This review contains spoilers.
So that’s where baby Noah was laid to rest. Not under a magical tree on an idyllic beach, but in the footings of a new-build housing development. Joanna made the realisation when she saw the photo set as the screensaver on Alastair’s phone. Why else would the hastily taken snap hold so much significance? When Alastair told Joanna that moving there would make them closer to Noah, he’d meant it literally.
In The Cry’s final moments, we saw Joanna, cleared of the murder we watched her commit, return to her son’s burial ground. She had killed Alastair, unlatching his seatbelt and deliberately losing control of the car, but used her own wile and the tricks he’d taught her during their terrible lie to walk free. She didn’t confess to either crime—the cover-up or the murder—and the two Joannas exist to this day.
It was a provocatively complex moral position in which to leave our lead. Joanna wasn’t presented as simply a wronged woman, or as simply anything. She’s not purely victim, rescuer or perpetrator, but in the telling of this tightly spiralled story, like Alastair, has carouselled between all three.
Jenna Coleman has been more than up to the task of each. She’s shown Joanna riven by grief, dazed, shrewd, love-struck, resentful, verging on the imperious… The Cry is Coleman’s showreel now. Unless she does accents, what else could there be to see from an actor?
Ewen Leslie too, has been exceptional as Alastair. Helped by a strong script, he’s made him plausibly charismatic. His cruelty and coercion were convincingly bedded in selfishness and weakness. Underneath his slick arrogance, the root of Alastair, as Joanna identified in the finale, was cowardice. Leslie conveyed the character’s layers in a way that made you ask questions about him. Did Alastair feel any remorse? Did he grieve for his son? Had he really, as he seemed to, convinced himself of his own stream of bullshit?
While answering the plot questions, The Cry finale left us to interpret the character ambiguities. Alastair’s mother didn’t accuse her son outright, but she seemed to know what he really was. A liar, and manipulator – as Alexandra put it “not an easy man to love.” It did that while continually drawing our attention to the ways women are judged in the public eye, and the narrow range of archetypes available in that theatre. The grieving wife. The fallen mother. The adulteress.
With strong performances, solid writing and wise direction, everything about this psychological thriller bore the mark of quality. The Cry’s expressionist flourishes – the dream sequences and fantasy manifestations of social media voices, critics and well-wishes—also made it stand out from the crowd.
The editing though, was the real star, and the real storyteller. The finely tuned, complicated time structure elevated this thriller. It had a practical function, withholding and then revealing information to keep the audience guessing, as well as an artistic one. Splicing together the two scenes of the couple in the car—Alastair in the driving seat in the first, Joanna in the driving seat in the second—showed the switch in status as she realised that Alastair had been lying to her inside the lie he’d built for them together.
The finale, in which the scales finally fell from Joanna’s eyes, was The Cry’s strongest episode. It answered every question, and resolved every thread, while gripping us with Joanna’s gradual awakening from under Alastair’s spell. “I’d forgotten I used to be strong,” Joanna told her psychiatrist. In episode four, unsettlingly, we watched her remember.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.