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TV review: Benedict Cumberbatch stars in a muddied but beautiful adaptation of 'The Child in Time'

"THE CHILD IN TIME" — KUED Channel 7, Sunday, April 1, 8 p.m. MDT

Perhaps reading Ian McEwan's award-winning 1987 novel, "The Child in Time," is necessary to understand the confusing jumps in the timeline of the TV movie adaptation.

Produced by Benedict Cumberbatch's new production company, SunnyMarch TV, the 90-minute movie airs Sunday, April 1, at 8 p.m. on KUED. Cumberbatch also stars as grieving father Stephen Lewis, a children's book author who lost his 4-year-old daughter, Kate, at a grocery store three years previous.

While such a premise seems like a tear-jerker, the story thankfully leans away from sentimentality. Instead, it's a more subtle look at loss and love — if you can keep track of what is going on.

The movie focuses in part on Stephen's relationship with his wife, Julie, played by Kelly Macdonald. The couple has become estranged since Kate went missing but are slowly reconnecting.

As the timeline jumps between when Kate first disappeared and the present, it takes the first third of the movie to determine whether Stephen and Julie are still married, whether they're still in love or not and whether they live together or not. Their on-and-off again attempts to reconnect only add to the confusion. Even the ending makes their relationship status one that would be described on social media as "complicated."

If you can decide to not worry about how exactly Stephen and Julie would define their relationship, your next level of confusion might be whether this is a time travel movie. The title, the numerous ambiguous reappearances of Kate and a particular scene where Stephen sees a younger version of his mother in a pub all hint at a fantastical element to the plot line.

Beatrice White as Kate Lewis, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Lewis in Masterpiece's "The Child in Time," which airs April 1 on PBS.
Beatrice White as Kate Lewis, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Lewis in Masterpiece's "The Child in Time," which airs April 1 on PBS.
Pinewood Television/Sunny March

But ultimately, this isn't the kind of movie where you are told what to believe. This becomes clearer as the story wraps up with a beautiful, poignant ending that actually might bring tears to your eyes, but in a sincere, touching way.

"The Child in Time," as the title connotes, deals with themes of childhood as well as love, grief and the infinite soul. This is also shown through a subplot of Stephen's friend and ex-publisher, Charles (Stephen Campbell Moore). Viewers first see him as a professional who happens to be quitting his job and moving to the country, but slowly he regresses back into a boyhood state that is painful to watch. It's especially powerful to compare him with Kate, forever 4 years old in her parents' minds, and think of the importance and value of childhood and how adults betray it.

Coming to the story with some context will probably help viewers understand the jumps in timeline and better be able to appreciate the depth of its themes.

Content advisory: "The Child in Time" includes a sex scene, references to male genitalia, an upsetting view of a dead body and some British profanity that wouldn't bother most Americans.