The BBC movie, Elizabeth Is Missing, is now available to stream stateside. The full-length feature, which originally aired in the United Kingdom on BBC in 2019, is adapted from a novel, also titled Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healing. The book was a bestseller in 2014, so it was only a matter of time before Elizabeth Is Missing would be adapted for the screen.
Elizabeth Is Missing centers around a woman with worsening dementia, but that woman, contrary to what you may expect, is not Elizabeth! The main protagonist of the story, Maud, is losing her memory and needs to find her friend, Elizabeth.
One of the main reasons to watch Elizabeth Is Missing is not only for the drama of finding out what happened to Elizabeth but also for Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson’s gripping portrayal of Maud. But what happened to Elizabeth, and why is she missing?
‘Elizabeth Is Missing’ follows Maud as she figures out what happened to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is one of the few people in Maud’s life as Maud’s dementia worsens. Elizabeth would frequently come around, and she and Maud would garden together in Elizabeth’s garden. However, we have to literally “dig a little deeper” to get to the bottom of the true meaning of the garden. Elizabeth happens to live in the house that Maud’s sister, Sukey, was supposed to move into.
Images of my mom in her last few years kept playing out on the screen. Sometimes difficult and heartbreaking to watch but Glenda Jackson is amazing. #ElizabethIsMissing— Laura Bencivengo (@laurabencivengo) January 4, 2021
When she was younger, Maud’s sister, Sukey, went missing (yep — Elizabeth isn’t the only person who’s missing). With her deteriorating memory, Maud begins to conflate what happened to Sukey with what happened to Elizabeth. One day, when Maud thinks she and Elizabeth are supposed to meet at the Salvation Army, Elizabeth doesn't show up. Did Maud have the wrong day? What happened to Elizabeth?
Maud goes to great lengths to figure out what happened to Elizabeth in ‘Elizabeth Is Missing.’
To keep up with what she’s supposed to do, Maud writes herself little notes. So, to try to find Elizabeth and see if she made a mistake, Maud looks through all her notes, but she can’t quite piece it together. She goes to Elizabeth’s house and no one is there. Helen, Maud’s daughter, who visits daily to check in on her dementia-riddled mother, sees Maud unraveling as she plays detective in what she believes is a missing person case.
Maud even calls Elizabeth’s somewhat estranged son, Peter, who is hostile and dodging when Maud asks questions about her missing friend. Helen decides that Maud is too far gone and that she needs to move in with her daughter full-time. With that, Maud feels like the world around her is crumbling as the people close to her continue to deny and dismiss her when all she wants is to find her friend, Elizabeth.
‘Elizabeth Is Missing’ isn’t truly about what happened to Elizabeth.
While we do find out what happened to Elizabeth, that’s not what’s central to the story of Elizabeth Is Missing. The reason Maud searches so hard for her friend is because she’s trying to uncover what really happened to her sister, Sukey.
By the end of the film, Maud comes to a moment of realization; she realizes that Elizabeth was never missing. Maud had gone to Elizabeth’s garden late at night to try to find her long-lost sister, and Elizabeth noticed and went out to help her friend. In the process, Elizabeth somehow got hurt and landed in the hospital.
Glenda Jackson's performance is being rightly lauded in the US. Liv Hill gets a lovely mention here too. We were so lucky with our actors, every one of them played their parts to perfection @WalshAisling @STVStudios @helenbehan @samuelhazeldine #sarahbrown #ElizabethIsMissing https://t.co/mBOd3dMQhB— gibbzer (@gibbzer) January 4, 2021
When Maud is finally ready to visit Elizabeth in the hospital, she finds what she was truly looking for: her family’s validation. Maud’s daughter finally believes her mother, and they go together to Elizabeth’s garden to find what Maud was originally searching for in Elizabeth’s garden: her sister.
As Maud comes to terms with her dementia, she uncovers the dark secrets of the past. This movie is well worth watching for its award-worthy performances.
Elizabeth Is Missing is available to stream on PBS for a limited time.