The Missing link

The Missing link

By Michael Pickard
February 14, 2019


The Missing star Tchéky Karyo returns as French detective Julien Baptiste in a spin-off from the hit BBC drama. DQ spends a day at the seaside to see the actor on set and find out about the making of eight-part drama Baptiste.

When DQ was first invited to spend a day at the seaside and visit the set of BBC1 drama Baptiste, it briefly conjured optimistic images of enjoying a refreshing ice-cream in the warm autumnal sunshine. As it turns out, that could not have been further from what transpired on a late October day in Kent on England’s south coast.

As a furious sea battered the stony shore, thick, gloomy clouds loomed on the horizon while the wind-worn crew battled on against the unforgiving elements. That this was the penultimate day of shooting after more than three months in production brought little comfort as stars Tchéky Karyo (pictured above), with his arm in a sling, and Tom Hollander repeatedly strolled along the beach in what was the last scene of the series, each time moving further inland to stay clear of the encroaching tide.

Earlier on, a brief respite from the weather saw director Jan Matthys take the opportunity to send up a drone and film the scene overhead, capturing the iconic White Cliffs of Dover in the background – a fortuitous decision considering the wind and rain that came shortly after the craft made its final landing.

Created and written by Harry and Jack Williams, Baptiste is a spin-off from the brothers’ BBC drama The Missing, this time putting stubborn but insightful investigator Julien Baptiste (Karyo) front and centre. When Baptiste and his wife Celia are on a visit to Amsterdam, the chief of police – who also happens to be one of Baptiste’s old girlfriends – seeks out his help due to his renowned and methodical crime-solving skills. He is then rapidly embroiled in a case that looks beyond the beautiful streets, canals and houses of Amsterdam to the seamy underworld beneath.

DirectorJan Matthys pauses for thought during filming on the beach

While both seasons of The Missing centred on a British family in crisis over a missing child, the idea behind Baptiste is to free the story from those restraints, producer John Griffin explains as filming continues on the beach at Walmer. Hence the decision to focus this spin-off, produced by Two Brothers Pictures for BBC1 in association with distributor All3Media International, on the investigator at the heart of both of those stories.

“In the first episode of this series, you meet Edward Stratton [Hollander] and it looks like a classic version of The Missing,” Griffin says. “Here’s a man desperately looking for his niece, who has gone missing. She had turned to drugs and prostitution in Amsterdam and then vanished, and he’s trying to save her. What happens at the end of the first episode is that Julien Baptiste finds her – which is the most unexpected thing you can imagine happening in a show associated with The Missing.”

The discovery leads to two big reveals at the end of the first hour, including a “massive plot twist” and a character revelation that means one person isn’t who they seem. The second episode then sees Baptiste come to the full realisation of what he has become entangled in as viewers learn this isn’t just a missing person case but a story involving people-trafficking and Romanian gangs.

“By the end of the second episode, the whole thing twists again and to some extent vindicates Baptiste’s confusion but opens up a whole other can of stuff,” Griffin continues, adding that Call the Midwife star Jessica Raine appears in episode three as an investigator from European Union law enforcement agency Europol. “She turns up and says, ‘Everybody stop. You’ve just walked all over my case that I’ve been doing very quietly for a long time. And you, sir [Baptiste], get out of my way.’ Then the whole plot spirals out of control because they’ve uncovered a hornets’ nest.

“It’s a fabulous ride. The second episode is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It starts on such a high note and it doesn’t stop, and then you hit another high note at the end and you go, ‘Wow, if anybody’s going to turn off now, they’re insane.’”

That the story is set almost entirely in Amsterdam, Griffin explains, is because the Williams brothers wanted to talk about the sex industry in a way viewers might easily recognise and understand. Filming, which began last July, took place in the city for three weeks, particularly around De Wallen’s red-light district where the majority of the “hero exteriors” were shot. The characteristics of the Dutch capital – narrow streets and lots of bicycles – plus the high cost of shooting there made it a tricky location for filming, prompting the majority of production to take place in Antwerp, across the Belgian border.

Tom Hollander as Edward Stratton

“It’s a nightmare. I crossed the road after lunch and caused a bicycle pile-up because I didn’t notice the bike lane,” Griffin admits. “So it’s set in Amsterdam, an expensive place to film, but a little bit of the story is set in Antwerp. There’s a great tax break in Belgium and a lot of Antwerp looks like the back streets of the old town of Amsterdam, so we rebuilt De Wallen there.

“We shot in De Wallen for real but we rebuilt the street in Antwerp so we had full control over it and could do some amazing stuff. We also went to [Belgian port city] Ghent quite a bit, which has canals.”

The decision to give Baptiste a series of his own came down to the fact that audiences “completely responded to him as a character,” Griffin says, describing him as the French version of Columbo, the iconic trenchcoat-wearing detective portrayed by Peter Falk in the long-running US TV series of the same name.

“The thing I love about the way [the Williams brothers] write for Baptiste is they use English idioms but they change them slightly, so he’ll say something like, ‘Don’t put the wrong step forward.’ It’s the wrong foot forward – he’s used the wrong word but it means the same thing, and I love that they write him like that,” Griffin adds. “He has this ability to get people off their guard and find out pieces of information they don’t think are relevant but that actually are terribly relevant, and that’s how he gets them. That’s what Columbo used to do. Julien does a similar trick on people, and he’s very human and a little bit frail.”

Behind the camera, wrapped up against the grim conditions, is director Jan Matthys, who takes charge of the second block, covering episodes four, five and six. A fan of The Missing, he had told his agent he wasn’t interested in any police shows a few months before the production team called to see if he was available for Baptiste.

“She called me and said, ‘I think you have to make an exception for this one,’” he recalls. “When I read it, it was immediately clear it’s not a procedural or classical police show but a human story. I’m very much into humanism and telling those stories, so I immediately wanted to be part of it. I’ve worked with [executive producer] Chris Aird before on [BBC crime drama] Shetland so I knew he was involved and how he takes care of his crews and directors, so that was an important thing as well.”

Taking over from Borkur Sigthorsson, Matthys was able to watch the earlier rushes and get a sense of the material shot for the first three episodes. What he noticed straight away was that Sigthorsson used a more experimental approach than his own, shooting lots of reflections and looking through windows and open doors. “So for me it was a challenge to stay close to my own way of telling stories, but it felt a bit more freeing to develop a new style and get some more stimuli,” the director says. “It took me a bit out of my comfort zone, but in a good way.”

Tchéky Karyo (far right) as Baptiste in The Missing

As the tension builds up towards the story’s resolution, the scripts also ramped up the action. Block two DOP John Lee picks up: “We carried on the style of block one, which was very long lenses, POV shots and a Scandi noir feel to it. But then we had some bigger set pieces. We had a big driving stunt scene and Tom [Hollander] climbing across rooftops, so we’ve had a lot of fun on our block. The car chase was a big challenge because we had Jessica and Tchéky in the car so we had to have three cars, including a stunt car that crashes, so we had to have multiple versions of that. It was quite complicated to work out.”

Lee is also an advocate for filming with drones, but only when they serve a purpose. “It’s a bit odd because you should do a drone shot when it’s a drone shot and you should do a helicopter shot when it’s a helicopter shot – they’re not really interchangeable,” he explains. “But on this, we couldn’t have got a helicopter as close to the actors as we wanted, so it was a drone shot. They’re so temperamental when it comes to the weather – you always worry. A bit of rain, a bit of wind and it won’t fly. But it’s amazing that we can now do a shot like that on a TV drama. We wouldn’t have been able to do it 10 years ago.”

From a producer’s point of view, Griffin says drones are “amazing” because they’re relatively quick to use and inexpensive compared with a helicopter. “The only thing I have to watch is not letting directors have a drone just because they want one,” he says, echoing Lee’s argument. “I see so much television where I think, ‘Why the drone shot?’ Make it mean something, make it worth it.”

Griffin notes that, as well as filming in Amsterdam, one of the other challenges on the series has been the need to cast a high number of international actors, owing to the fact that nearly all of the story takes place outside the UK. The production also required some underwater shooting, which first took place in Amsterdam and then continued in a tank near Brussels.

“We’ve got somebody going into the water and going under. What we couldn’t do was control safety underwater for very long, so we got a tank and did a whole sequence of somebody getting caught up with a rope around their foot and not being able to free themselves, so we had this whole thing of major jeopardy and whether they will survive,” Griffin reveals. “You’ll have to watch to find out what happens.”

Griffin hadn’t previously worked on The Missing, so had no relationship with that world or its characters before joining Baptiste, something he says has been key to helping the show find its own identity.

“That’s been a really brilliant challenge but with a character I absolutely love, who is funny, smart, unusual,” he notes. “New series are always a challenge. For me, the strongest thing that makes it feel like The Missing is what we’re doing with it musically. It has that same feel in the music and that’s having an extraordinary effect on the edit.”

That Baptiste survives the events of this season is apparent by his appearance here on the beach. And as filming concludes, you might think the character would be keen to settle for a quieter life. It’s hard to imagine, however, he would not rise to the challenge should another case – and the BBC – demand his expertise.

Checking in with Tchéky
The title of the series is his character’s name, but Tchéky Karyo is typically sincere when he says Baptiste isn’t just his show. “In the choir, I’m a lead voice but it’s a real ensemble,” he tells DQ inside a minibus that is doubling up as shelter from the unpleasant weather outside.

This drama, he explains, is a story “with great characters going through a very special journey. Baptiste is a link between them and he tries to unthread the twisted and cracked mysteries and stories and explore the dark sides of people. The brothers [writers Harry and Jack Williams] said they still have some skeletons in the closet.”

Baptiste opens six months after the conclusion of The Missing’s second season, with the former detective having undergone surgery for a brain tumour. “He’s alive and happy,” Karyo says, before adding ominously: “When we start, he’s very happy. He’s in Amsterdam with [his wife] Celia to help their daughter and son-in-law to look after their grandchild.” It’s fair to say his mood probably begins to sour when he’s called by an ex-girlfriend, Martha, who wants his help with a new case.

“She knows he’s good at this kind of mission,” the actor says. “He’s reluctant; he doesn’t really want to go back to his old life but Celia knows that it’s going to be good for him and he needs it, so she pushes him out into that investigation. It’s quite complicated. He will also have to deal with the fact his family will be in danger. He wasn’t waiting for this and it becomes really tough.”

The DNA of The Missing is there in the nature of the investigation, with Tom Hollander’s character, Edward, searching for his niece, even though there is a new story and setting. Karyo adds about Edward: “He’s a character with a lot of shadows that Baptiste feels empathy for but at the same time, he doesn’t really understand where he’s coming from, so Baptiste will have to understand what’s at stake for him.”

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