OPINION: 'I Have Two Thoughts After Watching The Madeleine McCann Documentary'
Opinion piece by writer Laura Doyle.
The Madeleine McCann documentary on Netflix was never going to be an easy watch.Kate and Gerry McCann refused to participate and are said to have urged friends likewise to decline director Chris Smith’s advances. It’s hard not to see why.
At one point, it was said that it was going to be cut from an eight-part series to a two-hour-long, one-off documentary. Then it was going to be pulled altogether. Absolutely no previews were made available, and the makers did not do the usual round of pre-show publicity interviews in the press.
It was a simple retelling of the story of the three-year-old’s disappearance from the holiday resort of Praia da Luz one terrible night in May 2007.
It offered no new facts, no new insight. It didn’t even have a point of view.
Instead, it was purely a rehashing of everything anyone who was alive at the time, or who has been of an age to understand the periodic appeals on Madeleine’s anniversaries and birthdays by the McCanns for more information in the 12 years that have elapsed since, already knew.
The leaving of the children, the intermittent quick check on the children, the vanishing, the panic, the initial horror and the delayed police response take up most of the first episode.
We move on from there through the searches that yield nothing, the growing media attention, the breakdown of trust between Kate and Gerry and the Portuguese police, the tenuous identification of a suspect, the sniffer dogs that throw suspicion on the parents, the magazine article that suggested a pact of silence between the McCanns and the friends they were holidaying with.
Then it moves onto the theory that Madeleine actually died in an accident while they were eating at the resort’s tapas bar 100 yards away and that they disposed of the body, on through all possible sightings, connections with other cases, the books later written, the agendas served, the legal suits that followed, and so on.
A lot of speculation and a lot of recapping stories that still have no end, no explanations. A lot of loose strings and no new facts.
The documentary claims that more than 40 people were interviewed but the narration stays for the most part with the same few.
Jim Gamble who is a child protection expert is seen a lot. He later revealed how he pointed the finger at Madeleine’s parents in the beginning and even tried to make Gerry ‘do the right thing’ and confess.
Authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan and former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie are also some of the faces we meet along the way.
Later we are introduced to Brian Kennedy, the double-glazing millionaire who volunteered himself as the McCanns’ benefactor and offered his son to help in any way he could with the investigating.
The closest to a villain is Gonçalo Amara, the Portuguese police chief who wrote a self-justifying book pinning Madeleine’s fate on the McCanns.
A bigger issue in my opinion, is the sheer over-familiarity. The same facts and the same footage we have all seen before.
For any Netflix subscribers who are new to the story, I admit the facts seem fresh and gripping. But, to anyone who has followed the story since 2007, the déjà-vu soon becomes exhausting.
The final episode explores a lot of hearsay and whispers about some unusual characters allegedly sighted in the vicinity of the McCanns’ apartment in the hours around Madeleine’s disappearance. However, there’s no substance.
The presumption, although never stated out loud, is that child traffickers were most likely responsible for the abduction. It explains how Portugal is the perfect location for child traffickers because it’s a well-placed gateway allowing abducted children to be instantly taken overseas by boat or driven across Europe.
The closest to a concrete conclusion is Gamble’s belief that the truth about Madeleine will come out in his lifetime.
Saying: "I absolutely believe that in my lifetime we will find out what has happened to Madeleine McCann. There’s huge hope to be had with the advances in technology. Year on year DNA is getting better.
"Year on year other techniques, including facial recognition, are getting better. And as we use that technology to revisit and review that which we captured in the past, there’s every likelihood that something we already know will slip into position.”
All in all, I came away from the eight hour-long episodes with two thoughts. The first was how the whole thing feels exploitative. Sadly, the one thing that became glaringly obvious very quickly in the series is that, once again, the most important person in the whole story is completely ignored - Madeleine herself.
Secondly, I hope that younger generations will now know the story of Madeleine’s disappearance. It may shine some light on some new evidence.
Her name is in the media again, her picture, albeit it still the one that was used 12 years ago is being circulated again, and just maybe she might be found from the media attention to do with a mediocre documentary.
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.