Jenna Coleman is the brightest star in the unconventional and uncomfortable first episode of new BBC One series The Cry.

When working out how to best describe Jenna Coleman’s new psychological drama, the first word that comes to mind is “striking”. Everything about this opening hour – in fact, even just the opening minutes – is a shock to the system. Right from the off, little things are there to make you feel uneasy. The non-chronological editing. The subtle, pulsating music. The zoomed-in (and, dare we say, instantly-iconic!) title sequence. It all adds up, and if we’re honest, this first episode of The Cry is not an enjoyable watch. But we have a sneaking suspicion that’s not by accident, but by design. For this is a story all about suffering, and it makes you experience it, every step of the way. As the minutes tick by, you’ll struggle and you’ll wince – yet you won’t be able to look away. This is tense and terrifying television that’ll leave you hanging on the edge of your seat for weeks to come…

Now, in spite of its marketing, The Cry is not a traditional thriller. There isn’t a big action set-piece waiting around every corner. This is a slow, methodical burn of a script, carefully penned by writer Jacquelin Perske. Admittedly, yes, it is nowhere near as accessible as Coleman’s previous work (or indeed, other recent BBC dramas). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In The Cry, it’s not about what you see – rather, it’s about what you feel. For the most part, scenes jump back and forth between the past and present, gradually unravelling every inch of our characters’ lives. These are sudden and jarring transitions: whirlwinds of whiplash that come without warning. Yet, when the characters are trapped on a plane for 24 hours with a crying child, the show decides to put on the brakes. We’re left to wallow and linger on this claustrophobic hell – tensions mounting and madness descending. For some viewers, we fear it may be a bit too visceral – but, by jove, you can’t deny that it’s powerful.

Come Cry With Me

The quick-cut editing isn’t just an effective means of abusing our emotions. It’s also a clever, if controversial, form of storytelling. One moment we’re watching a scene from the present and viewing it through untempered, innocent eyes. The next we’re watching something in the past that puts a whole new, far darker spin on what came before (or, rather, after) it. Chiefly this is used to dissect characters like Alistair (Ewen Leslie) and Alexandra (Asher Keddie), two warring parents who are battling for custody of their teenage daughter. Alistair in particular goes down in our estimations as more and more truths come to light. Just as you start to feel sorry that his ex-wife ran off to Australia with his kid, you understand exactly why. Everyone’s hiding something – or, perhaps, the show’s just hiding it from us. There are plenty more secrets to discover yet, and the cast does a brilliant job balancing nasty and nice.

But then of course, there’s Jenna Coleman as The Cry‘s protagonist, Joanna. And what a star she is! The entire story revolves around her, playing the struggling mother of newborn Noah. Appearing in almost every scene, Jenna gets to push her talents further than ever before. From beginning to end, you really get a sense that this is her stage to own, even more so than Victoria. And she absolutely nails it. Even better, this is clearly just the start of her potential. A lot of Joanna’s character is still bubbling away beneath the surface. She’s quiet and she’s passive, much like the story itself. Surely though it’s only a matter of time before the two of them explode…?

Verdict

The episode finally comes to a climax with every mother’s worst nightmare. Left alone in the car for a moment too long, baby Noah goes missing in Australia. But who took him? And why? No one can be trusted, and everyone’s a suspect. Next week, the eyes of the world will be thrust onto Joanna as the police investigation begins. For now, we’re left to reflect on an unconventional, uncomfortable – and, at times, unconvincing – first chapter. There’s an awful lot to process, both on and off the screen. The direction’s no doubt divisive, and the script challenges Steven Moffat for most “timey-wimey” narrative. Yet, while The Cry starts out imperfect, there’s the promise of huge potential down the line. Had there been a lesser actor at the helm, we might have been worried. But, with Jenna Coleman as its star, and shining brighter than she’s ever done before, we’re sure the series will remain in safe hands.

The Cry continues next Sunday, 7th October at 9pm on BBC One.

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