. When we first met Maud, she was living independently – albeit with daily visits from her daughter and a carer – and keeping herself busy. But there were signs that something was amiss: notes all over the house reminding her to do things, cupboards full of nothing but tinned peaches.

Elizabeth Is Missing review: Glenda Jackson’s richly human portrait takes the mystery out of Alzheimer’s

There is a mystery within a puzzle in this thoughtful adaptation of Emma Healey’s best-selling novel.

The story springs from the mind of Maud (Glenda Jackson), a sprightly eightysomething whose mind is gradually succumbing to Alzheimer’s. This is an uncertain process, and the story exists in the space between the things that Maud can’t quite remember and the confusion caused by the fracturing of her mind.

In the book, Healey relays these shifting realities by narrating the story through Maud. Her certainties and her confusion are equally sincere. Adapting the story for film requires the addition of another level of artifice; a recognition that Maud’s diminishing insight exists in the present, and that the key to her discomfiture is related to something in her past. She is trying to remember the thing she used to struggle to forget.

In a piece of writing, this shift can be done instantly, and the confusion is an acknowledged part of the mystery. The story is not so much a whodunit as an inquiry into what was done. In a TV drama, the flicking between now and then is more cumbersome. The present is all about Maud’s confusion, and the way it accelerates over the piece. At first, her dementia is manageable, via a series of Post-Its and notes around the house.

(BBC/STV Productions)

“Imagine you’re like a detective, looking at clues,” her granddaughter Katy (Nell Williams) tells Maud, though her advice could be aimed at the viewing audience.

What kind of detective? Well, a Singing Detective, because writer Andrea Gibb and director Aisling Walsh have managed to suspend the drama — more of psychological episode than of criminal investigation — in the uncertain space between imagination and muddle.

“I don’t like it,” Maud tells her daughter, Helen (Helen Behan), “the blanks…” There is less music than there was in Dennis Potter’s eczema riddle — Maud is no fan of Vera Lynn — but there is something bracingly familiar about the way the central character excavates her memories and views them in a broken mirror.

(BBC/STV Productions)

What happens? Mostly, that’s what Maud is worrying about, though her mind has a tendency to exist in the past tense.

She is worried about her missing friend, Elizabeth (Maggie Steed). No one takes her very seriously. She doesn’t remember names and faces and is a familiar visitor at the police station, where she is viewed as a harmless pest.

But as the certainties of the present peel away, they reveal something unsettling, buried in the past. The thing Maud is haunted by is the disappearance of her sister Sukey (Sophie Rundle). What happened?

(BBC/STV Productions)

If that sounds worthy, it isn’t. Jackson’s performance as Maud is richly human, flickering between furious frustration and playful bewilderment.

Just as Elizabeth is missing, Maud’s whereabouts are inexact. She is more there than she is here, but Jackson doesn’t play her as a broken jigsaw. “It’s not you, Gran,” Katy tells her, not entirely reassuringly, “it’s the illness.”

That’s half-true. But what about the other half?

Elizabeth is Missing airs on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 51-page guide for “Elizabeth is Missing” by Emma Healey includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 18 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like How Society Treats the Elderly and Memory.

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Is Missing by British author Emma Healey was published in 2014 and tells the story of Maud Horsham, an old woman suffering from dementia. Maud’s older sister, Sukey, disappeared in the 1940s. Seventy years later, this tragic event continues to haunt Maud, who now thinks her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Maud is desperate to figure out what happened to Sukey and Elizabeth before she loses her ability to piece together the clues.

Maud’s daughter, Helen, and a paid caregiver, Carla, care for Maud. They warn Maud not to leave the house, to stop buying tinned peaches, and not to turn on the stove. Maud either ignores or forgets each of these rules.

Determined to find out what’s happened to her friend Elizabeth, Maud visits the police station multiple times, places a missing persons ad in the local paper, and repeatedly visits Elizabeth’s house looking for clues. Maud’s inability to retain information makes it difficult for her to piece together the information she learns. Maud keeps scraps of paper in her pockets to track the clues; her jumbled and incomplete notes mirror her mental state.

Although Maud’s understanding of the present is fuzzy, her memories of the past are clear, and, at times, the narrative slips into this past. For instance, Maud remembers every detail of the year her sister Sukey went missing. Sukey married Frank Gerrard, who owned a moving business but also dealt in the black market. At the time, Maud’s family also had a lodger named Douglas who lost his home to a bombing during World War II. Young Maud suspects both Frank and Douglas might have had something to do with Sukey’s disappearance.

Young Maud collects clues to Sukey’s disappearance. She clips articles out of the local paper about missing women and murder victims; intercepts a letter that Sukey sent to Douglas; and asks Frank if he had anything to do with Sukey’s death. Maud also puzzles over the ravings of the neighborhood “mad woman” who whispers to her about glass smashing, birds flying, soil, and summer squash.

In the final chapter of the novel, back in the present, Maud leads Helen to Elizabeth’s house where Helen discovers Sukey’s body in the garden. Maud believes that Frank killed Sukey and buried her there. Helen contacts the police, and they promise to investigate.

Maud also learns that Elizabeth is “missing” because she was recovering from a stroke in a rehabilitation home. Helen and Maud visit Elizabeth, but shortly after, Maud forgets the visit.

In the Epilogue, Maud attends Elizabeth’s funeral but doesn’t know who she is or what’s happening. At the end of the novel, Maud still believes that Elizabeth is missing.

A BBC adaptation of Emma Healy’s hit novel Elizabeth Is Missing, starring Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson, is on the BBC.

Jackson plays the role of Maud in the one-off feature length drama, marking her return to the screen after over 25 years.

Here’s everything you need to know about the drama…

Elizabeth Is Missing: What’s it about?

“Elizabeth is Missing combines a gripping mystery with a tender yet unflinching exploration of one woman’s struggle with dementia. When her best friend Elizabeth goes missing, Maud is convinced that something terrible has happened, and sets out to solve the mystery. But with her dementia worsening, unfinished business unearthed and the past and present starting to merge, Maud’s search takes on a poignant urgency. Will Maud be able to discover the truth before she loses herself completely?” the BBC said of the series.
“Elizabeth is Missing is about a subject that is of enormous importance. We, the human race, live longer and longer and there are always new illnesses coming to the fore,” Jackson said.
“This story deals with a woman and her family who are going through the realisation of what Alzheimer’s really is and how terrible it is. It was interesting to explore a life lost and how society has tried to maintain those people whose health is also severely damaged.”
Sophie Rundle, who plays Sukey, said of the project: “I think it will be poignant and I hope its life-affirming. I don’t think it’s a damning look at memory loss and dementia, I think it’s a hopeful look at it. This is a very heart-felt and insightful look at what life is like when this sort of thing is happening.”

Sophie Rundle as Sukey BBC

Elizabeth Is Missing: Who’s in it?

Joining two-time Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson, is Helen Behan (The Virtues, This is England) as Helen, Sophie Rundle (Gentleman Jack, Peaky Blinders) as Sukey and Maggie Steed (EastEnders, Paddington 2) as Elizabeth.

Other cast include Liv Hill as Young Maud, Nell Williams as Katy, Mark Stanley as Frank, Sam Hazeldine as Tom, Neil Pendleton as Douglas and Stuart McQuarrie as Peter.

Mark Stanley as Frank BBC

Further cast include: Linda Hargreaves, Michelle Duncan, John Paul Hurley, Brian Ferguson, Cara Kelly, Julie Hannan, Anna-Maria Nabirye, Nabs Aziz and Tom Urie.


BUY NOW – Elizabeth is Missing paperback

Elizabeth Is Missing: Who’s in it and when’s it on TV?

Elizabeth Is Missing aired at 9pm on Sunday 8 December on BBC One. Watch it on BBC iPlayer here.

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This post has lingered in my mind for a few years; it seems somewhat old now to discuss the question but I know that if I don’t, I’ll just keep thinking about it.

Emma Healey’s Elizabeth Is Missing is a novel with a varied sort of storytelling. Told in the first person by Maud, the main aspect of it is Maud’s present life, her deterioration through dementia. The other part of it covers Maud’s childhood, which she is looking back on. The variety comes from the dementia; due to Maud’s fading memory, the two narratives aren’t always linear, sections often cover the same details as before, and those that are repeated are subject to changed details due to the dementia. Just in terms of its structure it’s a fantastic book.

The core question of the book, if viewed in its entirety, is how many of Maud’s worries concern Elizabeth versus how many are to do with Maud’s worries about Sukey mixed up with the ‘idea’ of Elizabeth (not that Elizabeth isn’t a real person). It’s this that fascinated me most during my re-read for this post, the way the narratives are both separate and the same, and the way it comes together at the end to be the same but separate.

In working out what happened to Sukey, it’s a good idea to ignore the majority of the present-day sections at least until a fair way through the book – skimming the present-day sections for references to Sukey, Douglas, Frank, and Maud’s parents is important, but generally only paramount towards the end.

Considering Maud’s dementia, however, everything has to be read with a thought to the concept of a pinch of salt – not everything is likely true but at the same time nothing should be disregarded, even past the last page. We have to be the detective Maud can only wish to be.

The story of Sukey’s disappearance just after World War II is given piece meal, but here’s an attempt to put the potential facts in order:

  • Sukey met Douglas at work; she liked him; she arranged for him to be her family’s lodger.
  • Douglas’ house had been bombed and he had nowhere to live.
  • Douglas’ mother wouldn’t leave her house and he had a difficult time getting her to leave. She was severely effected by the bombing.
  • Sukey met Frank and later marries him; Frank had inherited a removals business and has connections to the black market where he gets extra food for Sukey’s family, food they are not entitled to in this time of rationing.
  • Sukey and Frank’s house is full of old furniture because Frank thinks they might sell it.
  • Sukey still sees Douglas – Douglas lies about going to the cinema and on one occasion when Sukey was over, he left a short time after her.
  • Sukey knows about Douglas’ mother; Douglas says she cared about her, but we readers know that she didn’t.
  • The smashed gramophone records in the garden turned out to be the result of a row between Douglas and Sukey.
  • When Sukey disappeared, it seemed she’d last been seen at a hotel, only the receptionist later told Maud that Frank had signed Sukey in and Sukey hadn’t been seen by anyone. Frank had left that night.
  • Neighbours reported shouting in the street, and one said Sukey had always had men over (Douglas it seems).
  • Douglas kept going ‘to the cinema’ but in reality he was going to the pavilion where he had met up with Sukey, thinking she might turn up there.
  • While all this was going on, Douglas had been feeding the ‘mad woman’, his mother, who is later run over by a car.

This is not everything, but it’s the basics. The rest concerns the family search and Maud’s interactions with Frank, which show to the reader a potentially violent man, confirming others’ descriptions of him as often drunk. As Healey writes everything from Maud’s perspective, which has the added ‘hindrance’ of a child’s mind together with the older woman’s forgetfulness, the details arrive slowly and without the benefit of real understanding. When Frank pushes Maud against the banister, she glimpses the possibility of him wanting to throw her down the stairs but instead believes his talk about trying to stop her falling. She tells him all she knows about Sukey when he tells her he misses her – when, whilst the full reason isn’t revealed to the reader, we can see manipulation and Frank wanting to make sure he’s covered all the bases. We can also see a potential feeling of guilt, which is at once also shot through with violence.

It’s very possible to say Frank killed Sukey and that he was jealous – Healey pitches Douglas as a red herring but tells the reader straight at the end when he’s named as the prime suspect. Frank had access to the new housing estate, and designed the planting areas, which would have given him the ability to make sure they were away from where he had buried Sukey. The house appears to have been sold to Elizabeth who at some point in time became Maud’s friend. We do not know where Elizabeth’s arrival comes into play, but if Frank planted marrows in the garden(s) he ‘designed’, then Maud unconsciously put two and two together.

At the same time, that Douglas seemed to know a lot…

It would seem possible that Sukey never made it to the car that was supposedly outside the hotel; she may well have been killed in her house. If so, it is slightly possible that Douglas’ mother, the mad woman who Sukey doesn’t like, killed her. If Maud is to believed, there were birds found in the burial place, and this brings Healey’s use of birds through the book to a close; birds certainly seem to be symbols, for one thing they are a theme in terms of Douglas’ mother.

Frank’s going to London ensured the idea of her having gone with him would take hold, and Maud’s worry about the idea that Sukey may have left Frank in the same way lots of people left their spouses after the war didn’t have anything to do with it. Frank may have made the trip to London as a cover-up or because he knew he’d be blamed (in the case that he didn’t do it).

At some point Maud’s story of Sukey gets blended with Elizabeth’s – it may be that Sukey’s house was not cluttered with furniture and that Maud was thinking of the time Elizabeth’s house was sold. Sukey’s clothes may or may not have been in the suitcase. Maud and Sukey may or may not have had a nice time on the beach as children.

What exactly happened to Sukey we don’t know, we just know the aftermath: the skeleton in the garden with a fracture in its head.

One thing to think about, though – what was all that about Sukey being buried by Maud in the sand, but then Sukey having buried Maud first and Maud not having liked it? And the sea shells which later became fingernails… perhaps, with this, the parting vignette of the book, Healey is suggesting another culprit entirely, one who did at points seem jealous of Sukey’s relationship with Frank…

This, and the remaining possible killers, certainly align with the memory loss narrative. I kind of want to end this post on a note of touché, Ms Healey…

Elizabeth is Missing

how do you solve a mystery when you can’t remember the clues?

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable – or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Winner of the Costa First Novel Award
Shortlisted for National Book Awards Popular Fiction Book
Shortlisted for National Book Awards New Writer of the Year
Longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize
Longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction
‘A thrillingly assured, haunting and unsettling novel, I read it at a gulp’ Deborah Moggach, author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

‘Elizabeth Is Missing will stir and shake you: the most likeably unreliable of narrators, real mystery at its compassionate core…’ Emma Donoghue, author of Room

‘Resembling a version of Memento written by Alan Bennett’ Daily Telegraph

‘One of those mythical beasts, the book you cannot put down’ Jonathan Coe, author of The Rotters Club

‘Every bit as compelling as the frenzied hype suggests. Gripping, haunting’ Observer

Read more

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, book review: Extraordinary tale of ordinary tragedy

Normally a well-observed, literary novel that accurately shows us ourselves by deepening our knowledge of what it is to be human cannot manage, as well, to be both a comedy and a thriller. Elizabeth is Missing, however, encompasses these genres and deserves prizes in all categories.

The book starts with our heroine and narrator, Maud, in Elizabeth’s garden. She has found a fragment of an old compact case and seems to know it is important, although for the moment cannot figure out why. Maud is in her 80s and can still get about, just. Her daughter and carers wish that she wouldn’t as her memory is not good, she is frail and liable to get lost and they worry. She in turn feels infantilised by them and defends her right to buy as many tins of peaches as she wants. I felt I could identify with both Maud and her carers.

Maud has one friend left, Elizabeth, and having a laugh with her is the only time that she feels like herself. But Elizabeth has gone missing and Maud is obsessed about this disappearance. She takes on the task of collecting clues so that she can solve the mystery of what has happened to Elizabeth. Whatever else she forgets, she will not let go of this obsession with her missing friend and as the book progresses, we realise why this goes so deep into her psyche. During the war, her older sister Sukey also went missing, and that too is a mystery that was never solved. Will Maud solve two mysteries in one?

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Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

Not only have we several genres in the one novel, we have two main themes. How it feels to experience dementia, and a page-turner of a detective story. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be beautiful. It is a gripping thriller, but it’s also about life and love: the love of an exasperated daughter for her mother; the love of sisters and of friends and the love I felt for Maud. Our narrator has taught me to be more patient with my own demented father when he is insistent that something is important even though I find it hard to believe him. Somehow Emma Healey manages to get into Maud’s head without making it depressing or boring. It’s moving, but not bleak. You follow the strange logic and it suddenly makes sense.

This is an extraordinary tale of believable, ordinary tragedy. Definitely one for the shortlists and the book clubs.

Niecy Nash cast in Lifetime movie based on Kamiyah Mobley kidnapping

Niecy Nash, star of TNT’s “Claws” and Netflix’s “When They See Us,” is set to star as convicted kidnapper Gloria Williams in “Kidnapped: The Kamiyah Mobley Story,” based on the 1998 abduction of Baby Kamiyah from a Jacksonville hospital.
The made-for-TV movie, scheduled to premiere in 2020 on cable’s Lifetime, also stars Rayven Symone Ferrell (2018’s “The Hate U Give”) as Kamiyah Mobley and Ta’Rhonda Jones (Fox’s “Empire”) as Shanara Mobley, Kamiyah’s mother.
The movie tells the true-crime story of the July 10, 1998, abduction of hours-old Kamiyah Mobley from then-University Medical Center (now UF Health Jacksonville) by Gloria Williams, a South Carolina woman dressed in medical scrubs who, after wandering the hospital’s halls, befriended 15-year-old Shanara Mobley and then stole her baby hours later.
Both Williams and Baby Kamiyah disappeared without a trace — for more than 18 years.
Then, on Jan. 13, 2017, Jacksonville police announced they had found Kamiyah, safe and living with her abductor, Williams, in South Carolina.
The discovery of Kamiyah, though, came more than a year after Williams confessed to Kamiyah — whom she had raised as Alexis Manigo — that she had taken her at birth when Manigo pressed her for her Social Security card so she could get a job.
Manigo didn’t turn her in, but she eventually told someone else the secret. In August and November of 2016, two different tips came in to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about the Mobley baby from 1998 being alive and well in Walterboro, S.C., with Williams. When Kamiyah was found, Williams was arrested and jailed.

In June 2018, a judge sentenced Williams to 18 years in prison, one year for each year the family suffered not knowing if Kamiyah was dead or alive.
“Kidnapped: The Kamiyah Mobley Story,” is the first movie greenlit by Lifetime in its partnership with “GMA” host Robin Roberts, who is producing the movie as well as a companion documentary, set to air after the movie.
“I’m thrilled to share this young woman’s story and produce something so poignant for the Lifetime audience,” said Roberts, President of Rock’n Robin Productions, in a news release. “I can’t imagine anyone else tackling the complex role of Gloria than Niecy Nash. She’s a talented and versatile actress, and I can’t wait to see it all come together.”

In July 2018, 20 years after Baby Kamiyah’s abduction, the Times-Union launched a six-part serial podcast “Have You Seen Kamiyah?” retelling the story of the kidnapping and discovery of Kamiyah, the arrest and trial of Williams and the aftermath of it all on Kamiyah’s mother, Shanara Mobley.

Gary Mills: (904) 359-4422